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Fit For Duty: Mastering Military Fitness over 40
Looking to get in shape? Bodyweight fitness and running can get you there, just like the U.S. Marines.
I’m a bit of a pull-up fanatic. I believe pull-ups are one of the best indicators for overall strength, and one of the most challenging fitness movements.
The U.S. Marine Corps shares a similar fitness philosophy. Pull-ups serve as one of the three components of the Marines’ physical fitness test.
While it’s probably a little late for those of us over 40 to sign up, we can still use the Marines’ fitness requirements for inspiration, especially if you’re getting back into fitness or even getting into shape for the first time in your life.
New Recruit? Start with Pull-Ups, Running and Planks
The Marines’ Initial Strength Test (IST) provides some intriguing introductory fitness goals. To begin new recruit training, wannabe Marines must be able to do at least:
Three pull-ups or 34 push-ups in two minutes (males)/One pull-up or 15 push-ups in two minutes (females)
One-and-a-half mile run in 13 minutes, 30 seconds (males)/One-and-a-half mile run in 15 minutes (females)
Forty seconds in a plank position (males and females)
I love this test for its simplicity. It provides a nice balance between increasing your strength and your cardiovascular health. Bodyweight strength training, including pull-ups, push-ups, planks and squats, provides an excellent way to start building functional muscle.
On top of that, learning how to increase your pull-up strength will also build your confidence. There’s nothing more amazing than the feeling of being able to lift your head up over that pull-up bar, especially using strict form, as the Marines require.
Running 1.5 miles at about a moderately-fast pace (9-10 minute per mile) also is not a completely unrealistic cardio goal.
Shooting for Active Duty? Try the Marines’ Over 40 Fitness Standards
Once you’ve mastered the IST, you’ve got to pass the Physical Fitness Test (PFT) to become a full-fledged Marine. And if you want to stay in the Corps, you’ll have to pass this test every year.
Of course, the Marines have minimum standards for passing this test, which change based on your age. Instead of a 1.5 mile run, the PFT includes a three-mile run. The PFT uses a point-scoring system, so once you hit the maximum number for your age, you aren’t able to score any more points.
Let’s focus on standards for pull-ups and the three-mile run, which again can provide you with motivation as you move past your initial training and evolve your overall fitness.
I’ll use myself as an example—I’m 41, and on the pull-ups, I could score maximum points in two minutes (20 pull-ups, humble brag), but I’d score middling points on my three-mile run (around 23-24 minutes depending on weather conditions).
The great thing about these tables is they go over age 50, proving we can still keep our pull-up strength through middle age and hold ourselves to their high standards of fitness as we get older.
Not impressed with the Marines’ standards? Maybe you’re ready for the Navy Seals training test, which involves doing a 500-yard swim, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and a 1.5 mile run, with only a bit of rest in between.
Running 1.5 miles at less than a 7 minute per mile pace, after you do all that? Now that’s a challenge.