5 Smart Workout Options to Supplement Your Normal Military Unit PT

U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam Brock, right, executes an overhead press during a daily functional fitness class aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in the Atlantic Ocean.
U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam Brock, right, executes an overhead press during a daily functional fitness class aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in the Atlantic Ocean, April 17, 2013. (Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Shane A. Jackson/U.S. Navy photo)

Many U.S. service members have unit physical training (PT) several times weekly, depending on the program and department. Adding extra training is challenging for many to find time after work or school while striking a balance without getting injured.

Here is a common question asked by active-duty and officer candidates in college ROTC programs:

Hey Stew, I am a sophomore in college and just started my journey as an Army ROTC cadet. We do group unit pt 3 times a week, but is there anything you recommend I do on my own fitness-wise? For background, I would say I am in solid shape, but not great. I scored 520-530 on the ACFT. Thanks, Matt

Matt, great question. My initial recommendation is to focus on doing well on the ROTC PT as a group because that should be your primary goal. But it is fine to have secondary goals as long as you can coordinate smartly with your workout additions.

The easiest option is to add more running (if needed) or nonimpact cardio, stretching and mobility work on the days between your group PT, so you can perform at your best in the unit workouts and fitness tests. Those matter as your current status as an officer candidate.

The biggest mistake is letting your secondary fitness goals interfere with your group PT and Army fitness testing. For instance, adding in marathon or ultrarunning distances will affect your lifting/strength training needed to perform well on the Army Combat Fitness Test. But adding more powerlifting workouts could affect your running performance, depending on the running or rucking you can do each week as a group or on your own.

Another common mistake is military members like to double down on their strengths and continue to work and improve on events at which they already excel. This is fine, but it usually leaves a weakness ignored and undeveloped. These weaknesses will be exposed at some point in your training, whether at group PT, fitness testing, or future selection and assessment training.

  • Here is a smart way to add in more activities that balance well with certain group PT workouts:
  • If group PT is a high-repetition calisthenics and middle-distance run (2-3 miles), add lifting but as a second workout of the day. If you work the upper body in PT with pull-ups, push-ups and a variety of core activities, perform lifts like the bench press, pulldowns, overhead presses and rows to work the same muscle groups later in the day.
  • If group PT is a ruck, do a leg day. This can be weighted events or higher-rep calisthenics, such as squats and lunges mixed with more running or nonimpact cardio workouts.
  • If group PT is a running workout, add more running or rucking if you can handle it, or choose nonimpact cardio if you need a break from running. Choose this option if running or rucking is your weakness.
  • If you do more of a leg workout at PT, mix in weighted legs (deadlifts, squats, lunges, etc.), but also work on the ACFT events like sled pulls, farmer carries, medicine-ball power throws and sprints, especially if these are a weakness for you.

When creating secondary workouts, it is always best to coordinate with the unit's group PT and your weaknesses. You may find that group PT handles your weaknesses one day and you struggle, but another day may be something you are good at doing and it is not a challenge. To become a tactical athlete, the ultimate goal is to have more of the good days than not by getting good at everything, but that journey comes with a lot of practicing activities you are not particularly strong at doing.

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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