Ask Stew: Losing Weight Before Joining the Military

Weight loss leads to spot in Marine Corps.
Lance Cpl. Jacob Beasley stands outside his home wearing an Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps uniform at the age 17, when he weighed 260 pounds. Beasley dedicated the summer of 2014 to lose the weight to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. (Photo courtesy of Lance Cpl. Jacob Beasley)

Losing significant weight to prepare physically for the challenges of a future military career is a long process, but even people who have 100 pounds or more to drop have made that transition successfully.

They did it by training daily and controlling food intake, by pure persistence and the undying will to serve. These are powerful reasons that we need, no matter what goal we attempt to accomplish.

Here is an email from a young man seeking to drop some weight and join the National Guard:

Hey Stew,

I’ve been reading a lot of your fitness and nutrition articles, which has helped my goal to be healthier greatly. After just under two months, I’ve already lost 20 pounds. My goal is to drop another 100 and join the National Guard to help in my current law enforcement career. My question is I’m 6’0 and weigh around 300 pounds. I’ve been going to the gym and doing cardio four to five times a day, but haven’t touched weights yet. At what point should I start strength training and working my ab muscles. Any advice would be great. Thanks. -- Jerry

Jerry --

Great job wanting to serve and taking the hard route to get prepared, both to meet the physical standards as well as the height, weight and body-fat requirements. This hard work and achievement will be a crowning achievement that literally will add years to your life. So keep doing what you are doing.

I would focus on a good four- to six-month cycle like you are doing, and by late fall or early winter, you can get in the weight room but with added non-impact cardio options.

I like the massive cardio you are doing, but I would not run at this weight. Keep losing weight and get yourself below 250 pounds before you really start to run longer distances. A few quarter-mile intervals is all I would do at this point -- and focus more on bike, elliptical, rowing or swimming. Your knees will thank you for it.

Just by walking upstairs or sitting down and standing up, you are doing weight training. That would be like trying to move with a 100-pound weight vest on. Do not underestimate your current strength.

I am sure pull-ups are difficult at 300 pounds and would be surprised if you could do one, so you can get in the gym and mix in some pulldowns, rows and biceps curls in place of pull-ups on upper-body days. You can mix in some bench presses in place of push-ups, as those get tough, too, at 300 pounds. You can replace dips with the military press; a 300-pound dip could be very challenging and potentially cause an injury to your shoulders.

I would maintain your current programming, making it tougher each few weeks (more reps, miles, time in training) as you progress. But give yourself time. Most people lose 100 pounds successfully and keep it off (if they do) at a rate of about 8-10 pounds a month. When you inevitably plateau, it is time to make a change by adding more reps, weight training, more miles walking and more time on the bike or swimming.

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. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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