Marine Corps Strength Training | Fundamentals of Strength

Marine Corps strength training, just the basics

In This Article

When it comes to Marine Corps Strength Training, I never knew where to start. I wanted to be strong enough for boot camp but didn’t have the resources. There are many recruits who have considerable weight training experience from being on a high school football team, wrestling team or involved in other extra-curricular sports. But, as the saying goes, “There are two types of Marines: big and mean, and skinny and mean.”

I was definitely skinny and mean.

Most Marines, in fact, are skinny and mean. In order to develop the strength required for boot camp, we will focus on a workout that will aim to build as much muscle as possible for beginner weightlifters. I started going to the recruiter’s office to do pull ups several times a week, and I put towels over the rafters in my parents garage so I could do some every time I walked by.

There was a time I was doing more than 50 pull ups a day. In just a couple months I went from 3 to 14 pull ups. Even then, when I did the initial strength test in boot camp I only did 5. You will be exhausted and stressed out during recruit training and this will affect your physical performance!

Marine Corps Strength Training in boot camp will be harder and more difficult than you can replicate on your own, but don’t worry. With this guide, you’ll be well prepared to complete recruit training at full steam.

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Basic Marine Corps Strength Training

It used to be that fitness in the Marine Corps was running, pull ups, and rucking. But now, it’s a lot more advanced. The Marine Corps even has it’s own unit dedicated to fitness and exercise.

But this is a just a basic primer. If you have no foundation of strength, this basic guide to Marine Corps Strength Training will help you establish a base level of fitness which you can (and should!) build upon if you’re serious about a career in the Marine Corps.

It’s a good idea to get a gym membership even if you have only a few months to prepare for boot camp. I advise at least six months, and if you can’t afford a personal trainer once a week, then look around for people who frequent the gym and ask for their advice. Let them know what you are training for. There are a lot of nice people in the gym who will lend a hand, but you must ask for it.

To start, concentrate on these basic lifts to develop core strength:

Back Squat. In the squat rack with a barbell high up on the shoulders, palms facing forward and gripping the bar greater than shoulder width, squat by reaching your hips back and down, weight in the heels, until your thighs are parallel. Return to the standing position by driving your weight through the heels, keeping your chin slightly higher than level, shoulder blades down your back, and core tight. Do not round through your lower or upper back—this is very important. Select a weight you can squat for 6-8 repetitions. Repeat for three sets. 

Marine Corps Strength Training - Bench Press
CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii – Staff Sgt. Brett Garmon, G-4 air staff noncommissioned officer, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, utilizes the bench press and weights, while safely being spotted by Master Sgt. Bill Atwater, G-4 maintenance management chief, MARFORPAC at the Semper Fit Center here.

Deadlift. With a barbell on the ground, stand with feet shoulder width apart. Squat just as in the first exercise, grabbing the barbell overhand, hands shoulder width apart. To lift the barbell from the ground, pull with the upper body as you straighten the legs in one smooth movement. Do not straighten your legs and then pull with the low back, this can cause too much strain on the low back.  Select a weight you can lift for 6-8 repetitions, and complete three sets.

If there is not much weight on it the barbell will be lower, which may cause additional strain on the lower back. I suggest at least 35lb plates on either side, and if this is too much, you need to do more squats and eat better food!

Bench Press. Lying down on the bench, grip the barbell hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Lift the bar from the rest and bring it over your chest. Lower the bar slowly until the bar almost touches your chest just below the nipples. Keep your feet down and your back strong, then press the barbell until your arms are straight. Resist the urge to arch your back or lift your feet—this is a sign you have too much weight. Pick a weight you can lift for 6-8 repetitions, and complete three sets.

Military Press. Place the barbell on the rack at shoulder height, and with hands shoulder width apart, grab the barbell and hold it at your chest. Lift the barbell straight overhead until your arms are straight, and slowly lower it back to position at your upper chest. Choose a weight you can continue for 6-8 repetitions, and complete three sets.

Pull-ups. For the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test (as well as the Initial Fitness Test) you must complete at least three “dead hang” pull-ups. This means no “kipping” (swinging your legs to gather momentum), no bringing the knees above the hips, and returning to the full bottom position, arms locked out, to complete a repetition. Your drill instructors will be adamant about this and will not count incomplete pull-ups, so don’t waste your energy.

Mount the pull-up bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder width. You can use an overhand or underhand (chin-ups) grip. Lower yourself to complete lock out, then lift your chin above the bar. Return to the bottom position, arms fully locked out. Complete as many reps as possible for three to five sets.

Pyramid Pull Ups

You can also work “pyramid” pull-ups. You’ll do a set of pull-ups to failure—say you can currently do 5. Your first set will be 1, second set will be 2, third set will be three, and so on. When you reach 5, then go back down. So your set looks like this: 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1. Wait a minute or two in between sets. 

Do all of these exercises for a single workout. This is a very basic program and will work on fundamental strength building. There are many different methods and different workouts, and this is far from a complete guide. Doing this workout on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays along with the running will give you a very solid fitness base to begin Marine Corps Recruit Training.

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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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