Ask Stew: What You Should Do if You're Worried About Deconditioning During Navy Boot Camp

More than 40,000 recruits train annually at the Navy's only boot camp at U.S. Navy Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois.
More than 40,000 recruits train annually at the Navy's only boot camp at U.S. Navy Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois, Feb. 24, 2023. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Christopher M. O'Grady/U.S. Navy photo)

Navy boot camp is not known for its overly challenging physical fitness programming, but an average recruit still needs to prepare for long days on their feet, running and calisthenics. However, if you are contracted to attend any of the Navy Special Warfare/Special Ops programs after boot camp, it will be a bit of a deconditioning phase.

Here is an emailed question from a future EOD diver about to attend Navy Boot Camp:

Stew, I have been working hard to ace the PST and get my swimming and treading ready for Dive Prep/Dive School after Boot Camp. I am worried about getting out of shape during the eight-week training. From what I hear, there is little physical activity and mostly folding clothes, marching and standing in formation. How can I stay in shape? Future Sailor Wills

Recruits heading to SEAL/SWCC training, Dive School or Rescue Swimmer School after boot camp sometimes have negative thoughts about being at boot camp and need an attitude adjustment. The fact that you used the term "future sailor" gives me hope for your attitude, as you need these next eight weeks to learn how to be a sailor.

You can go into this beginning naval training with the attitude that what you are doing is a waste of time, or you can learn how to wear the uniform proudly and follow orders and directions. Many need to realize that this training may not be physically taxing, there is discipline, teamwork, attention to detail and a host of core values that are being taught.

With the right attitude, you can graduate from Navy boot camp proud of your accomplishment and be a better sailor when you attend the next training school. Believe it or not, you will learn a useful skill -- how to memorize important details under stress. One day, this will save your life when you apply it to safety procedures, especially when scuba diving, jumping out of airplanes and rendering safe explosives.

While your physical preparation thus far is above and beyond what you need to attend Navy boot camp, you can use your strengths to help others on your ship. Adding supplemental exercises at night before bed or before the day starts is wise.

You can add push-ups, plank poses, burpees and even pull-ups on upper-body days. You can do the same for leg days with squats, lunges and sit-ups/flutter kicks. This will help you get the blood flowing and maintain some of what you accomplished prior to boot camp.

My advice has always been to treat boot camp like a taper, so go into it well-worked and prepared physically for your training after its conclusion. But also use boot camp to work on other skills, as mentioned above, and be the best recruit/future sailor in your ship.

Many will struggle with staying calm under stress and passing the Navy physical readiness test, or PRT (push-ups, plank and 1.5-mile run) and other tested skills throughout the training. Help them if you can, and you may find you will need other's help with something.

Someday, you will work with many of the same people in the fleet. Make friends, and it will pay off in the long run.

Related articles:

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Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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