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MAY 27, 2024

Honoring Memorial Day by Understanding What It Takes to Join the USMC


A deep-dive into the physical requirements and expectations of joining the USMC, as well as how you can get your body ready for this challenge.

Read time: 12 minutes

In the US, Memorial Day is a time where we all come together in remembrance and gratitude for those who have sacrificed their lives in service to their country. But it’s not just about those who have been lost, but also those who are currently serving, so we thought we’d take the time to go into one very specific group - the United States Marine Corps (USMC) - and reflect on the physical commitment and preparation it takes to enlist.

So, let’s take a look at the physical requirements to join the USMC, as well as offer up a practical guide to help you meet these standards.

Understanding the USMC Physical Requirements

Obviously, every branch of the military has their own unique set of physical requirements for enlistment. This can be reflective of the roles they perform and the conditions and environments they are expected to act in. The USMC have their requirements listed very clearly on their site. And these standards are designed to ensure that all recruits are physically capable of handling the demands of military service. Here’s a breakdown of what they need you to achieve with the Initial Strength Test (IST).

Pull-ups / Push-ups

  • Male: 3 pull-ups or 34 push-ups within 2 minutes
  • Female: 1 pull-up or 15 push-ups within 2 minutes

Running

  • Male: 1.5 mile run in 13:30
  • Female: 1.5 mile run in 15:00

Plank

  • 40 second plank (minimum)

This then extends to the Physical Fitness Test (PFT) which is performed annually and scored. To pass, you need at least 135 points (300 is a perfect score).

PFT Scoring System - Men

  • 5 points per pull-up
  • 1 point per crunch
  • Lose 1 point from 100 for every 10 seconds slower than 18 minutes in the run

PFT Scoring System - Women

  • 1 point per crunch
  • 1 point per second up to 40 seconds, then 2 points per second on the flexed arm hang
  • Lose 1 point from 100 for every 10 seconds slower than 21 minutes in the run

For a perfect score of 300, men need to perform 20 pull-ups, 100 crunches in under 2 minutes and a 3-mile run in 18 minutes or less. For women, that’s 70 seconds on the flexed arm hang, 100 crunches and a 3-mile run in 21 minutes.

Getting in Shape for the USMC: A Step-by-Step Routine

Meeting these physical standards naturally requires dedication and a structured fitness routine. So here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get into the desired shape that the USMC would be after.

Week 1-2: Building a Foundation

Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Strength Training

  • Push-Ups: Start with sets of 10-15. Aim for 3 sets with a 1-minute rest in between.
  • Pull-Ups: If you can’t do a pull-up yet, start with assisted pull-ups or negative pull-ups. Aim for 3 sets of 5-8 reps.
  • Planks: Hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat 3 times with a 30-second rest between sets.

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday: Cardiovascular Training

  • Running: Begin with a 1-mile run. Aim for a pace that allows you to finish but challenges you. Gradually increase your distance.

Sunday: Rest or Light Activity

Week 3-4: Increasing Intensity

Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Strength Training

  • Push-Ups: Increase to sets of 20-25. Aim for 4 sets with a 1-minute rest.
  • Pull-Ups: Aim for 3 sets of 5-10 reps. Continue using assistance if needed.
  • Planks: Increase hold time to 30-40 seconds. Repeat 3-4 times.

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday: Cardiovascular Training

Sunday: Rest or Light Activity

Week 5-6: Focusing on Endurance

Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Strength Training

  • Push-Ups: Increase to sets of 30-35. Aim for 4-5 sets with a 1-minute rest.
  • Pull-Ups: Aim for 4 sets of 5-10 reps. Try to reduce assistance.
  • Planks: Hold for 40-50 seconds. Repeat 4-5 times.

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday: Cardiovascular Training

  • Running: Increase to 2 miles. Focus on reducing your time gradually.

Sunday: Rest or Light Activity

Week 7-8: Peak Preparation

Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Strength Training

  • Push-Ups: Aim for sets of 40-45. Do 5-6 sets with minimal rest.
  • Pull-Ups: Aim for 5 sets of 5-10 reps, striving for unassisted pull-ups.
  • Planks: Hold for 50-60 seconds. Repeat 5-6 times.

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday: Cardiovascular Training

  • Running: Increase to 3 miles. Work on achieving your target time.

Sunday: Rest or Light Activity

Additional Tips

Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Proper hydration helps you perform better during workouts and recover faster afterward. Carry a good water bottle with you and sip regularly.

Balanced Diet

Eat a variety of foods that include proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Proteins help build muscles, fats provide long-lasting energy, and carbs give you quick energy for your workouts. Try to include lean meats, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables in your meals.

Consistent Sleep

Get 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Good sleep is essential for muscle recovery and overall strength building. Create a bedtime routine to help you wind down and stick to a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends.

Mental Preparation

Training is tough on your body, but it's also a mental challenge. Stay motivated by setting small, achievable goals and celebrating when you reach them. This can keep you focused and positive. Practice visualization techniques and remind yourself why you started training in the first place to keep your spirits high.

Final Thoughts

We should say, we’re not actively encouraging anyone to undertake this training regimen solely to prepare for getting into the USMC. We’re simply highlighting the physical requirements involved and seeing how they can be a challenging yet rewarding journey for many.

By following a structured routine, you can build the strength, endurance, and resilience needed to meet these standards. So why not challenge yourself with this straightforward but intense training regimen? If only to answer that simple question “Do I have what it takes?”

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Written by Matthew Stogdon

Matt has been writing for two decades, across print and digital media. He is also an accomplished filmmaker, with several accolades under his belt.

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