Ask Stew: Preparing for USMC – Questions from a Teen Recruit

A Reconnaissance Marine with 4th Force Reconnaissance Company aims during their two weeks of annual training at the Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, July 18, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Nathan Knapke)

Thank you all who are considering military service after high school. You give me hope for the future as a call to service should be taken seriously and not because you could not find anything else to do – especially if you are going hardcore Marine Corps. It is a calling – so thank you. Here is a common question from a recruit who has “DEP’d in” (joined the delayed entry program) and is preparing not only for the challenges of USMC Parris Island, but many follow-on training programs to include RECON:


Question #1:

Stew, I'm 17 years old aspiring to be Marine RECON.  I am enlisted and in the DEP I can do 16 pull ups, 93 crunches and a 10:10 mile and half, 55 push ups in 2 min, and 3 miles in 24:20.  About the 3 mile run – I stopped running so I can gain some weight. I also lift weights regularly.

First of all, you cannot think 3 miles of running is going to “ruin your gains.” Three miles is NOT long distance running. Once you get good at running, this is less than 20 minutes and maybe a total calorie burn for a lighter young man of less than 300 calories. You can make that up with one peanut butter and jelly sandwich. SO, STOP THINKING THAT YOU CANNOT RUN. This is military training preparation - and the Marines - so you have to get good at both running and rucking. Do not neglect this. Eat more food. Besides, if you do not run now and are fail to prepare yourself with a solid foundation of running – which can take several months to build – you will likely have overuse running injuries are boot camp. This could roll you or get you dropped from training depending upon the severity. Now, if you were running for over an hour a day, I might buy the long distance “ruin my gains” theory.

Question #2: I’ve recently started to minimize running to gain weight as stated above because I've been told I need to gain weight.  I'm 5'11 and weigh 152 do you think I should resume in running or keep minimizing it?

At this weight, YES, it is not a bad idea to put on some muscle but you need to lift and keep running at least to keep a good pace on your 1.5 mile timed run during DEP for the Initial Strength Test (IST). But gaining 10-15 lbs or more will serve you well as long as you can still run. Trust me 5’11” and 175-180 lbs is not massive and will serve you well under the ruck, load bearing exercises (logs, boats, equipment), and you will still be able to run fast.

But sure, try a cycle of weight training for 6-8 weeks with minimal running – BUT minimal running is 3 miles 4-5 times a week. 10-15 miles of running will only help you on your journey.  If you neglect this small amount of running, you will regret it. See Weight Gain Tips and start training harder, eating more, lifting more, but keep up your running too.

Question #3: I am aware that swimming is a big part of recon training and I am pretty much a beginner in swimming. What do you think is the best way for me to approach swimming?

Well – you need to take lessons and learn how to swim properly or start watching videos and hanging out at the pool learning / watching from others. Then this will also take time to get in shape for swimming. Hopefully, you will have time to prepare for running faster, swimming better, and gain some weight all at the same time in the next 6-9 months that you have left.  It will require you to train significantly and smartly. 5-6 days of training working on your weaknesses of strength, muscle gain, running speed and endurance, swimming ability arranged in a way so you are training hard enough but not over-training and injuring yourself.

I do think you need a plan.  Here are some ideas if you want to build your own:

Classic PT Week

Training for Timed Runs

Weights and Calithenics

But yes, getting on a plan that arranges calisthenics, weights, running, rucking, and swimming in a way that you can improve is something you should consider.  Focus on Mastering the IST first, then the PFT second, all the while learning how to swim, run, and ruck better. See ideas for preparing for Basic RECON Course too.

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