Ask Stew: Will Not Playing Sports Hinder Someone from Joining the Military?

The push-up standards for the Army physical fitness test
Soldiers assigned to HHC 201st Regional Support Group perform their Army physical fitness test (APFT) in the early morning of June 8, 2018, during their annual training on Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia. (2nd Lt. Leland White/U.S. Army National Guard photo)

You do not have to be an athlete to be in good physical condition. In fact, many athletes who specialize in a few elements of fitness and are masters at them can be quite bad at others.

For instance, if you ask Michael Phelps to do speed and agility work on land, you will see that he spends most of his time in the water. Not being an athlete actually gives you a clean palette to work with. You can build a solid foundation of all the elements of fitness that you will use in a tactical profession. These are:

  • Endurance
  • Speed
  • Agility
  • Strength
  • Power
  • Muscle stamina
  • Flexibility
  • Mobility

Here is an email from a young man who wants to serve, but lacks an athletic history because he had to work during high school.

Stew -- I was never an athlete in school or before, other than playing kickball with neighborhood kids. I had a job after school every day, so that limited me. With that, I am not in great shape. Not overweight but not fit, either. Any advice? I think I lack the ability to stay motivated with fitness programs, as I have never stuck with one before. Any assistance with both the physical and mental side of training? Josh

Josh -- great questions. I have always said that you do not need to be an athlete to be in shape. Also, the main reason I recommend people doing athletics is because it helps become better team players. Working after school is also a great life experience. You likely are working to help the family (team) and deal with co-workers and managers, which also can be a team experience. So I would not worry about that at all.

An Army sergeant does push-ups during a Best Warrior competition.
U.S. Army Sgt. Luis Cruz, assigned to 687th Rapid Port Opening Element, performs push-ups during the Army physical fitness test portion of the 2017 Army Materiel Command's Best Warrior Competition at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, July 16, 2017. (Sgt. 1st Class Teddy Wade/U.S. Army photo)

About the Mental Side

I heard a great saying the other day: "Don't listen to yourself. Talk to yourself." You have to heed that inner voice, saying it's time to get up and train. You need to know that, with a job in the military, your fitness could one day be a determining factor between your living or dying, your teammate living or not, or someone you are trying to rescue not making it or not. So take it that seriously.

Train like your buddy's life depends on it.

That is my internal dialogue I have in my head when not motivated to train. Eventually, your first-day motivation has to evolve into persistence. Persistence evolves into habits. Your habits evolve into discipline. 

This is all about developing mental toughness.

About the Physical Side

Think about getting to your training. To get accepted into the Army, you have to pass the Army physical fitness test (APFT), which is made up of 

  • Push-ups
  • Sit-ups
  • Two-mile run

You have the answers to the test already, so go practice and score well above the minimum standards. Here are some related articles to assist you:

Push-ups: You have to get good at push-ups, which is a standard upper-body exercise of all branches of service. Adding pull-ups into the mix is a good idea to develop the upper body fully. See the PT progression series link and add weights as well.

Sit-ups: Learn to pace yourself. Balance out sit-up exercises with plank poses and lower-back exercises.

RunningRunning, mixed with calisthenics, is a great way to build endurance and muscle stamina, but the goal is to drop your mile pace when it comes to two-mile timed runs.

Rucking: You also need to build up to this event. In the Army, you will carry 40-50 or more pounds on your back and go for miles. Be prepared for rucking with practice and lifting to strengthen your back and legs.

Start off easy if you have not done any physical activity ever. If you feel you have a decent base of fitness, find a program and get prepared by focusing on getting to and through the training.

I hope this helps you get your mind right so you can get your body moving if you want to serve in the Army. You can do this. You just have to want to.

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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