Let’s become Marines

There are certain things everyone associates with the Marines: camouflage, crewcuts, and fitness that makes even CrossFit fans a little bashful. So how do the Marines measure fitness, exactly — and how do you stack up?

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The Marines use a three-part fitness test to determine soldiers’ fitness for duty. “Fitness is essential to the day-to-day effectiveness and combat readiness of the Marine Corps,” their handbook explains. The stakes, in other words, are high. And yet the test is made up of simple arm, core, and cardio workouts you probably encountered in high school gym class. The real trick is keeping your form military-perfect while you work through the test, which consists of the following:

Upper Body: Pull-Ups or Push-Ups

In the past, this portion was divided by gender: Men had to do pull-ups and women had to do a flexed-arm hang. But as of January, the flexed-arm hang was nixed, and both men and women were given the choice to do either pull-ups or push-ups. Marines are encouraged to opt for pull-ups, however, since it’s “a better field test of dynamic upper body strength,” and it’s the only way you can earn a perfect score.

If you go for pull-ups, you just do as many of them in a row as you can muster — there’s no time limit. To meet Marine specifications, your pull-ups have to start from a motionless dead-arm hang, with your hands facing either forward or backward. From there, you pull your chin up above the bar; some wiggling en route is inevitable, but keep it to a minimum. “Whipping, kicking, kipping of the body or legs, or any leg movement used to assist in the vertical progression of the pull-up is not authorized,” the handbook says. If your legs somehow reach above your waist, you’re doing it wrong.

Push-ups, on the other hand, are timed: You have to do as many as you can in two minutes. You start by putting your hands on the ground wherever they’re comfortable and placing your feet either together or 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) apart. “When viewed from the side, the body should form a generally straight line from the shoulders to the ankles,” according to the official rules. A complete push-up involves bending at the elbows and lowering your entire body as a single unit until your upper arms are parallel with the ground, then returning to your starting position.

Core: Abdominal Crunches

For this portion, you have to do as many crunches as you can in two minutes. Keep in mind that it’s only a crunch, by Marine standards, if your butt is in continuous contact with the ground, and your arms are crossed, flush against your chest at all times — no reaching for your knees to get yourself up. Your shoulder blades need to touch the ground between each repetition.

Cardio: Run

This is pretty straightforward: Just run 3 miles (4.8 kilometers). Not on a treadmill, though — treadmills are forbidden. Ideally, this should be run on an out-and-back or wide-loop course, with no sharp turns. The idea is to cover the distance as quickly as possible.

Bonus: if you’re 46 or older (or if it’s recommended by a doctor), you can opt to do your cardio test on a rowing machine. This test requires you to row 5,000 meters.

Can You Hack It?

So, are you fit enough to be a Marine? You have to navigate a bit of bureaucracy to find out. Passing criteria vary with age, and there are layers of requirements: You need to achieve a minimum score on each event, and a minimum total score (which the minimum event scores don’t always add up to).

To score yourself, just use this handy-dandy calculator.

For a general sense of the scoring, though: Men in the highest age bracket need to do at least three pull-ups or 20 push-ups; 40 crunches; and a 3-mile run that’s under 33 minutes. Women in the highest age bracket need to do at least one pull-up or 10 push-ups; 40 crunches; and a 3-mile run that’s under 36 minutes.

Want a challenge? See if you can get the highest possible score on the test: Men need to do 23 pull-ups, do 115 crunches, and run 3 miles in 18 minutes. Women need to do 10 pull-ups, do 110 crunches, and run 3 miles in 21 minutes.

It’s good to keep in mind, however, that you don’t have to pass on the first try. You’re (most likely) not a Marine, and even Marines fail this test. Their handbook lays out an entire conditioning plan for those who don’t pass right away. And in the end, the self-discipline it takes to work towards a tough goal matters just as much as your mile time — in the Marines and the civilian world.

If you’re serious about getting military fit, check out “MARSOC Training Guide: The Official US Marine Corps Special Operations Physical Fitness Handbook,” which can help you get there in just 10 weeks. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

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