An Overview of Military Physical Fitness

Updated on September 14, 2017
Kevin McClernon profile image

A retired Marine, Kevin incorporates all components of physical fitness to improve the strength and conditioning of men and women alike.


The forthcoming physical conditioning program serves to prepare men and women for physical activities they will encounter at basic training. In addition to improving overall physical fitness, the program is designed to enhance performance on the United States Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test (USMC PFT), the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), the Navy Physical Readiness Test (PRT), the Air Force Physical Fitness Test (AFPFT) and the United States Coast Guard physical fitness graduation requirements.. The exercises and activities presented are fundamental to basic military fitness, the successful completion of basic training, and will be practiced throughout a military career in order to maintain physical readiness.

Unlike many general fitness programs which focus on health and appearance, a military physical conditioning program must be comprehensive with the primary objective of developing physical skills to enhance overall military performance. Subsequent goals include improved health and the maintenance of satisfactory military appearance.

In addition to prospective and current service member, this program could be used be fitness enthusiast interested in undergoing military-style workouts, current and prospective law enforcement officers and firefighters, as well as athletes looking to establish a solid physical fitness base.

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Program Objectives

This program will be a comprehensive process in which prospective service members are physically conditioned in a progressive manner to meet or exceed the physical demands faced during basic training. The primary objective of this program is to provide successively challenging training sessions using various exercises that will allow participants to build a solid base of military physical fitness. Enabling objectives include:

a. Building cardiovascular and muscular endurance;

b. Developing general strength;

c. Increasing flexibility;

d. Providing information concerning military physical fitness;

e. Gaining experience in conducting physical conditioning activities.

A secondary objective is to provide current service members with a continuing and progressive individual physical conditioning plan to be used in conjunction with their participation in unit physical training sessions in order to enhance overall physical readiness and maximize performance on standard physical fitness evaluations.

A tertiary objective of this program is to provide a balanced individual physical conditioning plan in order to assist current service members restore performance following an illness, injury, pregnancy or any other period of physical inactivity. Such activity must not interfere with formal clinical rehabilitation and should be executed only after consultation with medical professionals.

World War II era sign posted at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island.
World War II era sign posted at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island. | Source

Components of Physical Fitness

Fitness is often defined by an individual’s desires or the goals of an individual’s chosen sport. A power lifter’s definition of fitness will be significant different than that of a marathon runner. As a service member, the overall physical fitness goal is to be physically ready to defend our nation.

Developing a military-fitness base is important for performance in garrison, while executing general military skills as well as in combat and is vital in the successful completion of basic training. A balanced, comprehensive program develops all components of physical fitness.

Multiple components are considered important in the development of a sound military physical fitness base. This fitness base enables service members to effectively carry out military activities under any and all conditions. Military physical fitness components include:

a. Agility – the ability to quickly change directions;

b. Cardiovascular Endurance – the ability of the cardiorespiratory system to deliver oxygen and nutrients to muscles;

c. Coordination – the ability to combine simple movements into an efficient complex movement;

d. Flexibility – the ability to move joints through a full range of motion;

e. Muscular Endurance – the ability to execute movements repeatedly;

f. Muscular Strength – the ability to produce force;

g. Power – the ability to quickly produce maximal force;

h. Speed – the ability to move quickly from one point to another.

Flexibility is a component of physical fitness.
Flexibility is a component of physical fitness. | Source

Principles of Physical Fitness

Military physical fitness is unique in that service members must maintain a high level of physical readiness, including all components of physical fitness, throughout their careers. In order to accomplish this, several principles of physical fitness must be considered:

a. Balance – including activities and exercises which address all physical fitness components;

b. Overload – activities must exceed the body’s normal workload;

c. Progression – the gradual increase in activity intensity and duration which enhances performance while minimizing injury;

d. Recovery – rest is essential for realizing gains from physical conditioning efforts and in preventing over-use injuries.

e. Regularity – regular exercise is essential in developing and maintaining physical fitness;

f. Specificity – specific training leads to specific gains;

g. Variety – different activities and exercises heightens progress and alleviates boredom.

