Military style fitness training

Military fitness for basic training

Whether you are looking to get fit before joining the military or just wish to learn from the best, these tips should certainly help guide you. Here we cover running drills typical of the army, strength training routines to build functional and powerful muscles, plus we look at some of the US Army’s fitness advice and basic training routines. First we look at a warning from the US Army that many people simply are too unfit to fight.

Are You Too Fat to Fight?

In May 2010 the United States military aired its concerns that America is becoming such a fat nation that it cannot find enough new recruits for the armed services. So many teenagers are now overweight or obese that they cannot pass the physical tests to allow them to sign up and start military training.

Retired generals from the US military, Mr Shalikashvili and Mr Shelton, have published their concerns in the Washington Post. They feel that the rising obesity crisis is now becoming a national threat as America can no longer find enough new recruits to maintain its army size. 5 years ago in 2005, 27% of all Americans between the age of 17 and 24 were too overweight to join the military. Obesity rates in many US States have continued to rise over the last 5 years.

The generals have pointed out that the quality and quantity of food served to children in school is a contributing factor and the government needs to pass law to control the quality of food in school as well as education about nutrition and health.

A group of 130 retired generals, admirals and senior military leaders have started a campaign to pass new laws governing nutrition and health advice for children. If urgent action is not taken then the tide of obesity may never be turned and America will one day lose its mighty military presence.

Research on nutrition and weight management published in Health Affairs earlier this year demonstrated that federal health schemes had helped some children to lose weight.

“Early results show that the initiative halted the increase in the prevalence of overweight and obese children, since no statistically significant change occurred during the two-year span between administrations of the Delaware Survey on Children’s Health. The initiative also spurred increased knowledge of healthy eating and awareness of the need for increased physical activity in school, child care, and primary care settings.” Source: A Statewide Strategy To Battle Child Obesity In Delaware

So we know that properly managed campaigns can make a difference to child weight problems. If there is one thing that gets the US Government moving on a situation it is the thought that America’s security could be threatened. Maybe changes to policy and education will finally come?

Running – Military Style

Running is an excellent way to get fit. But more importantly for the armed services, being fit to run is essential. Survival of the fittest. Running forms a large part of military training and combined with military strength training it forms an excellent all round fitness system.

Running is a very versatile method of getting fit. With good footwear, you can run just about anywhere, and with the right clothing it is possible to run all year round.

When running, you increase your heart rate and make your cardiovascular system more effective. You also start to use fat reserves for energy, which is why running aids weight loss so well. Running also strengthens your legs, thighs and back, and can improve agility and flexibility in the legs.

Most of the negative effects of running, such as knee and other joint problems, shin splints and blisters, are all caused by doing too much too soon, as well as by wearing inappropriate footwear and clothing. Some weight loss programs are inspired by military fitness training.

Military Running is Efficient

The military train armed personnel to run efficiently, to conserve energy and reduce injury. Many of the people who run for fitness and pick up injuries do so due to poor technique and bad habits.

When running, you should aim to remain relaxed, with an upright posture. With a pack it is natural to lean slightly forwards, however be careful to not lean too far. Arm action is also important. Poor arm movement when running can lead to reduced efficiency, whereas a good arm movement can actually help to propel your body along.

Don’t Be A Flat Footed Runner

How you use your feet can also reduce injury. The recommended method is the ‘heel-ball’ technique, simply meaning that as you run, you land on your heel first, then roll your foot to the ball before pushing off. This great reduces impact. Those that run by landing the whole foot at once are called flat-footed. Not only is this method less efficient, but it leads to more joint problems.

To get the most out of running you should mix up your workouts, with short intensive runs, medium distance runs, and longer endurance runs. Remember, professional middle distance runners (800m and 1500m) train over longer distances. You need to combine endurance and speed.

Short Runs

Short runs should be at a fast pace, around 6 minutes per mile for up to 30 minutes. You should not sprint, but should also not have the breath to be able to talk during the run.

Medium Distance Military Runs

A medium military run is around 45 minutes. The pace is over 7 minutes per mile, and you should be able to talk while running.

Endurance Runs and Quick Marches

The longest run is the endurance run. You should run for a minimum of 90 minutes and during the run, you should be able to hold a conversation. If you wish to build up stamina, start to carry a pack and consider this a pre-combat quick march (actually a run!). Remember that during the Falklands War, British soldiers ran 20 miles overnight with full packs before engaging in battle almost immediately afterwards. This is the level of fitness that every soldier should aspire to.

Train several times a week, with longer runs at the weekends and the shorter runs in the mornings / evenings. Always look to improve time or distance, and aim to carry a full military pack (40-60 pounds). If you are going to do basic training then you really need to get fit first, otherwise you will be in for a very hard time.

Military Strength Training Exercises

There is a very simple reason military boot camps have become a popular way to get in shape – they are extremely effective. TV’s The Fit Club brought in Harvey Walden, ex-military drill instructor, to help get people into shape.

