Ask Stew: I'm Motivated to Serve. Now What?

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A student in the Sergeants Major Course at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy performs push-ups Aug. 25 during an Army Physical Fitness Test on Biggs Park at Fort Bliss, Texas (photo courtesy of U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, Fort Bliss, Texas.)

Being motivated to serve or at least to prepare to serve can be challenging, especially when you first have to complete some other commitment that you find unmotivating.

Take this email, for instance. This young man wants to serve his country in the Army but only after completing his first year of college.

Stew, I am joining the Army this year after I finish my first year of college. I thought I would finish college, but school is just not for me right now. I have always wanted to serve, but working out this year has been a challenge. How do you recommend I start preparing myself for training? I am motivated to serve my country, just not motivated to run and lift weights. I am not ready physically but not far from it either. Thanks in advance -- Neal

First, thanks for making the decision to serve. There are many opportunities that await you, but it will be helpful if you prepare now. You should thoroughly understand your immediate options and your future alternatives as well.

Here is my to-do list for you during these remaining 4-5 months.

1. Start training today. Make today Day One by mixing in running with walking and adding calisthenics. There is no need to lift weights or start running high mileage just yet. Build up each week into doing more and more, and you will avoid the overuse injuries that many people get when first starting to train. Injuries like shin splints are common to new or overweight runners, so mix in some non-impact cardio activity every other day and start running on the days in between. This will help you build your heart and lungs but also progressively build your impact durability and reduce chances for injury. See our related beginner running article.

2. ASVAB. You must take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Start studying or at least learn how to take the test. While in the studying mode of attending college, you should take a few practice ASVAB tests, especially if you want to do a job that requires a higher score. Usually, these jobs are highly technical or require significant abilities in math, science and technology. You should thoroughly understand which job you want and what standards are required of you both physically and mentally to be eligible for that job.

3. Next Level of Fitness. Once you build a decent foundation of running and calisthenics, you need to focus on the specifics as part of your physically demanding journey. Consider this classic week of military training article for starters. It will give you ideas for adding calisthenics as well as some of the other activities you will be exposed to in Basic Combat Training.

You will be faced with three fitness tests along your journey. The Army PFT will be used most likely with recruiters and at basic training events just to get a baseline of your abilities. The test requires push-ups, sit-ups and a 2-mile run. You will have to take the Occupational Physical Assessment Test, or OPAT, which is similar to the ASVAB but a physical test. This test assesses your abilities to handle more rigorous fields such as infantry, artillery and jobs that require heavy lifting and load bearing. Then, you will be faced with the Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT. Both tests require lifting weights, pulling sleds, throwing medicine balls, doing shuttle runs, hand release push-ups, leg tucks and more running.

4. Future College. You should learn more about the Post 9-11 GI Bill and all the benefits offered to you for college. Also, many of the classes you take (depending on your military occupational specialty) can also count toward college credits; you may need only a few years to complete your degree when you are ready to be a college student again.

I understand you are not necessarily motivated right now to finish something you are not enjoying. You will soon leave home and your friends. You feel behind the curve on your fitness preparation.

But today is the day to start. If you have five to six months, you have plenty of time to prepare for the challenges of becoming a soldier. If you need motivation, think about this: One day, your fitness level could be a determining factor in you living or dying. You must be able to help your buddy in a dangerous situation and be an asset in highly stressful moments. Do not let your fitness and abilities be the reason that you do not meet standards or get injured due to overuse or underprepared injuries.

Make sure you get the opportunities you want out of your time in the Army.

-- 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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