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Preparing for Basic Training in the Era of Social Distancing

By Mark S. Cassidy, MS and Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS

Weeks ago, our lives and our society as we operate have indelibly changed.  In the months preceding widespread lockdowns, the insidious and highly transmissible pathogen COVID-19, stealthily coursed the globe. This virus has infected millions and contributed to an extremely high number of deaths worldwide.

Mark Cassidy - Certified Personal Trainer InstructorWhile the COVID-19 pandemic has paralyzed a continuum of industries and businesses, our nation’s great military charges on.  They have assisted in erecting temporary hospitals, bolstering our nation’s law enforcement and security functions, distributing rations to displaced and needy citizens, and joining healthcare professionals on the frontlines.

And for those who have recently enlisted or are contemplating enlistment, preparation cannot cease. Just because local gyms and athletic facilities have temporarily closed, that doesn’t mean one should abandon their physical preparedness.  Each recruit, irrespective of their branch, will be called upon to complete a physical fitness test.

One can adequately prepare by incorporating a full-body resistance training regimen along with high-intensity cardiovascular activities that can be performed at home with minimal to no equipment.  This will ensure increases in muscle strength, lean body mass, and cardiorespiratory fitness needed to meet the rigors of basic training.

Although there are some slight variations, all branches of the military have some form of physical fitness requirement for entrance into their respective community.  The following is a list of these requirements for each branch (as of January 2020).  The scoring for each test is determined by the particular branch; along with the order or substitutions of exercises.

Marine Corps

  • 2-minutes of abdominal crunches
  • Pull-ups for maximum repetitions
  • 3-mile run
  • Push-ups for maximum repetitions

Navy

  • 2-minutes of push-ups
  • 2-minutes of sit-ups
  • 5-mile run or 500yd/450m swim

Air Force

  • 1-minute of push-ups
  • 1-minute of sit-ups
  • 5-mile timed run

Coast Guard

  • 1-minute of push-ups
  • 1-minute of sit-ups
  • 5-mile timed run

Army

  • Standing Power / Medicine Ball Throw
  • Deadlift for a three-repetition maximum
  • Hand release push-ups for 2 minutes
  • 50-meter sprint (3 x), 50-meter drag of a 90 lbs. sled, 50-meter carry of two 40 lbs. kettlebells
  • Hanging leg tucks for 2 minutes
  • 2-mile timed run

 

Service Academy Fitness Assessment 

The Service Academies of the Air Force (USAFA), Navy (USNA), Army (USMA), and the Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) use the Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA)

  • Kneeling basketball throw for distance
  • Cadence pull-ups for repetitions
  • 120 ft. shuttle-run for time
  • 1-minute of crunches
  • 1-minute of push-ups
  • 1-mile run

Although there is no direct substitute for performing any of the actual testing exercises, performing a holistic resistance training program will help with the preparation of the actual test.

The resistance / full-body workout, will hit each major muscle group.  The initial program will go for 30 days (4 weeks), with 5 workout days and 2 light/rest days per week.  If you do not have access to free-weight equipment, you can substitute in something else while performing the movements. (Example: therapy bands, kettlebells, medicine balls, or even bricks, jugs of water or buckets of sand could work)

It is up to each individual to determine the amount of intensity, resistance or repetitions they can handle on each day.  Keep in mind that the military is a physically and mentally demanding profession, so working until a point of fatigue (or failure) can be a good guideline.  However, never use a workout intensity or resistance load that causes you to become injured.

Taking into consideration any nutritional / meal requirements, staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water and attempting to get seven to nine hours of sleep a day, is also important during your training.

If necessary, contact a certified Athletic Trainer, Strength Coach, Fitness Professional or Health Care Provider for additional guidance.

Resistance Program

Monday:
(10 – 15 minute warm-up and stretch should be done to start the program)
(The rest time between sets can be 30 – 90 seconds)
Dumbbell Shoulder Squat: 4-5 sets 10-12 repetitions
Dumbbell Bench / Lat Rows: 3-4 sets 12-15 repetitions
Dumbbell Lifts / Back Extensions 4-sets 8-10 repetitions
Dumbbell Bench Press: 4-5 sets 10-12 repetitions
Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3-4 sets 12-15 repetitions

Cardio Work: 15 – 20 minute light jog / walk

 

Tuesday:
(10 – 15 minute warm-up and stretch should be done to start the program)
(The rest time between sets can be 30-90 seconds)
Seated Knee Tucks: 4-5 sets 15-20 repetitions
Wide Hand Push-Ups: 3-4 sets 10-12 repetitions
Full Sit-Ups: 4-5 sets 15-20 repetitions
Pull-Ups: 3-4 sets 10-12 repetitions
Mountain Climbers: 4-5 sets 15-20 repetitions

