Physical Fitness

For physical preparation, much advice I got was wrong, or misleading before I got to OCS. The workouts and much of the training has evolved considerably since past CO’s.

If I had to do it again, I would mimic OCS workouts as much as possible in my own program. So, to that end I’ll detail the current workouts at Officer Candidate School. Enjoy!

PPPA: Push/Pull/Press/Abs

PPPA is often an addition to a run or another workout. This was the only workout that pushed me to my full physical limit. Know your weaknesses, right?

First, pushup/pull-up supersets. For example, 10 pulls, 25 pushes, 8 pulls, 20 pushes, 6 and 15.  The numbers increase each time you do it. By week 8 or 9, I believe it’s something like pull-ups: 16/14/12 and pushups 45/40/35. Ouch.

Ammo can press/crunch supersets come next. Ammo cans are 30 pounds each (full of sand.) This is a great preparation for the CFT and PFT. These are timed events, so you end up doing about 2 min/1.5/1 minute for ammo can presses, alternating with crunches of about the same time.


Fartleks are 3-5 mile runs, interspersed with workouts every half mile or so. Fartleks are very similar to the Run Course/Mec Weight (or something like that) where you just don’t run as far, and do more workouts. An awesome cardio workout.

Example exercises: Pushups, pull-ups, crunches, sit-ups, frog sit-ups (wide knees like you’re doing a groin stretch), diamond pushups, body squats, bend and thrusts, burpees, dips, mountain climbers, sprints


U.S. Marine Corps candidates from Delta Company carry out the Physical Fitness Test at the Officer Candidate School aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Nov. 30, 2009

There is less running at OCS than there used to be.  You’ll have 3-5 mile squad and individual runs.  Other than running, great preparation would be to memorize cadences. Every group run will be with cadences, and you will definitely look like a stronger leader if you’re leading cadence-calling.

The runs start faster than a minimum PFT score, and are almost all over trails and hills. So your 23-24 minute 3 mile running pace won’t cut it.The runs start out in running shoes, aka go-fasters, and eventually you’ll do a 5 mile run on hills with boots and utes. I highly recommend breaking in boots ahead of time!

Functional Fitness

Functional fitness workouts are circuit workouts performed with a buddy. For maybe 2-4 minutes per station, you and your buddy take turns doing workouts. They could include the following:

  • Ammo can carries (Sprinting, carrying two sand-filled ammo cans by your side)
  • Buddy drags (alternating dragging buddy where you walk backwards and bear hug your buddy’s upper body; his heels drag.)
  • Fireman’s carry
  • Lunges
  • Plank, with your elbows down and holding your body in a rigid pushup position. Starting center, then going to the right, then left, finally center again.
  • Rope pull-ups, which are performed leaning backwards and pulling your body up repeatedly:
  • Ammo can press, which is pushing a can over your head like a military press. Of course it’s filled with sand!

A great example of a Marine OCS-style Functional Fitness workout is our “Ultimate Marine Corps Combat Fitness Buddy Workout”  If you have a friend to PT with, buddy workouts are a great way to stay motivated and simulate Marine Corps fitness.

Pain is weakness leaving the body A lot of pain can leave your body in two minutes

CFT: Combat Fitness Test

First event: Half mile sprint in boots and utes

Second event: Ammo can pressing in 2 minutes

Third: Movement course: sprinting, ammo can carries, buddy drag, fireman’s carry, grenade throw, sprint, crawls

Watch the CFT’s third event here:

PFT: Physical Fitness Test

You all should know what a PFT is.

  1. Pull-ups (max 20)
  2. Crunches (max 100 in 2 minutes)
  3. Three mile timed individual run, in go-fasters aka running shoes (max points for 18 minutes)

Push ups and Flutterkicks

“Okay Delta, on your faces! Ready!” And so begins another seemingly endless round of push ups or flutterkicks before each OCS workout, for some candidate crime, perceived or otherwise.  Before most all PT events, there will be 40-200 total warm up, aka “punishment” push ups and at least that many flutterkicks.  Flutterkicks are harder to do with boots on, so be able to do a few hundred push ups and flutterkicks or you will be in pain at OCS!

USMC Push-up Rules


I’m not a nutritionist but I’ll pass along a little nutritional wisdom.

Get your protein now!  The muscular guys lost a lot of size at OCS. Get your protein on liberty!

It won’t hurt to show up with a little extra padding.  Since pretty much everyone shrunk a bit, you’ll have a little wiggle room.

