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. Sir,

    I have just started my OCC application and preparation about 5 weeks ago. I am currently a Senior in College and hoping to be selected for a spot in the OCC October 2012 class. So far I have been following the Physical Training guide that my OSO has given me along with some extra supplementary workouts. I have been seeing significant gains in my pull-ups, sit-ups, and running. At this point I believe that I will be able to reach all of my goals for my PFT (18 pullups, 100sit-ups: reached, 19 min) if I keep up what am I currently doing but I still feel that there is more I can do. On the other hand, however, I do not want to over train my body. Any input or suggestion you may have on this matter would be greatly appreciated.


    1. Gerard, first off, great stuff! Some random thoughts on avoiding overtraining: are you taking at least two days a week off running and pull ups? Do you do yoga, stretching, massage, hot and cold baths to help aid recovery? At college I know it can be hard, but try to get enough sleep now while you can. The best way to see if you are over training is to very closely monitor your workouts over time and relentlessly increase your intensity, speed, etc. As soon as your performance starts to drag, you know you are overtraining. At that point, scale everything back 10-20% or so, and try to stay in the groove, as it is. That’s the Reader’s Digest version of an Olympic training program I read about–if you want to go above and beyond, I recommend reading about Team US Olympic training regimes.

    1. My good friend started that website, which is really taking off in the fitness community! I highly recommend using 300 PFT as a workout to prepare for the PFT. I think the workout on this site is slightly better at preparation for actual OCS workouts, but you should focus on a strong PFT score in the application phase. So definitely I encourage you to use the 300 PFT workout before OCS, then mine when you are accepted.

  2. Great website…I’ve attempted to get into the OCC program 3 times. The first 2 times I was disqualified because of a shoulder surgery. The 3rd time, I received a waiver and was able to make it to OCC only to be sent home 1 week later with stress fractures in my shin. Fast foward 3 years later and I am a full time police officer, married with 2 kids. I’m am not thrilled with my job because my life long goal has been to be a Marine Officer…that’s it. I recently had law enforcement honor guard training which incorporated a lot of military cadances/style which really got me jacked up again. I spoke with my wife and she is supportive of me going for this again. I am 26 years old and am seeking some advice for this situation. Stay in L.E., try for Marine Officer reserve or active duty Marine Officer? The difficulty lies in have 2 kids that I would not see much for quite a while with all the initial training during the first year. Any advice would be helpful! Once again, great website I found it very beneficial and informative.

    E. Ross

    1. Your best shot is probably Reserves, and yes there would be that first year of training. (3 months OCS, 6 months TBS, 3+ months MOS school) It would be rough being away from family, but you could be together for most of the big holidays and on many weekends.

      Frankly, you’re not too old to succeed at OCS. If it’s your dream to be a Marine Officer, why give that up? Talk to an OSO and see what is available as for waivers, Reserve contracts, etc.

      My advice is to try again, if your family is behind you. Good luck!

  3. hello,
    im contemplating whether or not i should enlist or go to college and become an officer through the OCS program. This has become a very difficult decision for me. I am 17 years old and finishing my junior year in high school. The main thing stopping me from taking the officer route is the huge responsibility of the lives of your peers. Im also concerned that i might not be big enough (125lbs- 5’8 tall). My weighted GPA is currently a 3.65 and i have a leadership position in my job after being promoted. I would like to be an officer but i am just afraid if i could do it or not. Also when should I speak with an OSO? Thanks for your help

    1. also, i would consider myself in decent shape. i can do 16 pull ups and 100 crunches. Im not sure about the running but i would imagine my 3 mile time isnt terrible.

      1. E, you’re definitely big and fit enough. Take a few years to grow, mature, and contemplate your steps. You definitely can enlist and then go officer after you grow in your leadership. That is a common route and produces good, experienced officers. I recommend asking a recruiter what he thinks. You should talk to both an OSO and recruiter sooner rather than later. Your respect and fear? of the officer responsibility is not wrong. But you are still young and immature so you will probably grow into it. Good luck.

  4. Thank you sir for you insight. I have one additional question. Could i serve an enlistment, get out of the corps, go to college, and then get back into the Marines as an officer (after OCS ofcoarse) ? I know that you can take college coarses while being an active duty Marine but ive heard that doing that is not as easy as it may sound. Thanks again.

