How to Learn to Run in the Military

Learning how to run in the military
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Ryan Chatterley, 312th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, and U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Marshall Freitas, 312th AS flight engineer, run on the track to prepare for an upcoming PT test April 3, 2019, at Travis Air Force Base, California. (Airman 1st Class Cameron Otte/U.S. Air Force photo)

Are you running now to pass a fitness test? Or just running for more exercise? There is a difference.

When they first start running, many people will either go for a long slow run, maybe mix in some walking or do several short, faster-paced, sprint-type intervals. But regardless of why you run, specifics matter. If you have to run a 1.5-, two- or three-mile timed run for your military branch of service (or law enforcement), you need not only to build up to that distance, but also build up a maintainable pace, depending upon your goals, for passing that test. Both of these take time and a logical progression; otherwise, you do too much, too fast and get injured.

For many, simply passing with the minimum standards is not good enough. Some programs within the military are competitive and require a higher caliber of fitness-test scoring, which may require even more training time. Here is a question from someone who did not provide much detail, but the way the question is asked may prove that he may not know what to ask.

Stew: Do you recommend doing the 8 to 10 x 400-meter runs every day?

Answer: No, not every day. But, yes, you should be doing goal-paced intervals at 400-800 meters during your training week.

You actually need a variety of running workouts and maybe some non-impact cardio options mixed into the week, depending upon your level of running ability. The last thing you would want to do is do 2-2.5 miles of running a day seven days a week (14-17 miles a week) when you do not run at all presently. That type of zero to 15 miles a week typically can lead to injury (shins, knees, feet, tendons, muscles, bones). So you want to progress to that kind of mileage if your current mileage is less than 5-10 miles per week.

Depending on your current running volume, a logical place to start is running 1-1.5 miles a day three to five times a week. If you are a beginner, the lower end of that spectrum is recommended (three to five miles a week). Some of this distance may require walking as well. If you are used somewhat to running, you can push toward the higher end of that starting spectrum (five to 7.5 miles a week).

The thing you do not want to do is start off running a slow five-mile run one day and then be in pain for the next week. One, slow running is not what you need. And two, the five miles is not something you need to train for anyway. Get specific; see program ideas below:

Monday -- Learn your goal pace. If you want to run a mile in eight minutes, run 400 meters in two minutes. See whether you can. If that is no problem, then repeat that 400-meter run at your goal pace four to six times or more, depending on your level of running ability and recent history. Just because you ran in high school 10 years ago does not mean you should start off where you left off a decade ago after not running in the last 10 years.

Tuesday -- Try pushing it. Push your cardio ability by doing fast-paced intervals -- either running 100, 200, or even 400 meters faster than goal pace or near full speed. If you need a break from running, you can do this on a bike or elliptical and do the one-minute sprint or one minute easy interval or try the Tabata Interval of a 20-second sprint, 10 seconds easy for 15 minutes.

Wednesday -- Day off or Mobility Day. Consider taking an easy day filled with walking, biking, elliptical, stretching and foam rolling, just in case you are sore from the previous two days of running. If you are feeling fine and can handle some miles, it is always a good idea to keep practicing the goal pace so you can "muscle memory" a pace even without a watch.

Thursday option. If you have run three days in a row, consider making today a recovery day and hitting Friday harder. If you took a mobility or easy day yesterday, let's see where you are on the timed run you have to do. Warm up for 5-10 minutes running or biking and stretching, then test yourself. If you run your timed run at an 8:45 mile pace, a good new goal pace for you would be an eight-minute mile so the two-minute, 400-meter and four-minute, 800-meter pace workouts will apply. If you are far from that pace (more than 1:30), you may need to adjust your goal pace.

Friday -- Goal-paced running. Try Monday's workout again. Add in an 800-meter set as well at goal pace.

Saturday or Sunday -- It is up to you to use the weekend as recovery (stretching, foam rolling, non-impact cardio) or get more running into your week if you can handle it (no pain). Use the weekend as a makeup day, if needed. Many people like to run longer distances on the weekend. That is fine, but remember: If the No. 1 goal right now is timed runs, make the run faster-paced and shorter.

Increase running time or distances by 10% to 15% each week as a logical progression that is standard in order to avoid unnecessary overuse injuries.

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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