Stretching & Injury Prevention

  • OCS Stretching Program (Link)
  • Lower body conditioning is a must, to avoid shin splints and similar injuries.
  • Ankle strength & flexibility should not be overlooked.  Balance exercises, stretching, and heavy lifting will help your ankle.  I’m not an athletic trainer so I can’t prescribe a well-educated program but do some research on your own.
  • Be sure your workout emphasizes knee strength through heavy lifts, full range of motion, and free weights or body weights to work the stabilizers.  Preventing knee twists and sprains is a key goal here.
  • Rest days are a must, don’t overtrain yourself!
OCS Prep Fitness Program

81 thoughts on “Physical Fitness

    1. do you recommend running in boots to practice for the PFT? boots are a great pain in the spleens, but if you get used to it early, would it benefit you in PLC Freshmans?

      1. Great question, Phil. Just bend your knees and keep your legs off the ground, or use some type of support and do janda sittups. You can just put a belt around a leg of your bed. Just don’t make excuses!

      1. Thanks, that’s actually what I did today! 30 seconds rest. It was harder than I thought it would be, the ammo can part whooped my ass!
        Thanks for the info

  1. I am working on getting into OCS this summer (OCC) and I am somewhat concerned with my weight. I am 6’3” 225lbs…am I too heavy? Im right on weight for the USMC standard, and I run a 280+ PFT..I don’t have a lot of body fat but my concern is this:

    Will the extra weight affect my joints and overall health? Are their any heavy-set guys at OCS?

    1. If your body weight is within the current standards, and your body fat percentage is low, you are fine.

      No, there is a small minority of candidates who are bigger, maybe 10% roughly who are at the top of the body weight standards, but are still okay due to body fat percentage being low enough. Not that many. It’s not a big deal, though. Some candidates lose up to 25 pounds even over 10 weeks. Also OCC has some more mature candidates who are older and a little bit heavier. Like I said, if you are within the regulations, you are okay.

      #1 Don’t sweat the small stuff
      #2 It’s all small stuff

  2. I’m a college Freshman getting ready for the PLC Juniors program and I have two questions for you. The first is what differences other than the length of the program and some of the events are their between the ten-week program you did and the six week one I’ll be doing? Second, I’ve been doing the Armstrong Pullup workout in addition to the Capt. Crunch workout and the morning routine, should I add the PPPA program and the Stronglift program to my current workout or is it so much that I will risk overdoing it?

    1. Hi Will,
      PLC vs OCC: identical course, just split up. From what I’ve heard, PLC platoons have better discipline than the older crowd that gets OCC. If given the choice, I’d take PLC.

      I would mix in PPPA if I were you and definitely not do Stronglifts until TBS. Stronglifts is not designed for OCS, the others are perfect USMC workout routines. Stay tuned for my recommended USMC OCS preparation workout routine. I’ll publish it soon.

      1. Thanks for the advice. I’ve also heard about a program called GOMAD (Gallon Of Milk A Day) thats supposed to help bulk up. I’m 6’1″ 150 and while I can do all the workouts well I can’t help but think a little extra weight can’t hurt. Have you heard of any results from this program? How would an additional ten or fifteen pounds to my frame by May benefit or hurt my success at OCS?

    2. Hi Will, I have heard and read a lot about GOMAD working well for people who are able to stomach that much milk. Not as effective, but try LOMAD for a few weeks perhaps and monitor. Liter Of Milk A Day, that and eat as much protein as you can often. Also please research “Occam’s Protocol.”

  3. Sir,

    As far as the PPPA/OCS workouts go, what should be the duration/ what is the average duration and intensity of the PT at OCS. Also sir, I currently do my own version of an OCS workout (Push/pullups,sprints and plyometrics) 3-4 times a week for about one hour each session and I lift weights an equal number of times each week. I run about two times a week. I was hoping you could analyze my workouts and tell me if you think they are effective preparation for OCS.



    1. PPPA/OCS should go about an hour roughly and be akin to a very intense circuit session with small breaks in between exercise stations.
      Your workout doesn’t sound too bad if you are pushing the intensity. Make sure with the weights you aren’t overdoing it. I’d recommend swapping out a weight day for a run day. Every run day can be “exchanged” with a good alternate cardio day, like swimming, boxing, heck soccer or a sport like that. I really like your inclusion of plyometrics. If you’re getting joint stiffness or soreness, explore a yoga/stretching day and see if that will help you recover. I do yoga every day now and wish I had been better informed as a candidate.

