Fitness and Weight Training for Military Recruits

Get Fit for Military Service with Weight Training

Military recruits at boot camp.
Military recruits at boot camp.. Scott Olson/Getty Images

When joining any one of the military forces you usually need to pass a relatively elementary medical and fitness evaluation. This varies by country and service. Once joined up and in recruit training, fitness enhancement is one of the main goals. Calisthenics, running, marching, walking, crawling, and lifting odd objects will be the order of the day for the 2 months or so of recruit training.

This is where many new recruits make it harder for themselves than is necessary.

Why not get fit before basic recruit training commences? Here's how to do it.

Getting Ready

Unlike the more demanding fitness requirements of the special forces, good general fitness and strength can easily be achieved in around three months leading up to induction. Functional fitness for basic recruits requires physical strength and endurance at a moderate level in order to deal with day-to-day physical activity instruction with some degree of competence. This article provides an overview of the physical fitness and training requirements and standards that you should target in order to be ready for recruit training.

However, you should request information from the units themselves to avail yourself of the most relevant fitness requirements for your application. This article can only be a summary of broad principles and practices.

Fitness Standards

Below is a range of fitness standards for men that should prepare you for the challenges you will face in recruit training.

The strategy is to be fit enough so that you don't struggle with the physical challenges. Save your energy for the psychological and mental challenges. Women's standards will be somewhat lower, especially in regards to the strength standards, but all-round fitness for women is still important considering the additional roles women take on in modern armies.

As well as getting fit with general strength and conditioning, you need to get used to walking long distances with a heavy pack on your back. There's no substitute for this type of training.

Target these aerobic / endurance standards:

  • Beep, multi-stage or shuttle test. Level 12
  • Run 2 mile, 3.2 kilometer: 14.00 minutes
  • Run 3 mile, 4.8 kilometer: 22 minutes
  • Run 6 miles, 9.6 kilometer: 46 minutes
  • Walk 10 miles, 16 kilometers, with a 45-pound, 20-kilogram pack in 3 hours

Aim for these strength / endurance standards:

  • Pushups, full body: 50
  • Situps, standard military: 60
  • Pullups (to proper hang and chin standard): 6

If you reach the fitness standards above, you should have excellent upper and lower body strength and endurance, and aerobic fitness. You should not have too many problems with the raw physical fitness aspects of recruit training. Adding swimming competence to your list of accomplishments is always useful. Aim for 800 meters.

Weight Training

Distributing your training between endurance activities and strength training will be a challenge because each type has a tendency to develop specialized physiology and biochemistry.

You will need to make the best compromises possible to be proficient in both. Too much bulk and under-developed aerobic capacity will slow you for demanding endurance activities like long pack marches. However too little upper-body muscle and strength will limit your ability to cope with rope work, swimming and general upper-body strength work, including hauling heavy packs and equipment.

Lower body: Running, especially hill running and fast intervals, will give you good leg strength. You can supplement this with a regular squat and deadlift workout, which will develop core and lower-back strength too.

Upper body: You need to develop the back muscles, especially the lats (latissimus), the shoulder (deltoid) muscles, and the traps (trapezius) across the top of the shoulders (to haul that pack). Naturally, you cannot ignore the large arm muscles -- the biceps and triceps at front and back of the upper arms.

Below is a list of weight training exercises to build the upper body and to help you do copious quantities of push-ups and pull-ups. You will also do many, many standard push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups in a single session of multiple sets.

  • Barbell bench press
  • Barbell or dumbbell bent over row
  • Barbell military press (overhead)
  • Cable row machine
  • Lat pulldown machine
  • Barbell hang clean or power clean
  • Pullups - overhand and underhand grip
  • Bicep curls
  • Tricep cable pushdowns or overhead extensions or dips


The main message here is to ensure you are in good physical condition before you tackle recruit training. A 3-4 month training program should be sufficient to produce excellent entry-level fitness. If you're overweight and very unfit, 6 months may be more appropriate.

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