Although his approach may not work well to motivate everyone, his simple methods (with a few exceptions) are effective in losing weight. To lose weight, you need to combine intensive cardio exercise, which burns fat, with strength training, which boosts metabolism. Running is great for cardio fitness, but lacks muscle growth. Bodybuilding alone does not shift fat quickly.

The answer is a military boot camp fitness plan. For a soldier to be fit for service, he (or she) needs to be able to run 10 miles, or march 40 miles, and carry a heavy pack. Fitness or strength alone will not pass the test. Balance is key. In this article we look at some military strength training.

Many military fitness training drills include what is know as the ’22’. This is a set of exercises designed to build both fitness and power. It is a military circuit training routine.

The 22 Weight Training Routine

The ’22’ circuit splits the workout into 5 sections; Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms and Abs.

Military Chest Exercises

  • Press ups
  • Bench press
  • Dips
  • Lateral raises
  • Pullovers

Military Back Exercises

  • Chin ups
  • Hyperextensions
  • Bentover rows
  • Good mornings (take extreme care)

Military Shoulder Exercises

  • Shoulder press
  • Dumbbell press
  • Side lateral raise
  • Bent lateral raise

Military Arm Exercises

  • Barbell curls
  • Tricep dips
  • Concentration curls
  • Cable Press downs

Military Abs Exercises

  • Crunches
  • Leg raises
  • V-crunches
  • Seated leg push
  • Crossover Crunches

So, anyone, even with limited access to gym equipment, can do a military style strength training program. Anyone that has ever attended a martial arts class will probably recognise most of these exercises, which explains in a way why martial artists are so fit. Martial arts fitness is military fitness. In our next installment we shall look at military fitness training.

US Army Physical Training Test Is Updated

In March 2011 we learned that the US Army was planning to update its physical fitness testing, the first update since 1980. The reason for the change is to make the physical test more relevant to the combat.

There are two new physical training tests being piloted in training camps. If the tests are approved they are likely to be rolled out as part of the official PT tests in October 2011.

“Today’s PT test does not adequately measure components of strength, endurance, or mobility,” Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

Hertling and Frank Palkoska, director of the Army’s Physical Fitness School, have been talking about updating the army’s fitness tests for almost 30 years, however, it is only now that they have started to implement some changes. The main reason given for the changes is due to the advancements in sports science and a greater understanding on the best ways to get combat ready.

Army Physical Readiness Training Program (APRT)

The new tests are part of the the Army Physical Readiness Training program. The new tests include for the first time anaerobic exercise. This means working the muscles, something which you would have thought should be a part of the training already.

“Every time prior to combat, our fitness regimen and fitness testing is very different to what we do after we’ve experienced combat. But right after Vietnam, some of the fitness mavens, like Ken Cooper, sold the military on aerobic training. But this isn’t necessarily the way we do things in combat,” Hertling said.

The new APRT

There are 5 parts to the new APRT (Army Physical Readiness Test):

  • 400-meter run assesses upper body muscular endurance and anaerobic power, coordination, speed, and stability
  • Individual movement techniques assess upper and lower body muscular endurance, agility, balance, coordination, speed and stability
  • Ammo can shuttle sprint assesses total body muscular strength and endurance, agility, coordination, speed, stability, and power
  • Casualty drag assesses total body muscular strength and endurance, agility, coordination, speed, stability, and power
  • Agility sprint assesses lower body anaerobic power, speed and power

Other changes to the test are:

  • Eliminates sit-ups
  • Increases the pace of push-ups – think plyometrics
  • Replaces long-distance run with shorter-faster runs – high intensity
  • The five events include:
    • 60-yard shuttle run
    • One-minute rower (exercise outlined in TC 3.22-20)
    • Standing long-jump
    • One-minute push-up
    • 1.5 mile run

So if you are planning to join the armed forces, start training in this way. Rather than long marches you need to be able to perform high intensity workouts. Boxing workouts and tabata training are good ways to train the body in this way. Aim to be fast and powerful, as well as have a good level of endurance. Training should be more like that of a sprinter and less like that of a marathon runner.

The proposed pilot test sites are: Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Jackson, S.C.; Fort Bliss, Texas; West Point, N.Y.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; and Fort Lewis, Wash.

Full details can be found on

There is obviously a great deal more to military fitness training than we have covered here, but if you at least work on running and muscular endurance and strength you will be well equipped to start some serious training under the guidance of a military fitness instructor.

21 Comments on “Military style fitness training”

  1. Nehal Kazim says:

    This article sets the foundation for a person who is looking to increase endurance and improve cardiovascular fitness.

    If a person really strives to build a high level of endurance, they must increase the intensity. Carrying full military packs is an effective method of doing just that.

    By reaching a high level of intensity, the amount of endurance and strength built up will be sufficient to run for longer periods of time.

  2. How many reps and sets do you do for these?

  3. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Matt,

    Apologies for the delay, I thought we had replied to this!

    Usually I would suggest working in the 8-12 reps for 2-3 sets for each exercise. You want to build endurance and functional strength.

    If you want to focus on strength, then reduce the reps and increase the sets, but go heavier with longer rest periods between each set (e.g. the classic 5 sets of 5 reps).

  4. allan galloway says:

    i have been reading charlie bronsons book on solitary fitness, this contains a lot of press ups and other basics workouts,is this sort of exercises the best for fitness and toning up.

  5. I am all about preventing injuries and I think that your comments about the “flat footed” runner is spot on. I encourage anyone that easing into a running program in order to “feel” how your body moves should be the first thing to do.
    This is important because to more we focus on what is happening in our bodies the better we can make adjustments to our technique and our gear.
    Some people’s feet “supinate” causing them to run on the outer edges of their feet while others “pronate” which can give the appearance of having flat feet. Finding out if you are included in either of these categories is essential to making the right choices in foot wear, running technique and even running terrain.
    Does Motley Health have any recommendations for books that may help us better understand this?

  6. MotleyHealth says:

    Don’t know of any books. I think the best thing to do is get along to a a specialist running shop and get some advice. Many good shops have treadmills and they record your foot action while running to determine the type of shoe you need to support the pronation or supination.

  7. How can I turn the 3 types of running and the military strength training into a 7 day workout plan ?

  8. MotleyHealth says:

    How about:

    Monday: Chest and Arm exercises
    Tuesday: Short run
    Wednesday: Back exercises
    Thursday: Medium run
    Friday: Shoulder and Ab exercises
    Saturday: Short run
    Sunday: Endurance run

    Splitting the weight training up will help manage the workload better. If you have more time to exercise then you could also run in the mornings that you do weight training. As the military strength workouts do not involve much leg work you keep your legs fresh for running while lifting.

  9. Thanks this will help me heaps

  10. MotleyHealth says:

    Glad to help Alex. Are you training to join the military or just looking for new ways to get fit?

  11. To get fit and hopefully lose a few kilos

  12. ive bin doing pushups for about three months and my bench has went from 125 to 185 ibs, i use to do 20 pushups and now i can do 50 in a row, but for about a month i cant do any more than 50 pushups, im like in a plateau or something, i usually do about 200-500 pushups a day, so i tried taking a few days off but it makes me weaker, can you help me bust threw this plateau? ps: i love this website, it has alot of information and is very knowledgable

  13. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Mike, maybe you could try experimenting with some weighted pushups (light weighted vest or small back back?). It is a matter of building up muscular endurance and strength. Maybe your diet needs improving too, to ensure glycogen stores are healthy (the muscle fuel). Another idea would be get fitter to improve your cardiovascular system, which will improve oxygenated blood supply to your muscles during exercise.

  14. Saul Munoz says:

    Hi guys

    Is this only for people who want to join the ARMY?

  15. MotleyHealth says:

    Not at all, it is for anyone who wishes to get fit really. We can learn a lot from how the military trains. If you want good all round fitness, endurance and strength, then military style training is a good option.

  16. Fantastic guide Jon. I found it very informative, I agree that running is good way to start training.

  17. Madison Gomez says:

    That is really the common problem of those military. They will gain weight and become fat.

  18. MotleyHealth says:

    Madison, are you suggesting that military fitness training tends to result in the armed forces becoming overweight? Or have I misunderstood you?

  19. Hahaha – obviously you haven’t been in the military. Yes, there are overweight, even fat people in the military, all branches. Boot camp usually doesn’t let them out before they drop the weight (the Marine Corps puts you on a mandatory diet if you’re selected as a fatbody. One guy in our platoon lost 80 lbs over the 3 months), but then it’s easy to get lazy, drink too much beer, etc during your downtime once you’re out in the “fleet” (I don’t know what the other branches call it once you’re out of basic). I was in the Marine Corps and the exercise that we did as a unit was all running and body weight calisthenics, so it’s completely feasible. Someone out of shape can get administrative counseling to encourage them to lose weight, but that’s totally on the command personnel to take initiative and keep hounding someone. I was always very lean, I didn’t have a big interest in exercise (okay no interest – lol) and I was exempt from the morning PT (Physical Training) because of my morning duties as the admin guy. I passed the PFT and they left me alone. There were gyms available, back then I was intimidated by them. It’s only in the last ten years (I’m 39 and I’ve been out of the Marines since ’98) that I’ve become interested in the gym and weight lifting, I wish I had back then, but it just didn’t fit for me. People tell me that I “don’t look like a Marine”, which is ridiculous, there is no “look”. There is a look or a type that they pick for the recruiting poster, but that’s the same as telling someone they don’t look like a Abercrombie customer by the posters A&F uses to sell their clothes. We had some weird looking people, only a few were in super looking shape and fit that image.

  20. So i guess they skip legs no squats?? Or no deadlifts how will they work back properly with out heavy deads. The deadlift is the most basic movement out there and they leave it out!

  21. MotleyHealth says:

    This is just one suggestion, no doubt that many other military fitness routines include deadlifts. Personally I would drop the good mornings and just do deadlifts.

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