Should You Lose Weight to Improve Your Performance on Military Fitness Test Runs?

U.S. Army soldiers assigned to the Defense Department's George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany run a portion of the 2-mile run for the Army Physical Fitness Test.
U.S. Army soldiers assigned to the Defense Department's George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany run a portion of the 2-mile run for the Army Physical Fitness Test on Oct. 30, 2013. (Jason Tudor/Defense Department photo)

Many military members worry about losing weight to improve on standard fitness tests for military timed runs. However, you do not have to look like a world-class runner to pass or even max the standard military fitness tests.

It is no secret that some of the fastest distance runners (not sprinters) are lighter with little fat or muscle, so it does make sense to want to be lighter. But is it necessary? Here is a question from a lifter/bodybuilder type who is serving and needs to improve his run time:

Hello Stew. I weigh around 200lbs. with lots of muscle/a little fat, but I cannot get my run times down for a military fitness test (1.5-mile run). At what point do I need to consider losing weight? Thanks! Hunter

Hunter, it depends on your height because if you were 5 feet, 7 inches tall or 6'3", I would likely have a different answer for you. If you are on the taller side, I would not worry about weight loss; shedding some pounds, though, would be helpful if you are shorter. But overall, 200 pounds is not too much weight if it is mostly muscle. The real answer to the question that will make you faster is to improve your cardio conditioning.

Regardless of height, my advice is to change your training for a cycle of 6-12 weeks. Work more on muscle stamina with calisthenics training and cardio activity, with a combination of running and any combination of nonimpact cardio (biking, rowing, elliptical training, swimming). Chances are, given your size and muscle mass, you prefer to lift rather than do cardio. Perhaps your definition of cardio is moving the weights faster with each repetition. If this is the case, you need a cycle focusing more on aerobic and anaerobic endurance and mastering a running pace that enables you to score your goal time.

Most people in your situation are poor runners of anything longer than 400 meters, because you do not run anything other than sprints (or run at all). If you run sprints now, you will likely be able to handle the added running to your week, but it still should be progressive in total miles run each week. If you are new to running, that progression may be less and required to mix with a combination of nonimpact cardio activity and running pace workouts. A prime workout example is the Brick (bike + run) Workout.

Unfortunately, this will require a short vacation from lifting weights. Do not think of it as "losing your gains," but getting better at a weakness and a deload cycle from lifting while you improve your aerobic base and running ability. But you may have to actually "lose some gains" in order to get to your running goal, but these are only temporary losses and minimal compared to the new aerobic gains you are building.

After a focused cycle on your weakness (muscle stamina and endurance), you will have fun getting back into the weight room, building back up to previous lifts but with much more stamina. You can handle more lifting than before the calisthenics and cardio cycle!

The final question is learning how to maintain both your strength and endurance. The best answer is to learn about Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization, using a block periodization model. This means that during any lift cycle you like to do normally, you finish with 20 minutes of maintenance cardio. But every fourth week, you take a week off lifting (deload phase) and do calisthenics and cardio.

This 3:1 block periodization model is a great way to maintain your natural strengths while maintaining or improving upon your weaknesses. By never neglecting your cardio or running again, you will find that you can be bigger, stronger and faster for military timed runs perfectly fine.

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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