Ask Stew: Joining the Military in Medical Services

An airman works out on an exercise bike.
U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. James LaCoste, 633rd Force Support Squadron chief career development element, uses a recumbent exercise bike at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., July 20, 2017. (Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II/U.S. Air Force photo)

Joining the military in the professional fields can be rewarding personally and financially. Many people with college loans from years pursuing degrees in medicine find a place not only to serve their country, but also get their loans significantly reduced or paid off completely.

Here is a nurse who is seeking to do just but faces a hurdle: the physical standard.

Hi there. I'm 40 years old and need to lose weight to join the Army. I am a registered nurse who wishes to join the nurse corps. They will pay off my loans. This is a big help. Plus, I get to serve my country. My main problem is, I suck at running and I get shin splints. I figure as my running improves, I'll lose the weight I need to as well. Any advice?

If you need to lose weight and it is significant (20+ pounds), I would not jump right into running. Start off with walking, biking, elliptical or rowing workouts to work the hearts, lungs and legs, but without the added impact from the extra weight you are carrying. Your knees and shins will thank you for it. Also, make sure you have new, good shoes for running. You get what you pay for, so do not skimp on shoes.

Some Ideas for Tough Intervals

Bike pyramid: Each minute gets tougher than the previous minute by increasing resistance by one to two levels. Go up until you no longer can pedal at 70-80 rpms. Repeat in reverse order once you fail. Take 15-20 minutes to do this workout at first and build up to 30-40 minutes over time.

Elliptical Tabata intervals: Warm up for five minutes at an easy pace. Start the next five minutes by doing a 20-second sprint and then 10 seconds of an easy pace in turn. Repeat as many times as you can with a few minutes of recovery time.

Focus on Technique

Technique for running varies from person to person, but finding a form you are good at that does not hurt requires a few standards, including stride and foot impact. Make sure you are not over-striding and landing hard on your heel, or that your foot is not flopping and slaps the ground every step. If you can hear your feet smacking the ground every step, pull back and try to slow it down. See more tips in the running articles: Favorite Running Workouts  | Evolution of Running | You Might Be a Runner If

Eat Right to Lose Weight

Focus on eating to lose weight. I typically recommend people be smart about food choices. I do not need to tell you that doughnuts, cakes, and sugary foods and drinks are bad for you. Avoid those, and do not eat until you are overly full. Pull back on the bigger meals of the day and see how that works for you. Some ideas with the Lean Down Plan.

Push Yourself

With that, you have to push hard on those machines. The pace should not be too easy. If you push hard with some timed or distance intervals, you can build your cardio up so that when you do run, you will be lighter and handle the faster pace for longer times. Remember, you also have to prepare for a fitness test for the Army.

Practicing push-ups, sit-ups and two-mile runs is going to be in your future, but first build a foundation of fitness, combined with weight loss, before jumping into running too soon.

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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