Ask Stew: Never Been An Athlete But Want to Serve

Sgt. David M. Knotts Jr, concentrates on his form during the push-up portion of the Army Physical Fitness Test.
Sgt. David M. Knotts Jr, concentrates on his form during the push-up portion of the Army Physical Fitness Test.

You do not have to be an athlete to be in good physical condition. In fact, many athletes who specialize in a few elements of fitness and are masters at them can be quite bad at others.

For instance, if you ask Michael Phelps to do speed and agility work on land, you will see that he spends most of his time in the water. Not being an athlete actually gives you a clean palette to work with. You can build a solid foundation of all the elements of fitness that you will use in a tactical profession. These are endurance, speed, agility, strength, power, muscle stamina, flexibility / mobility. Here is an email from a young man who wants to serve, but lacks an athletic history because he had to work during high school.

Stew – I was never an athlete in school or before other than playing kick ball with neighborhood kids. I had a job after school every day, so that limited me. With that, I am not in great shape. Not overweight, but not fit either. Any advice? I think I lack the ability to stay motivated with fitness programs as I have never stuck with one before. Any assistance with both the physical and mental side of training? Josh

Josh – great questions. I have always said that you do not need to be an athlete to be in shape. Also, the main reason I recommend people doing athletics is because it helps become better team players. Having to work after school is also great life experience. You are likely working to help the family (team), and have to deal with co-workers and managers, which can also be a team experience. So I would not worry about that at all.

About the Mental Side

Now to focus on your internal dialogue as you will not get started exercising without it. I heard a great saying the other day, "Don't listen to yourself, TALK to yourself." You have to be that inner voice saying that it's time to get up and train. You need to know that, with a job in the military, your fitness could one day be a determining factor between you living or dying, your teammate living or not, or someone you are trying to rescue / help not making it. So take it that seriously.

Train like your buddy's life depends on it.

That is my internal dialogue I have in my head when not motivated to train. Eventually, your day 1 motivation has to evolve into persistence. Persistence evolves into habits. Your habits evolve into discipline. (See related link)

About the Physical Side

Think about getting TO your training. To get accepted into the Army, you have to pass the entrance Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), which is made up of pushups, situps, and a 2 mile run. You have the answers to the test already, so go practice and score well above the minimum standards. Here are some related articles to assist you: Pushups – You have to get good at pushups. A standard upper body exercise of all branches of service. Adding pullups into the mix is a good idea to fully develop the upper body. See the PT progression series link and add weights as well.

Sit-ups – Learn to pace yourself. Balance out sit up exercises with plank poses and lower back exercises.

RunningRunning mixed with calisthenics is a great way to build endurance and muscle stamina, but the goal is to drop your mile pace when it comes to two mile timed runs.

Rucking – You need to also build up to this event. In the Army, you will carry 40-50 or more pounds on your back and go for miles. Be prepared for rucking with practice and lifting to strengthen your back and legs.

Start off easy if you have not done any physical activity ever. If you feel you have a decent base of fitness, find a program and get prepared by focusing on getting TO and THROUGH the training.

I hope this helps you get your mind right so you can get your body moving if you want to serve in the Army. Remember -- you can do this, you just have to want to.


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