I train with all branches of military daily and make no mistake, if you want to have a successful career in the military, fitness will be a focus.
Your level of dedication to fitness can either make or break you.
The men and women of the armed forces are a special breed of athletes with special fitness requirements and demands. They are held to the highest fitness standards and are required to meet and exceed them consistently, or else they can kiss their military careers goodbye.
There are countless resources available that help with your running form, speed, and endurance, push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups.
Question is, how do you put all of this together and master your body to ensure success during Boot Camp and throughout your career?
Here are the requirements you should focus on as well as my tips to help you smash your PFT.
The Army, Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard Physical Fitness Tests or PFTs consist of the following:
1. Push-Ups – The key to a better push-up is to do better push-ups and it starts with your form. A wider “grip” or hand placement places more stress on the chest. A closer hand placement allows for better weight distribution between the muscle groups recruited in the push-up (triceps, chest, shoulders). Rule of thumb for hand placement: place your hands just wider than shoulder width and aim to make a 90 degree angle with your arms when in the down position. In the down phase of your push-up, your chest should come about 2 inches off the floor (or about the height of a fist is how someone will test you).
How to smash it: To max out the push-up portion of your test, do your push-ups fast with no rest for 2-minute at a time to get used to the pace and repetition of the test. For more chest exercises and variations to the push-up check out these videos: Best Push-Up Variations
Sit-Ups – The sit-up is an ancient move that coincidently measures core strength effectively. If you have trouble sitting up or lack core strength, you’re going to have a hard road as a soldier. During the PFT, the sit-up is performed with someone holding your feet and your knees bent. So practice it this way to get familiar with the movement and comfortable with how they test.
How to smash it: This is an exercise you can “max-out” by improving all around core strength. Try some of these abdominal exercises and incorporate them into a routine you do 5-7 days per week, 1 minute to 2 minutes at a time. Also, make sure you test doing sit-ups for 1 to 2 minutes at a time to measure your progress.
1.5/2 Mile (Army), 3 mile (Marines) timed run – If you want to master the run test and become a better than average runner, you have to run a greater distance than is required, plain and simple. You also have to run frequently. Five to six days a week is a normal schedule to follow in preparation for Boot Camp.
How to smash it: I suggest interval training. The troops I train perform a series of intense, heart rate elevating cardio exercises like these to increase cardiovascular strength and endurance and well as increase lung capacity. Integrate these movements into your running routine for the best chance of success. Practicing your run in boots once or twice a week is also a good idea in preparation for Army and Marine Corp Boot Camp. Double up on the socks to prevent blisters.
Pull-Ups - The Marine Corp incorporates the pull-up in their PFT requirements, but does not test the push-up. They also increase the run-test by what is required of the Army by 1-mile bringing them to a 3 mile run. Marines are labeled as the toughest and most in shape of all the armed forces for this reason. The pull-up is an amazing test of upper body strength. It requires hand, forearm, bicep, and back strength. Proper pull-ups are done with the hands facing away from the body just wider than shoulder width apart. Pull your chin up and over the bar without “kipping” or swinging. Drop back to the starting position with your arms straight and relaxed.
I once heard a Marine Corp General tell a young Marine, “Son, you know how you do more pull-ups? Do more pull-ups!” The one constant between men AND women who do well at the pull-up test, is that they practice pull-ups.
How to smash it: If you have never done a pull-up, or struggle with the pull-up, here are some exercises you can do so build strength in the muscles incorporated in the pull-up:
Jumping Pull-Ups – Jumping Pull-Ups are done by placing a step, plyo-box, or weight plates under the pull-up bar and using your legs to help propel your chin up and over the bar. You should be mimicking a proper pull-up, so start with your arms fully extended directly under the bar and use your arms to pull yourself up, don’t let your legs do all the work. Here is a video from Crossfit to illustrate: Jumping Pull-Up
Negatives – Negatives are the second half of pull-ups. Stand on something or get someone to spot you by getting your chin over the bar. Fight gravity for as long as you can and slowly lower yourself down into the hanging position. This will get your hands, arms, and back used to being in the pull-up position and accustomed to supporting your bodyweight.
Lat Pulldowns – Use a Lat Pulldown machine to increase strength in all the muscles used in the pull-up. Pull the bar down to the collarbone by keeping the bar in front of you. Behind the neck pull-downs have been known to cause shoulder impingements and neck problems. Keep it in front.
When you can complete 5-10 pull-ups with ease, try this pull-up variations to keep it fun and interesting.
Depending on your service of choice, your Boot Camp training program may have an obstacle course, rope climb, swimming, ruck marches, or more. Prepare accordingly by reviewing the PFT standards and requirements here and start your training at least 4-6 months prior to attending Boot Camp.
Tee Major is a Military Fitness Instructor for the U.S. Military at the Transit Center Manas in Kyrgyzstan. He is a certified Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor, and professional fitness model. He is a lover of all things living, a tech geek, an adventurer and an expert on all things dangerous. Keep up with him on his blog @ Tee Major Fitness.