Here is a common misconception concerning military as well as law enforcement training programs. Often people show up to day one of the basic training or academy not in any kind of shape to start off on a group run. Many are overweight with de-conditioned muscles and joints to handle any physical activity for long periods of time. Here is an email I recently received:
Hi Stew, I am in the process of applying to the military and was wondering how much should I workout before attending boot camp? I mean, don't they get you in shape?
Ouch!!! It is this type of thinking that causes so many people each year to leave their training programs either injured or unable to pass minimum fitness standards. Not to mention, the extra stress of remedial PT / running programs eat any of your spare time you might have to relax. More often than not, the remedial programs and added physical stress distract you from learning your profession to the best of your ability. This occurs for ONLY one reason. You did not have a good enough preparation strategy.
Anytime you make changes in your life, you have to have a plan, a strategy on how you are going to succeed with your new goals. In this case joining the military or law enforcement is very similar. Your job before you start training is to get in shape and well within height and weight standards. Here is a list of what I call the "Ten Commandments of Preparation to Serve":
1. Be motivated It is not my job to motivate you to serve your country. You have to be motivated and understand that your fitness level could be the difference between life and death for you, your partner, or a victim you are attempting to save.
2. Upper Body Strength Make sure you can do pushups, situps, and even pull-ups of some form as these exercises will help you climb fences or rope, jump walls, and handle an opponent if needed. Practice with weights, walls, ropes, and fences. Do not assume that you can accomplish these skills without practice. See PT / weights articles.
3. NO MINIMUM STANDARDS It is your job to use or create a plan that will prepare you well within the minimum physical standards of the unit you choose to serve. Minimum standards never helped anyone excel in training. Minimum standards are like getting a "D" on academic work. It is passing but getting through to the next level or training is going require much more work. Statistics show the better you score on the entrance fitness test, the better you are at completing the course of instruction well.
4. Be able to run You do not have to have marathon experience, but a minimum of 15-20 miles a week is a great base to handle your training programs without over-use injuries like shin splints, stress fractures, joint tendonitis, and others. See running articles / prevention injuries.
5. Know the Specialty Tests Each unit has certain tests you will have to pass it is your job to do the research and find out what is expected of you during and after training. For instance, if you are planning on joining the Navy, practice swimming. If you want to join the Army, run and put a back pack on and walk fast (ruck march). Many law enforcement agencies require some form of obstacle course or job related standards test, so practice running stairs, sprints, climbing walls, dragging a body. See ideas in Fitness Store or article archive.
6. Be a Team Player When you are going through training, you will be assessed on how well you work with others. Following orders as well as developing ideas and sharing them with your team are critical skills that you should be able to perform without thinking. If you are in high school, play team sports, join the band, do community action groups. Do something that will help you learn these skills now.
7. Learn the ranks This is a little less physically demanding as it sounds, but if you do not know the ranking system as well as other historical information about your unit, its famous people and its heroes, it is likely you will pay the price in pushups and other extra physically demanding duties. There is a saying in many training programs, "If you are going to be stupid, you better be strong."
8. Eat Right for energy (not drink) Eating good carbohydrates and protein rich foods like fruits, veges, lean meats is the best tool for energy to exercise and prepare physically for training. Too many people rely on energy drinks which are really just caffeine and sugar to spike your central nervous system, not provide proper sustainable fuel for workouts. See food plan for ideas.
9. Show up within weight standards Being heavy or overweight will likely challenge you to work harder when running, doing obstacle courses, and staying up with the class physically. If you are one of those bigger muscle guys, who is lean but big, your strength / power will come in handy, but do not let it hamper your cardiovascular endurance. Big guys can run 6-7 minute mile pace too, you just have to work at it prior to your training.
10. Did I mention run? Make sure you can run. You will run from one place to another usually carrying your gear for that event. Running injuries are typically the number one issue for people attending boot camps, spec ops units, as well as police academies. See running plan ideas.
Now, there is a lot to consume here, but signing up for service is not just a signature, it is a commitment to train to be your best and protect the weak. Being strong on day one will better ensure that you will be trained to protect the weak. Thanks for your decision or contemplation of serving your country whether it is in the military, law enforcement, or fire fighter professions. Good luck with your program and I hope you see improvement soon. These workouts and others can be easily obtained at the Military.com Fitness eBook Store. Send me an email and I may post it up as an article next week. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Military.com Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at email@example.com.