Ask Stew: How Can I Manage the Big Weight Loss I Need to Achieve My Military Goals?

Master-at-Arms 1st Class Michael Menser, from New Braunfels, Texas, squats in the ship’s gym during a weightlifting challenge aboard amphibious assault carrier USS Tripoli (LHA 7), July 24, 2022. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Austyn Riley)

If you are an athlete who has a long history of lifting heavy weights to get big and strong, the journey to qualify for military height and weight standards and high-repetition calisthenics and running tests (swimming, too) can be a difficult one. 

This transition from strength and power to muscle stamina and endurance can take at least a year, especially if there is significant mass to be lost while you gain conditioning. 

Here is a question from a big powerlifting athlete who wants to serve in the Navy diving/EOD community:

As a 300-lb. powerlifter who wants to get below 200 lbs., do you have any tips to aid my journey? I am currently on the beginner plan for calisthenics and cardio as I start to train for Navy EOD-style fitness. I love it, but it's tough due to my current weight. Thanks, Sam 

Sam, Thanks for considering military service. Be ready for a long road, as this one demands consistency in training that's much different from what you do now, with requirements for a wide variety of calisthenics and cardio. The good news is that many people have accomplished this transition many times in the past. 

One of the most important things you have going for you is the consistent training you have done for years, so you don't have to create the desire to do the work. You just need to change your training focus and, quite frankly, get out of the weight room. Even if you do not lift a single weight for a year, you will still be stronger than most people will ever be in a lifetime. It's time to turn yourself into a cardio machine. 

Muscle Stamina and Endurance

Since you are a big and strong powerlifter, you start this journey with a weakness because you're not able to run longer distances and perform higher-repetition calisthenics. You will never get accepted into your military profession of choice if you do not master the Navy PST used by Navy SEALs, SWCC, divers, EOD and rescue swimmers. 

That test consists of a 500-yard swim, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and a 1.5-mile run. You may find this calisthenics and cardio cycle to be a refreshing change from lifting. Though many miss the weightlifting workouts at first, I recommend you stay away from heavy weights as you make the transition. It will take time to see the results you want. 

More Non-Impact Cardio vs. Running

At 300 pounds, running will be tough. Your feet, shins and knees will hate you for it. Consider doing more non-impact cardio activity during the first few months as you start your calorie-burning cardio and aerobic base conditioning activity. 

Think of yourself like a triathlete and do biking and swimming before a progressive running and walking mix each week. Make two-thirds of your cardio activity non-impact by using bikes, elliptical machines, rowing machines and stair steppers. Learning to swim will require both technique and conditioning so start watching videos that demonstrate side stroke or combat side stroke (CSS) technique

Eating to Lose Weight

Eating is likely the hardest habit to break since you have spent a significant amount of your life eating to gain the mass required for your previous athletic goals. Eating to lose weight is going to be more about portion control, but still eating enough so that you have energy to exercise with an endurance focus. Fewer calories per day, paired with the added calorie burn of significant cardio activity, will quickly start you on your weight-loss path. 

I would make similar recommendations to people with the same goals who are new to running and need to lose weight at the same time, regardless of athletic history. I have seen athletes like you, football players, and non-athletes drop up to 300 pounds in a year to 18 months to be ready to serve, some even at spec-ops levels. 

Think of where you were 12-18 months ago and how that might feel like yesterday. Stay focused on this goal, and 12-18 months from now, you will be a new person who is capable of crushing military standards while remaining strong as an ox. 

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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