Cardio Work: 10 – 15 Sprints for 40-50 yards

 

Wednesday:
Active Rest Day
15 – 30 minutes of stretchers for the entire body
15 – 30 minutes of cardiovascular work by a light-brisk walk

 

Thursday:
(10 – 15 minute warm-up and stretch should be done to start the program)
(The rest time between sets can be 30-90 seconds)
Barbell Bench Press: 4-5 sets 10-12 repetitions
Barbell Dead Lifts: 3-4 sets 12-15 repetitions
Barbell Up-Right Rows: 4-sets 8-10 repetitions
Dumbbell Bicep Curls: 4-5 sets 10-12 repetitions
Dumbbell Triceps Extensions: 3-4 sets 12-15 repetitions

Cardio Work: 15 – 20 minute light jog / walk

 

Friday:
(10 – 15 minute warm-up and stretch should be done to start the program)
(The rest time between sets can be 30-90 seconds)
Full Sit-Ups: 4-5 sets 15-20 repetitions
Narrow Hand Push-Ups: 3-4 sets 10-12 repetitions
Standing Oblique Twists: 4-5 sets 15-20 repetitions
Lying Supine Back Extensions: 3-4 sets 10-12 repetitions
Mountain Climbers: 4-5 sets 15-20 repetitions

Cardio Work: 10 – 15 Sprints for 40-50 yards

 

Saturday:
(10 – 15 minute warm-up and stretch should be done to start the program)
(The rest time between sets can be 60 – 120 seconds)
Jumping Jacks: 4-5 sets 15-20 repetitions
Walking Forward Lunges: 3-4 sets 10-12 repetitions
Jump Squats: 4-5 sets 8-10 repetitions
Side Steps: 3-4 sets 10-12 repetitions
Depth Jumps: 4-5 sets 8-10 repetitions

Cardio Work: 15 – 20 minute light jog / walk

 

Sunday:
Active Rest
30 – 60 minutes of Stretching / Yoga / Meditation

 

Substitute Exercises

In the event that you would not have access to the type of resistance exercise equipment necessary to perform the movement or for some reason you found the exercise too difficult, below is a list of substitution exercises that you can utilize in any of the program’s daily workouts:

Narrow Stance Body Weight Squats: 4-5 sets 12-15 repetitions
Single Leg Body Weight Squats: 4-5 sets 5-8 repetitions on each leg
Stationary Lateral Lunges: 3-4 sets 5-8 repetitions on each leg
Single Leg Standing Calf Raise: 3-4 sets 10-12 repetitions on each leg
Clapping Hands Push-Ups: 3-4 sets 8-10 repetitions
Non-Symmetrical Hand Placement Push-Ups: 3-4 sets 8-10 repetitions
Single Arm Push-Ups: 3-4 sets 5-8 repetitions on each arm
Side Plank: 3-4 sets hold 30-45 seconds on each side
Bicycle Abs / Knee to Elbow: 3-4 sets 10-12 repetitions on each side
Superman: 3-4 sets 10-12 repetitions
Chair Dips: 4-5 sets 10-12 repetitions

 

Summary

It will be best to begin training 3 to 4 months in advance of the actual fitness testing date.  This will allow time for a certified Athletic Trainer, Strength Coach or Fitness Professional to make recommendations on when to change intensity, time and exercise variations, to help the probability of your success.

To find out when a particular branch of the military is scheduling fitness tests, contact your local recruiting office for specific details.

Here are websites that can be used for reference:
https://amops.org/
https://www.military.com
https://www.todaysmilitary.com

 

Thank you in advance for your service to our country!

 

Mark S. Cassidy, MS has been an educational instructor with the W.I.T.S. organization since 2000. He has held professional positions with The Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Philadelphia 76ers, YMCA, Delaware Blue Coats, Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, and American Heart Association.  Mark has an Associate’s degree in Business from Delaware County Community College, a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology from Temple University and a Master’s degree in Organizational Development/Business Psychology from The Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.  He has professional experience as a Fitness Instructor, Strength Coach, Sports Coach-Counselor, Exercise Therapist, Sales Manager, College Professor, and Athletic Facility Director.

Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS is an educational instructor with the World Instructor Training Schools, fitness and recreation specialist at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, and an adjunct faculty member at Eastern University and Chestnut Hill College where he teaches exercise science electives. Previously, Giandonato served as the Manager of Health Promotion and Wellness at Drexel University, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Germantown Academy, and Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at Saint Joseph’s University.

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