After basic training is over, every military member will take a fitness test. As you prepare for the military, setting a goal to improve on this test is a logical start to your fitness training since your scores can determine whether you qualify for promotion or even stay employed in the military.
The minimum level you should strive for is normal passing standards for the basic fitness test in your branch of the military. Depending on your job, you may or may not need to have a higher level of fitness to be an asset in a potentially dangerous situation.
The standard fitness tests in the military are basically health and wellness tests, as they do not really determine whether you are a good soldier, Marine, sailor or airman. However, even the most administrative of jobs in the military have a possibility of finding yourself in a potentially dangerous situation.
These types of situations change the need for improved fitness abilities. There's always the possibility you will need to fight a fire and rescue people, whether you're serving on a ship, submarine, air wing or a ground unit. In that situation, success on the standard fitness test may not require the strength, power and grip needed to assist another person in a crisis situation.
Train to Be an Asset
"Train like your buddy's life depends on it" is a mantra in the tactical professions. There has been a concerted effort in the military (Army, Marine Corps, Special Ops programs) to create better fitness tests that address formerly neglected elements of fitness, such as strength, power, speed, agility, grip, flexibility and mobility. The basic calisthenics and cardio events of military fitness tests simply test endurance, muscle stamina and perhaps some core stability. It is up to you to develop the other elements that will make you an asset.
Assess Yourself. Otherwise, You Are Just Guessing
First, you need to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Depending on your athletic history and your preferred style of personal training, you may not have many weaknesses. However, when we focus on one thing like weightlifting, endurance becomes an issue. When we focus primarily on endurance (run, swim or bike), our strength is an issue.
Take an assessment using one of many tactical fitness tests like the Army Combat Fitness Test or the Navy Human Performance Test. These tests will evaluate all the elements of fitness.
Second, focus on your weakness. Weaknesses will be exposed in more advanced training, but weaknesses can also be deadly for yourself or others in everyday life (car accidents, fire in homes, floods, loss of power, etc.). Your supplemental training program needs to focus on your weaknesses while maintaining your strengths. It can be difficult to budget your resources to get the most out of your fitness training. Seasonal tactical fitness periodization is that budgeting system.
A tactical fitness periodization program is a way of organizing your time, energy and resources to focus on improving the areas of fitness that need the most attention. The goal of the tactical professional is to become an asset in their job. This will require getting "good at all the elements of fitness," which are strength, power, speed, agility, muscle stamina, endurance (run, ruck, swim), mobility, flexibility, grip and balance. From strength training to calisthenics fitness testing, to swimming training, you will need a plan to make sure you are not neglecting any areas or spending too much time focusing on elements that are already "good enough."
Be an Asset on Land and Water
You can join the military without fully knowing how to swim, but you will discover that there are challenging water survival skills required even in the Army and Air Force. If you are considering the Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, the need to not just be competent in the water but be able to swim well is a requirement, since you will often find yourself in a potentially dangerous situation. If you cannot swim, you are ineffective on 75% of the globe. That means you're not an asset.
Think of your fitness budget like a financial budget. For example, if you're weak in one area, you might decide to invest more of your time and energy to improve that area. You'll need to decide how much time and energy you're willing to invest in each element of fitness.
Once you have determined the weakness you wish to improve, you may need to consider spending time and money on swimming lessons before you join the military. Regardless of your assessed weakness, your time budget needs to reflect improving that specific weakness.
Within a few cycles of focusing on your weakness, you may prove that you have the foundations to be helpful and an asset in any dangerous situation. Check out the seasonal tactical fitness periodization model of training and see if it works for you.
-- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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