Ask Stew: Questions from a Teen Recruit Preparing for USMC

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A RECON Marine navigates an obstacle course.
U.S. Marine Corps Challenge Reconnaissance competitors race through the reconnaissance training center obstacle course during Challenge Reconnaissance on Camp Pendleton, Calif., April 27, 2017. (Lance Cpl. Brooke Woods/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Thank you all who are considering military service after high school. You give me hope for the future, as a call to service should be taken seriously and not because you could not find anything else to do -- especially if you are going hardcore Marine Corps. It is a calling, so thank you.

Here is a common question from a recruit who has joined the delayed entry program (DEP) and is preparing for the challenges of USMC Parris Island and many follow-on training programs that include RECON:

Question #1: Stew, I'm 17 years old aspiring to be Marine RECON. I am enlisted and in the DEP. I can do 16 pull-ups, 93 crunches and a 10:10 mile and a half, 55 push-ups in 2 minutes, and 3 miles in 24:20.  About the 3-mile run -- I stopped running so I can gain some weight. I also lift weights regularly.

First of all, don't think three miles of running is going to "ruin your gains." Three miles is not long-distance running. Once you get good at running, this is less than 20 minutes, and maybe a total calorie burn for a lighter young man of less than 300 calories. You can make that up with one peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

So stop thinking that you cannot run. This is military training preparation -- and the Marines -- so you have to get good at running and rucking. Do not neglect this. Eat more food.

Besides, if you do not run now and fail to prepare yourself with a solid foundation of running, which can take several months to build, you likely will have overuse running injuries at boot camp. This could roll you or get you dropped from training, depending upon the severity.

Now, if you were running for more than an hour a day, I might buy the long-distance "ruin my gains" theory.

Question #2: I've recently started to minimize running to gain weight as stated above, because I've been told I need to gain weight. I'm 5'11 and weigh 152 pounds. Do you think I should resume running or keep minimizing it?

At this weight, it is not a bad idea to put on some muscle but you need to lift and keep running at least to keep a good pace on your 1.5-mile timed run during DEP for the initial strength test (IST). But gaining 10-15 pounds or more will serve you well as long as you still can run. Trust me 5 feet 11 and 175-180 pounds is not massive and will serve you well under the ruck, load-bearing exercises (logs, boats, equipment), and you still will be able to run fast.

But sure, try a cycle of weight training for 6-8 weeks with minimal running -- but minimal running is three miles 4-5 times a week. Ten to 15 miles of running only will help you on your journey. 

If you neglect this small amount of running, you will regret it. See Weight Gain Tips and start training harder, eating more and lifting more, but keep up your running, too.

Question #3: I am aware that swimming is a big part of recon training and I am pretty much a beginner in swimming. What do you think is the best way for me to approach swimming?

Well, you need to take lessons and learn how to swim properly or start watching videos and hanging out at the pool learning from or watching others. It also will take time to get in shape for swimming.

Hopefully, you will have time to prepare to run faster, swim better and gain some weight at the same time in the next 6-9 months that you have left. It will require you to train significantly and smartly. Five or six days of training should be devoted to working on your weaknesses of strength, muscle gain, running speed and endurance and swimming ability. Your training should be arranged in a way that you working out hard enough but not overtraining and injuring yourself.

I do think you need a plan. Here are some ideas if you want to build your own:

Classic PT Week

Training for Timed Runs

Weights and Calithenics

But, yes, you should consider that getting on a plan that arranges calisthenics, weights, running, rucking and swimming in a way that you can improve. Focus on mastering the IST first, then the PFT second, all the while learning how to swimrun and ruck better. See ideas for preparing for Basic RECON Course, too.

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 stew@stewsmith.com.

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