This week I received an email from a young man who says he is a former high school athlete who wanted me to critique his weight lifting routine as he prepares for Boot camp. Being a former weightlifting football player myself, I stepped back into time some eighteen years and saw many of the same things I did to prepare for Plebe Summer at the Naval Academy. The only bad thing about the plan and the way I prepared for USNA is that it was the wrong way to train for the military style fitness.
I soon realized when I took my first physical fitness test (PFT) that one maximum set of pushups was not the same as bench press and no matter what weight machines you use there is no substitute for pullups. Sure pull-downs, bicep curls, bent over rows all work the same muscles groups as the pullups, just as bench press is the same motion as the pushup -- BUT nothing prepares you for pushup and pull-up tests quite like doing pushups and pullups to failure or near failure during your workouts. Check out my articles on pushups and pullups for workout ideas.
Situps and running: The two other events of many physical fitness tests seemed easy enough. Anyone can do situps and run right? Sure most young people can do 50 - 60 situps in two minutes, but I realized to be competitive with other scores and to make a high grade in the situps test, you needed to be able to do 80-100 in 2:00. The only way to reach numbers like that is to practice situps several times a week with timed intervals and pacing yourself. Once I saw people hitting 100 situps in 2:00, I increased my pace (situps per second) and reached 30 situps in 30 seconds. I was moving fast -- felt strong until about 40 seconds into the two minutes test where the lack of training caught up with me and I was only able to do another 30 situps in the remaining 1:30 for a total of only 60 situps. I barely passed the minimum standard.
When it was time to run, I was a bit worried when half the guys in my group all ran track and cross-country. I tried to hang with them on the first lap of a quarter mile track as they ran it in 80 seconds. After the first lap, I could not hang at a 5:20 mile pace and was spent for the remaining five laps struggling to breathe and run at my comfortable 7:00 mile pace. I just passed the run with only seconds remaining. How could this be? I was a very fit guy who lifted weights for three hours a day prior to coming to the Naval Academy's version of Bootcamp. See interval training article for more info on workouts to run faster.
Also free running plan
Now, even 20 years later, I can nearly double my PT scores at my age of 18 and run sub-6:00 miles for a few miles. The moral of this story is "There are no weights at Boot Camp -- start doing the events you will be tested in immediately!" If you want to be in the following branches of the service, here is what you need to be able to do to be competitive and remove the added stresses of physical discomfort and failure:
*Note - these are not minimum standards but above average competitive standards recommended by Stew Smith.
*Note2 - weights are not bad to do they are just not needed 6-12 months prior to bootcamp. If you have a history of weight training / athletics drop them. If you do not you could use some weights to build up your core. See related articles on the subject and SEAL training
Prepare for SEAL Training for the Strength / Power Athlete
Prepare for SEAL Training for the Endurance Athlete
The hardest thing about failing a physical fitness test or not performing as well as your fellow soldiers is you have to play catch up. The good news is that at the age of 18-20, it is easy to get into shape and become competitive with your comrades, however, it is tough to do while in the middle of Boot camp or other military training. My recommendation is to get in the competitive range PRIOR to attending these military programs. I promise you it will save you from becoming discouraged, reduce the pain of muscle soreness, and enable you to focus on your job at hand -- becoming a Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman, and Hero of Tomorrow.