From Sedentary to Basic Training: Here's How to Get Ready

Marine recruits receive essential gear at Parris Island.
New recruits are issued the essential gear that they will use for their remaining time at Parris Island, S.C. (Lance Cpl. Ryan Hageali/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

When setting goals for a new and challenging military profession with future physical testing and training to endure, going from sedentary to fully prepared and ready to serve can take some time. If you are not patient, you can attend the training underprepared and not meet the standards. Or you can get injured and either delayed or disenrolled from the military training program altogether. Your willingness to succeed can be accomplished only by your willingness to prepare.

Stew, I have been using some of your workouts on Fitness in preparation for Army National Guard Training. I have a few programs of yours, but they seem a bit daunting, especially since my job of five years is sedentary and I have some weakness in hips, legs and lower back. But now I have to get back in shape, and would like to run and do pull-ups again. Running doesn't seem to be an issue for my hip, but things like squats are painful. I will likely get a treadmill or rower, but wow they are expensive . Maybe I'll just join a gym for the next six months. What do you recommend? I appreciate your time and look forward to your answers.

You may want to consider a beginner program just to get moving again before jumping into an Army training program. Try Treat Yourself Like a Beginner just for a few weeks while you work out some kinks. Any book or workout you purchase or find online is a generic plan, and you have to personalize it to make it fit for your current abilities, equipment, time per day, days per week and ultimate goals.

For the hip (and all other joints), you may find that motion is lotion. Get moving, stand up more during work, walk and stretch during your lunch break or even 10 minutes before meals. If you have weight to lose, focus on diet and exercise, even if exercise is basically walking, planking, back, legs, hips stretching and mixing in some push-ups.

Pull-ups will come in time and will be easier as you get stronger and lighter (if weight is an issue). Pull-ups are not tested in the Army, but the new Army combat fitness test requires a few new exercises that challenge your grip and strength. Pull-ups also will help you with grip as well as climbing obstacles in your future training as well.

Mixing in weights is a good idea to build up strength for pull-ups, push-ups, and legs and back. Hopefully you can find some gym time or buy some dumbbells, or get a pull-up or dip bar with a vertical knee raise piece of equipment. This single device will help you gain strength to handle your body weight and is a good progression when you have to do the new ACFT with "leg tucks," also known as "toes to bar."

Get Ready for Timed Runs (beginner's guide): This is a good way to build back up to running and prepare for the two-mile timed run you have to pass in the Army. When following any plan not designed specifically for you, you will have to adjust the repetitions, sets, weights of exercises, distance running and overall time to train. Do not get discouraged if you have to make a workout easier. You will do the workout again one day and meet all the requirements -- and maybe even have to make it harder if you stay with it.

Also consider eBay or check the local papers. Many people are getting rid of gym equipment for free or at low prices. You may find some good second-hand equipment that people will ask you to pick up for free. I do not think I ever have bought a new piece of fitness equipment -- from weights to cardio machines -- all found for free or purchased at a lower than retail price.

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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