      Good luck, you are really on the right track so I would be encouraged if I were you.

  4. Sir,

    Is PT conducted pre or post morning chow? also sir, If PT is post chow, how much time would be given before going on a run?

    Thank You,


  5. Ricky, rarely do you PT right after chow, but the schedule varies greatly throughout OCS. Once I think I did a 3 or 5 mile run right after breakfast. Don’t drink the milk…

  6. Oorah! Very motivating! I love the site. I like the entire program and all, except I disagree that stretching before a run is necessarily helpful. Dynamic or ballistic, yes–but static stretching before a workout has fallen out of grace with the exercise science community. Great site. Will be contacting you via email for any other cooperation possibilities

    1. I have been hearing that more and more! I agree with you and I think dynamic is going to be the way to go. Thanks for the tip :). Will be implementing!

  7. I have one main concern. As a Female I am struggling on my run time (25.10 Min) . I do interval, hill, and distance runs but I haven’t dropped my time yet. I am overall very strong, just short. When you stated that some workouts start faster then a normal PFT pace and that a 23-24 min run time isn’t going to be good enough. Is this statement indicative for male candidates specifically. If not how should I train in order to drop two minutes off my time by OCT. Thank you very much for an extremely helpful site.

    1. Yes, Jessica! That was specifically to a male candidate. Excellent question. Unfortunately, I do not know the similar standards for women. I assume since the PFT run time is slower, female OCS run times would be as well. I’ll talk to some female officers who I know succeeded at OCS and get back to you. (So make sure you subscribe to the blog–it might be as a standalone post)

      1. Hello. I’m a candidate that has been selected for this Fall 2011 class. First of all, thank you for taking the time to create this site and answering questions. I’ve been reading several posts on this site and others basically stating that if you show up to OCS running 3 miles longer than 21 minutes that you will not be successful. When the board reviewed my application my 3 mile time was 23:35. My question is why would the board select me with a time that most people say is not good enough to succeed? I want to make it through OCS more than anything and since I have been selected I have been really working hard to improve my run because of course I want to show up in the best condition possible. I’m highly motivated and feel confident that I will succeed in all other aspects of OCS; leadership, knowledge, strength(can max out pull ups and crunches). Does a 21 minute 3 mile run mean everything? The way people talk it seems like it does even though leadership is consider to be half of your grade. Could you shed some light on this?

      2. Firstly, congratulations! Secondly, the very first day, I remember we did a 3 mile run that was supposed to be at a 7:30 pace, but probably was at a 7 minute pace. With cadences! So can you do a 21:30 run while yelling the whole time? Every run gets faster at OCS. So that’s why I harp on the magical 21 minute 3 mile. You can hit the ground running (no pun intended) at that speed, but you still won’t be at the head of the pack. It’s an extremely good idea to avoid being at the back! You will get so much attention from the Sergeant Instructors. And it’s not good.

  8. Spent 8yrs as a grunt reservist. 2 tours in Iraq. I will be 33 when I graduate from Texas Tech. Is a waver possible?

  9. I have a question. I am waiting to see if my application will be accepted for the Fall OCS class and until then I feel like time is slipping away. Is there anything that I should do or could do with the time remaining besides my normal workout routine. I guess my nerves are getting to me and I feel like I need to be doing more. Don’t get me wrong, I have trained excessively but again it’s the unknown factor that worries me. The “if I only did this” before hand then I would have been better prepared. Great webpage.

    1. Jess, great question. I think I will make a full post of “If I only did this before OCS…” to fill it with good advice.

      If you can keep up with the workout, and have memorized the study items I’ve published, then you are ahead of the pack. A very fit young person could report to OCS with no knowledge or preparation, but only fitness and motivation and would make it through fine, most likely.

    1. There isn’t any swimming at OCS, but if you’re headed for Fall or Winter OCS, you need to be able to get dunked into freezing cold water and not lose your bearing. So prepare for several minutes of extreme self-control.

  10. “Before most all PT events, there will be 40-200 total warm up, aka “punishment” push ups and at least that many flutterkicks.” You guys did 200 push ups in a row at times? If you meant all together, do you remember what was the max amount of push ups yall had to do in a row?

