How the CrossFit Athlete Prepares for the Military

Marines and Sailors with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit participate in the “Murph” workout aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21) in the Red Sea, May 24, 2015. The workout is named after Navy Lt. Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL who was killed in Afghanistan supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Todd F. Michalek/Released)

Continuing with the series, “Different Athletic Types That Join the Military“, I address a new type of athlete that has many strengths. As with ANY athlete there are some weaknesses that CrossFit athletes must correct when preparing for military service. CrossFit and any other athletic activity for that matter does not have ALL the answers to the needs of the Tactical Athlete, but has many of both the tangible and intangible requirements needed for the new military recruit.

CrossFit Strengths for the Military Recruit (Intangibles)

Mental Toughness – CrossFit workouts require a high intensity mindset with the ability to push past exhaustion in a variety of the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) type workouts that make up many of the CrossFit workouts. Training hard and not quitting does develop a form of mental toughness and resilience that can go a long way for the young military recruit.  

Competitor / Teammate – Going into the military with a mindset to be a competitor – whether it is against the clock and personal best performances, or other recruits for physical fitness awards and best times - the CrossFit Athlete wants to win and prefers being best at something.  But being a helpful supporter to fellow teammates, recruits, and other members of the military is engrained in the CrossFit group training programs. There is nothing wrong with training to compete, but being a good supportive team player with fellow recruits is a must for new military members.

CrossFit Strengths for the Military Recruit (Tangibles)

Hybrid Athlete of Strength and Muscle Stamina – CrossFit Athletes have a unique combination of strength from lifting weights as well as higher repetition calisthenics / lighter weights. These qualities will bid well for the CrossFit athlete during boot camp and even harder selection programs. Workouts that mix carries, crawls, lifts, bodyweight exercises, and short and fast running create a high level of anaerobic endurance and general physical ability needed during many events like obstacle courses, group PT, and shorter runs. Pushing your anaerobic threshold is tough and builds a strong and tough athlete.

Foundation Building - The ability run and ruck without overuse injuries, as long as the progressions are logical, is there for the CF athlete due to tough resistance training, pushing sleds, and handling the vertical stresses of many of the workouts where carries and running are involved. This foundation makes it easy to build a cardio base for both running and rucking and other load bearing activities for the CrossFit Athlete; you just have to put in the time doing so.

Obstacle Courses – CrossFit Athlete do well with obstacle courses as long as they practice rope climbs and use technique of using their legs to climb and save their grip strength.The CF workouts are great for the high intensity of obstacle courses and timed events that are similar.

CrossFit Weaknesses for the Military Recruit

Longer Cardiovascular Endurance – Regardless of your workout programming prior to joining the military, “there is NO 30 minute workout that will adequately prepare you for a day of military / special ops training.” Short fast runs are great, but learning how to pace 6-8 minute/mile runs, 12-14 minute/ mile rucks, and even mile long swims will help you build the cardiovascular endurance needed to take on long, multiple hour events on a typical challenging day in recruit training. By adding a longer endurance event to the back end of a typical CF workout and you have a good combination that will build the military hybrid elements of tactical fitness.

Putting in the Time – There is nothing wrong with a short 20-30 minute workout – especially for busy people who have full-time jobs, families and other commitments. However, getting better at longer workouts are also required to be adequately prepared for a typically long day of military training. If CrossFit is what you love, keep doing it, but put in the time doing other events like running longer distances, rucking with 40-50lb backpacks and / or swimming – depending upon the branch of service you are seeking and preparing for. Make CrossFit your warmup, then add to it with the above cardiovascular and calisthenics events. Adding longer rest periods to AMRAPs and exhaustive timed workouts may also work better in your favor as the final preparation to military training.

Specifics of the Training – Pushups, situps, pullups (no kipping), running 1.5 – 3 mile timed runs depending on your branch of service are events that you need to master in order to get selected for the training. Then running longer mileage, rucking longer hours, and swimming / techniques are some of the other longer endurance requirements the CF athlete need to specifically address in order to get TO and THROUGH the training programs. 

Conclusion Motivated young men and women who are preparing for a career in today’s military give me hope for our future. Regardless of your athletic background, becoming a tactical athlete requires taking your current strengths and molding them to the service requirements and focusing on current weaknesses that could be detrimental to the new recruit or spec ops student. If you are a current CrossFit athlete, make sure you add the longer cardio events to your training as well as more calisthenics in order to work on your cardiovascular endurance (running, swimming, rucking).

Previous Athletes Discussed: Cross Country Endurance Running Athlete Swimming Athlete Powerlifting Football Athlete


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