How to Prepare Yourself for Boot Camp

Marine recruits celebrate their victory at a field meet.
Future Marines from Recruiting Substation South Dade celebrate their victory during the Recruiting Station Fort Lauderdale annual field meet April 20, 2013, in Florida. (Sgt. Scott Schmidt/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Why show up at your boot camp or a service academy unprepared for the physical fitness test? You might be surprised, but many people are unprepared physically for life in the military when they arrive. Why make life your first time away from home any more stressful than it already is?

If you show up fit and able to pass your respective Physical Fitness Test (PFT) easily, the fitness part of boot camp will be a stress releaser, not a stress increaser. If you prepare yourself properly, you can go into the military able to compete instead of just surviving. This makes all the difference in the world between those who graduate and those who quit.

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    You have to take a running test, so run. You have to take a swimming test, so swim. You'll also have to do push-ups and sit-ups. Some boot camps even have you do pull-ups, so practice those calisthenics.

    Here are the exercises of all the PFTs, with helpful tips to increase your overall score on test day:

    Test yourself

    The anxiety felt by most service members is largely due to performing within a time limit. The more your workouts are timed, the better you are at "pacing" yourself, thus eliminating most anxiety.


    During the pull-up and push-up test, you want to perform these as fast as possible while adhering to the proper form and technique. Also, look straight up at the sky in order to use your back muscles more for pull-ups.

    Recommended workout

    Pyramid workout. Start off with one pull-up for the first set, two pull-ups for the second set. Continue up the pyramid by adding one pull-up for every set possible. When you no longer can continue, repeat in reverse order until you are back to one pull-up (Ex. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1).


    Placing your hands in the wrong position can affect your maximum score. A perfect location for your hands is just outside shoulder width. This position enables the chest, shoulders and triceps to be equally taxed. Keep hands at shoulder height when in the up position. Your push-ups will be weakened if your hands are too low, wide, close or high.

    Recommended workout

    Try five sets of maximum push-ups in five one-minute periods.

    Curl-ups (sit-ups)

    This is an exercise you need to pace. Most people burn out in the first 30 seconds with 30 curl-ups accomplished and are only able to perform another 20 or so curl-ups within the next 1:30. By setting a pace at, for instance, 20 sit-ups every 30 seconds, you can turn your score of 50-60 to 80 with very little effort.

    Recommended workout

    Try timing yourself with five sets of 30 seconds, setting your pace to your goal. A good pace is 20 sit-ups in 30 seconds -- totaling 80 sit-ups in two minutes.


    For most people, the most challenging event of any PFT is by far the run. Timed runs equal pace. The most important thing is not to start off too fast. Learn your pace and set your goal by pacing yourself to the finish. For instance, if your goal is to run two miles in 14:00, you must run a 7:00 mile or a quarter-mile in 1:45.

    Recommended workout and techniques

    The four-mile track workout has worked for many military and short-distance runners for years. This workout is broken into quarter-mile sprints and jogs and eighth-mile sprints and jogs for a total of four miles. The workout goes as follows:

    Four-mile track workout

    Jog one mile in 7:00-8:00

    Three sets of:

    Sprint a quarter-mile

    Jog a quarter-mile in 1:45

    Six sets of:

    Sprint an eighth-mile

    Jog an eighth-mile in 1:00

    Do this workout without walking to rest. The only rest you will receive is during your slower jogging pace. Try to catch your breath while you jog. Have fun with this one; it is tough. At first, you may have to walk between running fast.

    Other related boot-camp articles:

    Are You Fit to Serve?

    Getting Prepared for Boot Camp

    No Weights at Boot Camp

    Pre-Boot Camp Training

    Physical Fitness Test Anxiety

    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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