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Periodization is the development of a peak performance level at a certain time by systematically applying the principles of progression, overload and specificity in designing and implementing a physical conditioning plan. Performing to the best of one’s ability when it is most important is the goal. Additionally, periodization assists in avoiding over-training and in preventing injury.

Athletic teams utilize periodization by dividing the year into off-season, preseason and in-season periods. Their goal is to be at their best while in-season, particularly during the championship portion of the season. Likewise, individual athletes design their training plans to perform best at regional, national and world championship competitions.

Periodization is important because the peak can only be maintained for a short period of time. Although service members are required to maintain a solid physical readiness base year round, periodization can be utilized to prepare for upcoming deployments, missions and annual or semi-annual physical fitness evaluations.

Army Physical Fitness Excellence Badge
Army Physical Fitness Excellence Badge | Source

Injury Mitigation and Prevention

Increased levels of coordination, endurance, flexibility and strength executed in a periodic, principle-based manner coupled with proper nutrition and rest significantly helps reduce injury. Additional factors include conducting daily warm-up and cool-down activities, maintaining proper form while exercising, avoiding distractions while working out, and seeking immediate medical attention if pain or unusually discomfort is experienced during or after a physical training session.


Overtraining often comes from several factors which results in a failure adapt to conditioning activities and in turn a significant decrease in performance as well as illness and/or injury. These factors include;

a. A poorly organized physical conditioning plan;

b. Failure to follow a well-organized physical conditioning plan based on fitness principles and periodization;

c. Medical issues;

d. Poor nutritional habits;

e. Inadequate rest and recovery;

f. Psychological stress not associated to physical conditioning activities.

Medical attention may be required, especially if illness or injury occur.

The primary remedy for over-raining is rest. Additionally, a re-start of a periodized physical conditioning plan would be helpful in providing active recuperation and progressive improvement in performance.

Joint Service Color Guard
Joint Service Color Guard | Source


Recovery and rest are important ingredients in a physical fitness plan and are vital in achieving high performance levels. Active and passive recovery days are as vital as any component of physical fitness and should be included in any physical conditioning plan.

Individual Goals

Individual goals should be established as performance-based and measurable objectives. Goals should be written and posted in a conspicuous location. These goals should be periodically evaluated and updated depending on current performance levels. The overall aim is to maximize capabilities and minimize deficiencies. A good place to start when initially setting goals are the services’ physical fitness evaluation’s minimum performance requirements. Once these standards are accomplished, do not merely accept the minimum; continually strive to perform better with the ultimate goal being to achieve a maximum score on each event and the evaluation as a whole.

Record Keeping

Keep a training log. Record daily training sessions and when applicable include repetitions and sets completed, distance covered, time required and weight(s) used. This log is critical in evaluating progress or lack of progress and serves as a reference in the reinforcement or modification of efforts to maximize abilities and minimize deficiencies.


Physical fitness is not a gift nor is physical conditioning a punishment. One thing that a fitness program can not improve is a lack of motivation and/or persistence. Getting physically fit and staying fit requires time, work and dedication. Your level of fitness is perishable…it is a use it or loss it deal. Physical readiness can not be outsourced…the exercises must be done by you…no one can get in shape for you. Improvement requires continual effort and perseverance...but the reward is great…a fit and healthy body capable of accomplishing things that a sedentary person could not.

Semper Fidelis
Semper Fidelis | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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    • profile image

      Godwin Atsu-Adukpo 

      19 months ago

      Hi, please I am a physical training Instructor and an Athletics Coach for Ghana Revenue Authority, Customs Division.

      I am working to establish something like what the military and others have and I think I need an article like what is post above or improved version to present to my superiors for consideration.

      Can I please get any asistance from your good office?

      Thank you Sir. Hope for a reply soon.


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