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What is the Marine Corps Initial Strength Test?

Marine Corps Initial Strength Test IST

In This Article

The Marine Corps Initial Strength Test, or IST, is given to new recruits to ensure they are ready to begin training. Recruiters administer the test prior to enlistment, and recruits will take the test again during their first week of boot camp. The Marine Corps IST consists of pull-ups, crunches, a 1.5-mile run, and for recruits training for infantry occupations, ammo can lifts.

This information has been updated for 2023. In 2023, crunches are being phased out in favor of a plank, so if you’re training for boot camp it’s important to work on your timed plank.

If you want to become an infantryman, a Recon Marine, a combat engineer, or another of the Marine Corps’ most demanding military occupational specialties, you will have to pass a tougher MOS-specific “enhanced” Initial Strength Test. This includes lifting a 30 lb ammo can overhead as many times as possible within 2 minutes. 

The minimum standards for passing the Marine Corps Initial Strength Test for both non-combat and combat Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs) are listed below.

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Marine Corps Initial Strength Test for Non-Combat MOSs

Marine Corps New Enhanced Physical Fitness Test
Marines with Headquarters Battalion conduct crunches during their Physical Fitness Test at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Photo by Lance Cpl. Jesus Sepulveda Torre.

Minimum Initial Strength Test Standards for Males

  • 2 pull-ups
  • 44 crunches (in 2 minutes) or a 40-second plank
  • 1.5-mile run (under 13:30 minutes)

Minimum Initial Strength Test Standards for Females

  • 2 pull-ups or 12-second flexed-arm hang
  • 44 crunches (in 2 minutes) or a 40-second plank
  • 1.5-mile run (under 15 minutes)

Remember, the Initial Strength Test consists of the minimum standards in order to begin training. You should be training to exceed these standards and pass the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test—which includes a 3-mile run. Training to the minimum standard will not help you become a top performer, and could even lead to injury. 

Marine Corps Enhanced Initial Strength Test for Combat MOS

If you’re looking to become a combat operational Marine, then there are enhanced standards — and for good reason. Combat Military Occupational Specialties typically feature a lot more physical activity than others, and Marines will be carrying a lot of heavy gear during training and while on deployment. Below are the enhanced Initial Strength Test requirements.

Enhanced IST Standards for Males

  • 3 pull-ups
  • 44 crunches (in 2 minutes) or a 40-second plank
  • 1.5 mile run under 13:30
  • 45 ammo can lifts (in 2 minutes)

Enhanced IST Standards for Females

  • 3 pull-ups or 12-second flexed-arm hang
  • 44 crunches (in 2 minutes) or a 40-second plank
  • 1.5-mile run (under 15 minutes)
  • 45 ammo can lifts (in 2 minutes)

Recruits training for more physically demanding jobs will have to pass an MOS Classification Standard about 8 weeks into recruit training. This includes exceeding the minimum standards of the Physical Fitness Test (PFT) and Combat Fitness Test (CFT). They will need to do six pull-ups; a three-mile run in under 24:51; perform 60 ammo-can lifts in 2 minutes; conduct a movement to contact in 3:26 seconds or less, and maneuver under fire within 3:12.

Recruits who fail to pass the standard will be placed into an alternate MOS. You do not want this!

You don’t get to select a fallback Military Occupational Specialty, which means that the Marine Corps will give you a job based on its needs. You may have wanted to be a scout/sniper, but be put into food service or water treatment. Regardless, all United States Marines serve their country and are needed by the Corps and the United States.

It would be a shame to not prepare yourself for the physical rigors of the job.

Train to a Higher Standard than the Initial Strength Test

During your first week of boot camp, you’ll be under a lot of stress. The first night, you will get zero sleep because you’re filling out paperwork, getting yelled at by Drill Instructors, and struggling to get used to your new environment. You’ll get more vaccinations than you’ve ever had at one time, and be getting used to a new sleep schedule.

Our point by saying all that isn’t to stress you out about the Initial Strength Test, but to inform you that you will be sleep-deprived and under a lot of stress when you run the IST. If you can only reach the minimum standard of the Initial Strength Test before shipping off to boot camp, the odds are stacked against you. You should be aiming to max out your Physical Fitness Test and Combat Fitness Test while still a civilian.

Your scores will probably falter when you get to recruit training as the level of stress is higher than you’ve probably ever experienced, and you’ll be getting less sleep. You might have been able to do 14 pull-ups at the recruiter’s office, but only 6 when you have to run the IST at the recruit depot. We strongly suggest training to the higher standard of the Marine PFT and trying to max out your score before you go.

As an active duty Marine, your PFT score directly affects your promotion potential. Maxing out your PFT score should be an ongoing goal throughout your enlistment. 

Looking for help with your pull ups? We’ve written the ultimate guide to doing more pull-ups, which will help you maximize that portion of your PFT score.

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“Surviving Marine Corps Boot Camp” is the definitive guide to preparing for Marine Corps Recruit Training. In this book you’ll learn:

  • The complete recruit training schedule 
  • Games Drill Instructors play
  • A complete 12-week strength training & running guide
  • How to deal with injuries & setbacks

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