Here Are Three Great Ways to Prepare Your Legs for Military Service

How to prepare for running at altitude
1st Lt. Krosby Keller, 225th Air Defense Squadron air battle manager, runs the San Diego 100 ultra marathon June 8, 2018. (Courtesy photo)

"Don't skip leg day" is a true statement for anyone working to create a strong body. If you also are preparing for military service, you may want to have an even more solid foundation of leg training.

Not only do you need to be good at running on all types of surfaces, you'll have to be proficient at equipment carries, rucking and even swimming with big SCUBA fins. All of these tasks require significant leg strength. Skipping leg days can haunt you one day if you're preparing for a challenging selection program for infantry or spec ops.

The standard leg-day lifts of squats, lunges, deadlifts and machine workouts are helpful in building a foundation that will serve you well and make you more durable with the impact forces required of military training.

However, if you also are preparing to endure longer runs, rucks, ocean swims with fins or long dives, you must build your cardio base and leg muscle stamina. After a typical leg-day workout in the gym, either immediately after or later in the day, you should consider one of the three options to top off your leg day.

Running on the beach or hills

Hill days or beach runs are excellent choices to prepare your legs for the events that make running even more difficult than it already is. If you want a challenge, try running on the soft sand of the beach for 15 minutes in one direction. Then return to the starting point but step in the previously made footprints of the first leg of your run. You will realize that finding footprints to run in is the secret sauce to running faster in the soft sand. Build up over time and turn those beach runs into longer and faster three- to four-mile timed events.

For hill runs, find a short, steep hill or a longer, steady incline hill and run up it fast and turn around and walk or jog down the hill as a recovery. If you do not have hills or sand, find some stairs or a stair stepper (try this workout). These workouts will produce the same leg conditioning you need.

Swimming with fins

Building up your legs and ankles for the strains of swimming with SCUBA fins takes time in the water. It is recommended that you limit your swim fin workouts to leg days (2-3 times a week max).

Build up to 1,000 meters for time without stopping and turn that into 2,000-4,000 meters over time. If you go to BUD/S, the two-mile ocean swim with fins requires you to swim 4,000 yards in fewer than 75 minutes to graduate (the third-phase standard). Try these Swimming with Fins Tips.

Rucking on varied terrain

Wearing a weight vest or heavy backpack (40-50 pounds or more) also is required by many military professions. Depending on your branch of service and your MOS, you may very well spend most of your preparation time rucking to prepare for infantry, Rangers, RECON or Special Forces.

Once again, we typically add rucking to our leg days twice a week, with one of those rucks progressing over time to longer 8-12 miles with 50-60 pounds. See How to Train for Rucks.

One of our favorite workouts is what we call the Spec Ops Triathlon where we run, ruck and swim with fins as a stand-alone workout. Try a three-mile run, three-mile ruck with 40-50 pounds, and a one-mile swim with SCUBA fins as a longer-than-average workout on a weekend day.

This triathlon is especially fun when you put together a big group of like-minded people enjoying the challenge. You can break them up individually and finish your leg day with a tactical application that will be part of your future training.

All these activities that "top off leg day" require a significant amount of leg strength and muscle stamina. An athletic history of weight training is helpful if you're looking to build some mass to handle the load these military training activities place on the back and lower body.

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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