Ask Stew: What Is the Essential Equipment Needed for Military Prep?

Cherry Point Marine participates in pull-up event.
Lance Cpl. Evian T. Jackson participates in a pull-up event during the 75th anniversary field meet competition at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina Aug. 12, 2016. Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, and Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marines of all ranks and ages came together to compete in numerous events testing their strength, teamwork and unit spirit. Some of the events the competitors participated in included: an all ranks relay, rifle relay race, unit soccer, a 7-ton pull and more. Jackson is an administrative specialist with H&HS. (N.W. Huertas/U.S. Marine Corps)

As you prepare for military service, the training equipment you need depends largely on your future branch of service and the job you want within that branch of service. To prepare for basic military training, you might be surprised to learn that you can prepare with little or no equipment in your home gym, especially if you can get mobile with your training by running and rucking around your neighborhood.

Here is a question about how you can do your pre-military training preparation on your own.

Hey, Stew. What essential equipment should you have if you have to work out from home to prepare for military service? Thanks, Jayson

I hate to answer a question by answering, "It depends," but what you will need depends on the branch of service and the job you seek in the military.

Here is my universal answer for each branch of service, including the equipment you need to prepare for various physical challenges you will face.


Army training will be a mix of calisthenics and lifting weights for the Occupational Physical Assessment Test (OPAT) and Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). You will also be running and rucking. Your bare minimum equipment would be a sandbag and a backpack. Both will help you prepare for the load-bearing activities that Army training requires.

At some point, you may have to invest in some kettlebells or plates and a hex barbell to prepare for the events of the ACFT (see more). An alternative would be to visit a gym on a guest pass a few times.


For the most part, you can get by with the basics of calisthenics and cardio as you prepare for boot camp for regular Navy jobs. The plank pose, push-ups and a 1.5-mile run is the standard PT test that will begin your Navy journey, along with some swimming and drownproofing skills.

You do not need any equipment for the basic PT test. For military jobs that involve the ocean, it's not wise to join without knowing how to swim. Finding a place to learn and practice swimming is going to be helpful for you.

If you enter more challenging jobs within the Navy like SEAL, EOD, diver, SWCC or rescue swimmer, you will need to prepare extensively in the pool. This will require backpacks, sandbags and pull-up bars.

Depending on your strengths or weaknesses going into training, you may need weights to build the type of durability required to handle the strenuous load-bearing activities in these training programs.

Marine Corps

Every officer or enlisted recruit entering the USMC needs to prepare well. Out of all the basic training programs, the Marine Corps will require the most of its recruits.

You will need a backpack, sandbags, pull-up bars and a place to run and ruck, since the run event in the Marines is a three-mile timed run. You also have a pull-up and plank test, regardless of the job (military occupational specialty, or MOS) you seek in the USMC.

Prepare well. The USMC Physical Fitness Test (PFT) and the Combat Fitness Test (CFT) will require a combination of calisthenics, load bearing and cardio events.

Air Force

The Air Force training is similar to the Navy. The basic fitness test is calisthenics and cardio events, such as push-ups, sit-ups or plank pose, pull-ups and running.

Depending on the job you seek within the Air Force, you could need much more equipment, especially if you go for Air Force Special Warfare. The fitness tests and training will require the addition of swimming, rucking and more load-bearing activities, so building strength with weights, backpacks, sandbags and kettlebells will be essential.

Coast Guard

Much like the Navy training recommendations, calisthenics and cardio will suffice for Coast Guard training, as the fitness tests will focus on running, push-ups, sit-ups or crunches, toe touch and a 12-minute swim test. Depending on the job requirements, you may have to train harder in the water to become a Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer.

As fitness testing has evolved over the last decade, the need for more than just calisthenics, cardio and running preparation has changed. The diversity of training requirements is largely due to the challenges of that particular branch of service and the level of training required by the job you seek after basic training. Regardless, be smart and prepare specifically for what you are sure to endure.

-- 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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