  5. Hello, Awesome Site!

    Im currently at 19 pull ups, 100 sit-ups, and 19:42 runtime.. I currently weigh 153lbs… So I am on the lighter side. Any advice for me? Im currently a Cpl in the reserves so I “know what to expect” but I am still kind of worried about the physical aspect. Esp the functional fitness part, just because I shed so much weight for my overall PFT score… Nonetheless Im in the best shape of my life.

    I ship May 27th… Anyone else!?

  6. I have about 18 days left until I leave for OCS and I am extremely nervous to say the least.

    I know that they physical challenges are going to be hard for everyone but I am wondering about the mental challenges.

    Were there any days in particular that any former candidates remember as being a breaking point for them? Whether it be too much stress or a hike that they just couldn’t take? Any significant moments that I should watch out for?


  7. im 19, going to college in the fall, and leaving for PLC in 2 years. I ran cross country in high school and could only get in the low 22s for a 3.1 mile run, and I can maybe do 6 or 7 pull-ups at a time. What should i do to improve my running and pull-ups? (sit-ups/crunches should be good)

  8. You mention exercises that include ammo boxes.. What size boxes are used? I would like to purchase a few for more specific workouts…

  9. Right now I am a female candidate for plc but I am worried about my run time I run faster then a 25.30 on my three miles is there any advice? What is the average pace for females?

  10. A question on what you said about protein, when you say “get your protein on liberty” do you mean get a jug of protein powder or go out and enjoy a big steak?
    Thank you,

  11. Thanks for the great tips! Just one thing I’m confused about. For the crunches that are part of PPPA and FK+C are we doing something more like sit-ups? The video I saw looked more like a sit-up than a crunch…or am I missing something? Thanks!

    1. Depends on the individual. The technical rule is touching elbows to your legs in the up position, while keeping your arms pressed against your torso. Better to practice stricter, harder form as preparation.

  12. Sir, I’m a rising sophomore in the NROTC program in addition to being an applicant for PLC as well (not currently on scholarship). This summer, one of my goals has been to gain around five pounds, while not losing any cardio. I’ve been doing a powerlifting program 3x per week and am just starting to use creatine. With this being said, I also want to increase my PFT run time. Currently, I run a 279 PFT (21:25 3-mile) and want to shave off a minute on the run come September. I’ve struggled trying to find “the best” workout regimen for myself (running vs. lifting) and knowing which types to do in order to tackle my goals. I’ve been running 2x a week (3x1mile runs, 3-5 miles) and have also experimented with some HIIT workouts. I’m trying to decide if I should stop my powerlifting in exchange for more running/HIIT or adjust it to include a HIIT or CrossFit style workout after the lifting portion as to key into my running goals. OCS prep is an all-encompassing focus for the NROTC program and I want to be physically ready for it, but I want to do what’ll help me be the best I can be when I return this fall. Any advice?

    1. Pete,
      For now, focus on the demands of OCS, not metrics such as bodyweight or muscle size. You can always come back to that after the rigors of OCS. Consider our example workout:

      If your primary hang-up is the run, simply prioritize your running, cardio, plyo and lower body (e.g. deadlifts) exercises, then add components prioritized on your needs. HIIT and CrossFit are great for overall fitness, but you might need to skip one or two of those workouts a week to guarantee the run workouts and appropriate rest.
      To help frame your progress, consider these goals:
      And as a minimum, here are some suggested benchmarks:

  13. Are the runs really faster than max pft time? I find that a little hard to believe considering not everyone has a perfect PFT. I am a good runner but 4 or 5 miles at a 6 minute pace would leave me in the dust.

    1. Fartlek legs (shorter sprints) can approach 6 minute pace. Longer runs never will, as most of the class don’t run sub-18 PFTs anyhow. Even your staff is unlikely to all be perfect PFT scorers.

  14. Right…Ok, thanks. I feel better. I was prior 0311 so I think I have a handle on what tough PT looks like, but that phrase had me nervous. Thanks for all the info! (OCS in 2 weeks. Rah!)

  15. I think you’ll probably do many sets of 20 push ups interspersed with sets of about 20 flutter kicks (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 flutter kick, 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.

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