Ask Stew: Losing 40 Pounds Stands Between Future Soldier and the Army

Major works out in Kuwait.
Maj. Thelma Brown uses weightlifting equipment at the Zone One Fitness Center at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, on Feb. 26, 2008. (Master Sgt. Michele Hammonds/U.S. Army photo)

I typically receive an email pertaining to weight loss several times a week.

"Help! I need to lose 40 lbs. before I can join the Army. I also need help with running and I cannot do any pushups. How do I get fit and fit into a uniform?"

It is a fact that many (too many) of America's men, women and teenagers are overweight. Recent alarming statistics conclude the following:

  • 66% of America is overweight = 200 million people.
  • Half of the overweight people are obese = 100 million people.
  • These numbers have doubled since the 1970s.
  • 70% of diabetes cases are preventable.
  • About 300,000 Americans die each year because of complications caused by improper diet and fitness habits.
  • 50% of teens don't exercise or just walk.

First of all, I am proud of anyone who wishes to serve in the Armed Forces in any capacity. The goal for the young future soldier is to start moving today. At 40 pounds overweight, it is not recommended to start a running plan. For the first 1-2 months, you should stretch daily, walk 30-60 minutes a day and watch what you eat. Depending upon your height, weight and sex, running when significantly overweight can damage your lower back, knees and other joints. Focus on losing weight first by moving more, eating better and drinking water (up to a gallon a day).

See the article archives for more info on the Nutrition/Food Plans to help you. Also download this free food plan for more ideas.

You can add strength at the same time as you lose weight. If you cannot do standard push-ups, start doing push-ups on your knees. Consider it a lighter-weight bench press -- not a "girl" push-up. Today, women in the military do regular push-ups all the time, so they are not girl push-ups any longer -- just "assisted push-ups." See the "Push-up Push Workout" for more information and workouts on push-ups and sit-ups.

For starters, see the "45-Day Beginner Program" (PDF).

And once you have a few weeks or a month under your belt of stretching, some weight loss and lots of walking or biking, try to start running. Run a little and walk a little for the same amount of time that you were walking before. I recommend that you run for a minute, walk for a minute or find a certain number of telephone poles or driveways to run and walk to catch your breath. Just like doing knee push-ups, eventually you will do push-ups. It is the same with running nonstop; walk/run workouts work best for beginner runners.

Soon, you will perform push-ups and sit-ups, and run. But you have to do it properly, because a fitness beginner -- no matter the age -- can be injured easily if you start off too fast.

See the free "Six-Week Running Program" (PDF) once you are able to run 1-2 miles nonstop.

As a nation, our pool of fit youth to serve in the military is decreasing in size every year. We have to encourage our kids to exercise, eat right and not start smoking for many reasons, including energy level, strength, confidence, health and even vanity, to name a few.

Good luck getting started. Keep the emails coming.

More Weight Loss Tips

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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