You’re preparing for basic training. You imagine a Drill Sergeant screaming in your face, “Drop and give me 10!” Or you see yourself lugging a heavy pack on an endless run, while the sergeant follows, taunting you from a golf cart.
This may not be too far from reality. The nine-week introduction to military service pushes your body and mind to the limit to give you the physical capacity and mental toughness to handle any circumstance on the battlefield.
Although this kind of uber-strenuous activity has its place in Basic, you shouldn’t attempt to simulate it when training alone. Consistently pushing yourself to the limit will cause your body to break down from overtraining. Symptoms include weakness, fatigue, irritability, disturbed sleep, loss of appetite, depression, weakened immune system and increased chance of injury. It’s a recipe for disaster.
You should be commended if you’re willing to meet the demands of Basic Training—especially without the pressure and motivation of a Drill Sergeant or squad mates. But this strategy ignores essential fundamentals of strength and conditioning.
The Importance of Strength
You may think strength is unnecessary to complete the endurance challenges of Basic Training, such as max Pull-Ups, Push-Ups, timed runs and other bodyweight movements. You would be wrong.
Consider this example:
My Trap Bar Deadlift one-rep max is 425 pounds—albeit with a little grinding. I can perform 28 reps of 225 pounds in one minute, which equates to approximately one rep every two seconds. If my one-rep max were only 275 pounds, do you think I could perform 28 reps of 225 pounds? Not likely.
If you can Bench Press a maximum of 225 pounds and you weigh 200 pounds, it will be significantly more difficult to perform a Push-Up than if you could bench 315 pounds. Increasing your strength won’t directly increase your endurance, but each rep will be easier for you to complete.
To see this concept in action, watch the two videos below. The first shows a five-rep max, Loaded Push-Up test. The second shows a one-minute Push-Up test.
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This concept applies to every exercise and drill in Basic Training. The stronger you are, the more successful you will be in any particular movement.
Increasing your strength also reduces your risk of injury. A non-trained individual is more susceptible to stress fractures during basic training. Strength exercises place a load on your bones and stimulate bone density, helping your bones withstand high-stress activity.
Basic Training Strength Template
This four-week program is designed to prepare you for Basic Training by increasing your strength, power and durability. You will score higher on fitness tests and will be less likely to sustain an injury.
It’s based on the U.S. Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test (PFT), which includes Pull-Ups (to failure), Crunches (to failure) and a 3-Mile Run (timed). However, the same training principles apply to the other services.
Add high-frequency training to the above program to increase the volume of work. The concept is quite simple—perform a few additional reps of an exercise per day. The cumulative effective will increase your strength and prepare you for exercise outside of PT sessions.
Choose a specific place in your house that you pass by frequently, like the doorway to the kitchen. Every time you walk through the doorway, perform a rep. Five trips to the kitchen translate to 10 reps. That’s 70 additional reps per week and 280 additional reps per month.
When it comes to maximal performance testing, leave it all on the line. The test proctors won’t care if your form is perfect. Not pinching your shoulder blades together during a Pull-Up? The test proctor won’t know to look for that or understand why it’s important. Don’t like Crunches? You will be tested on them, so practice them and do them well.
The training program is intense. It’s imperative that you maintain your body by managing your soft-tissue quality, nutrition and sleep.
Maintain your muscles with a foam roller after a workout and on recovery days. Roll slowly over tight and fatigued muscles to eliminate adhesions, increase blood flow, remove toxins and accelerate recovery.
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You can’t forget about nutrition when preparing for Basic Training. Your first instinct may be to focus on nutritional content—which is important—but I encourage you to also pay attention to the quality of the food.
Ask yourself how many steps removed your food is from its natural state. For example, a breakfast sandwich consisting of frozen eggs, cheese and sausage is far from its original source. However, a fresh egg with veggies is about as natural as you can get.
Eating higher-quality foods decreases the amount of process chemicals entering your body, which reduces inflammation and improves recovery.
Aagaard, P., Simonsen, E., & Anderson, J. (2002). “Increased rate of force development and neural drive of human skeletal muscle following resistance exercise.” Journal of Applied Physiology , 1318-26.
Higbie, E., Cureton, K., Warren III, G., & Prior, B. (1996). “Effects of concentric and eccentric training on muscle strength, cross-sectional area, and neural activation.” Journal of Applied Physiology , 2173-2181.
Jordaan, G., & Schwellnus, M. (1194). “The incidence of overuse injuries in military recruits during basic military training.” Military Medicine , 421.
Kaurfman, K., Brodine, S., & Schaffer, R. (2000). “Military training-related injuries: Surveillance, research, and prevention. American Journal of Preventative Medicine , 54-63.
Photo: U.S. Army SSG Jim Greenhill/National Guard Bureau (Operation Copper Cactus) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons