Most people don’t serve in the military, but almost all of us can benefit from the culture of fitness perpetuated by all the service branches. Today’s recruits learn more than just push-ups, jumping jacks and catchy road cadences. The Pentagon has long recognized the value of fitness, for injury prevention, morale, and basic job functions. Fitness levels, like in the general population, vary widely across the services and across the many different career fields. Army Special Forces operators, not surprisingly, are held to much higher standards than pretty much any other soldiers in the Army. However, everyone in the military is expected to maintain a certain level of fitness from the time they enlist to the end of their career. Military fitness testing is a great way to maintain goals and reach a higher level of fitness.
Train to the Test
Air Force recruits for example, know they will be pass a test of sit-ups, push-ups and a 1.5 mile run before they are allowed to go to Basic Military Training (BMT.) Focusing on these goals helps them to fashion a realistic training regime. Use your limited training time as efficiently as possible by focusing your efforts on specific training goals. It is one thing to say “I want to lose a few pounds” or “I want to increase my cardiovascular fitness.” It is another thing to set specific goals such as decreasing body fat by 3 percentage points or shaving 2 minutes off your next 5K. These goals are concrete and can be accomplished with specific training plans.
Mind Over Matter
From the first days of training recruits are bombarded with the message that they are expected to accomplish more and perform at a higher level than they thought possible. This cultivation of mental toughness is key for a military unit’s success and for reaching your fitness goals. Many Marine Corps recruits have never done a correct dead-hang pull-up before being taught during recruit training. To graduate from boot camp male Marines have to perform at least 2 with immaculate form, while females must execute a fixed arm hang for time. Pull-ups are a great exercise to aspire to because they are difficult for most people. I can still remember my junior high fitness test where I failed to perform a single one. They help encourage overall fitness because the trimmer and stronger you are the more success you’ll have.
Embrace the Buddy Concept
Military life revolves around effective teamwork not individual achievement. But this doesn’t mean individual performance is not important. Combat troops especially, thrive on knowing their teammates have earned the right to be there and are unlikely to let them down. Navy SEALs know they’ve all endured the unique demands of their training, including the infamous “hell week.” We don’t have to go to extremes to get fit or enjoy the benefits of camaraderie. The shared experience of group training, whether yoga and spinning classes or lifting weights with a friend, encourages bonding. Working out with people with the same goals can be highly motivational and just more fun – so don’t forget to have fun.