    1. Hi Maria, no usually 20 and sometimes 40 pushups in a set, but you’d do 20 pushups, then flutterkicks, then more pushups, and sometimes the whole workout would include 200 pushups. Sometimes only the “near-hazing portion” before the PT actually began would include 200 by itself…

  11. Sir,

    I’m currently a grad student who is trying to get into Law School, so I can then go for a law contract for PLC Law next summer. PT wise, I’m at 15 pullups, 100 crunches, and a 21:10 run time (alot of hills, but I’m working on cutting that down to sub 20 as my goal).

    I have a quick question about using weighted vests to increase pullups. Do you have a specific recommendation as to what brand to use? I’m between either a 20 or 40LB vest, I’d prefer to hear your take so I can make a smart decision.

    Also, I do P90X, for overall fitness, in conjunction with my pullups, crunches, and running. Does OCS incorporate anything from P90X, or should I fully switch over to the workout you posted online?

    Thank you for your help

    1. Brendan, you definitely sound like a lawyer!
      Firstly, I did P90X before OCS and was in great shape. I do recommend switching within 6-9 months over to the real OCS workouts I wrote about or a hybrid. (FYI, You need to emphasize push ups much more than P90X as well.)
      For pull ups, all I did was put heavy things in a backpack and do pull ups at home in my doorway with one of those $30 indoor pull up bars! No need to overthink it! I would recommend starting with 5 and 10 lb options. Do your normal workout with 10 pounds, see how many more 5 lbs and 0 lbs allows you to do for a good hard pyramid. With 20 or more lbs, you won’t be able to do enough pull ups to have a useful workout, in my opinion.
      Almost all the OCS workouts are covered by mine. There is lots of extra junk in P90X that doesn’t correlate well. That being said, the discipline of the daily hour and the emphasis on bodyweight workouts make P90X the best commercial workout for OCS preparation in my mind.

      1. I appreciate the feedback sir,

        I broke my thumb back in May, and had to take a month off of pullups and pushups, I chose P90X because I wanted something that could help me get back quicker, and it helped tremendously.

        I have a weighted vest now that can hold up to 20lbs, and I’ll do what you recommend and start with 5-10lbs and see how it works.

        I agree with you about P90X, there are definately some useless workouts in it though.

        Thanks for your advice

  12. When you speak of push ups/ flutter kicks before a workout at OCS, is it one long set, or do you have rest times in between?

    1. I think you’ll probably do many sets of 20 push ups interspersed with sets of about 20 flutterkicks (L up R up = 1) but at the beginning and end of each set you will be forced to hold the stress position, like the “down” in a push up or the starting point of a flutterkick, with both heels 1 foot off the ground. Due to the extended stay in the stress position, the sets will become more painful than normal.

  13. Hi. Excellent website sir, just saying. My question is: On average, how many of the candidates were from NROTC and how many of those NROTC midshipman passed?

  14. Sir,

    First off, thank you for some of the advice that you gave me before I shipped this summer. I attended( and passed) PLC JR’S 2nd increment (I4). I wanted to share some PT advice for future candidates. At JR’S every PT event we did was running, and in boots. When we did PPPA it was after running. For any future candidates I would recommend buying a pair of Marine Corps authorized boots and running in them. 2-5 miles 3 times a week would be excellent prep for OCS. For the really motivated candidate, adding about 12-15 punds in a pack or harness will simulate the lbv and rifle you will ALWAYS run with at OCS. At least in JR’S we never had a PT session that was just calisthenics ( Pushups, crunch, bodyweight etc). If you can, also throw 35-50 lbs in a pack and start hiking, start at 3 miles and work your way up to 12-15, that is one thing I did not do at all in preparation for JR’S and most certainly will be doing for my seniors course.


  15. Quick qustion,
    Are all the test and quizzes multiple choice @ ocs?

    Are you expected to be able to recite all the general orders of the guard and leadership principles on command?

  16. Sir,

    I am currently preparing for OCS. I have a little under a year and I am doing a very extensive program to prepare and would like your input.

    PT involves P90X/3-5 mile runs in the morning with added workouts during the 5 mile runs and insanity at night. Once it heats up I plan to move these runs to the trails and add in a 6 plus mile ruck hike.
    I ensure I have 2 light days a week for recovery and I also ensure I stretch plenty before an.

    Knowledge I am simply studying the highlights of every chapter in the manual every week and am mentally preparing myself.

    Nutrition I am maintaining a high protein diet.


    1. Awesome. Keep it up. Make sure not to skip that Yoga X for recovery! I’ve known lots of people to do P90X but everyone seems to get lazy when it comes to Yoga. Laziness isn’t a leadership trait.

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