Are You Fit Enough to Be a Marine?

The Marine Corps changed its physical requirements for combat jobs. Can you pass them? Credit: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

The Marine Corps updated its fitness standards for combat jobs this year, and the requirements truly test just how strong, tough, and able candidates are. The update comes on the heels of previously restricted jobs — tank crewman, infantryman, artilleryman — being opened to male and female service members, leading the Marine Corps to create new gender-neutral standards for combat roles.

All Marine hopefuls undergo a short physical fitness test, called the Initial Strength Test, before their first day of boot camp. This gender-normed test requires men to preform two pull-ups, 44 crunches, and run 1.5 miles in 13:30. Women must perform a flexed arm hang from a pull-up bar for 12 seconds, do 44 crunches, and run 1.5 miles in 15:00. Marines also have an annual Physical Fitness Test (PFT) with the same exercises. The minimum score to pass is nine pull-ups, 45 crunches, and run three miles in 27:10 (the scored test does allow Marines to make up for poor performance in one exercise by excelling in another).

Both tests, however, are cake walks for Marines who apply for physically demanding combat jobs. Which is why this new test, known as the Military Operational Specialties (MOS) Classification Standard, requires serious, functional strength. And if recruits pass the MOS test, they're given a set of job-specific physical hurdles to mimic the even higher fitness demands of positions such as rifleman, scout sniper, and field artillery cannoneer; this could mean running 12 miles while loaded-up with gear, or lifting a 78-pound MK-19 machine gun overhead.

In a recent review of 5,916 Marines who were evaluated under the new standards from January to May, only 12 failed and were reclassified to noncombat jobs. Even though success rates are high for Marines, consider that those who make it to the final test are already incredibly fit and strong. “The real deal is not easy,” says Alonzo Wilson, certified fitness trainer and founder of Tone House NYC, known for dishing out one of the hardest workouts in the country. “Whenever you have a test that combines speed, strength, power, endurance, as well as a mental toughness aspect, it's going to be a challenge.”

To test your own fitness level against that of a combat marine, you’re going to need gear and guts. “Most of the movements utilize a push, pull, lift, or sprint with weight, which can be recreated with barbells, kettlebells, sandbags, medicine balls, or jugs of water,” Wilson says. “Most gyms have these pieces of equipment available, including a treadmill for the speed exercises.” It’s important to make the workout feel as true to life as possible. That means, for example, forgoing the convenience of a dumbbell for an 80-pound sandbag when attempting to recreate what it’s like to lift a MK-19 overhead.

First, perform the MOS Classification Standard to see if you can pass the first round. There are five performance standards, but they don't need to be performed back-to-back. Take all the rest you need in between. 

  • 6 pull-ups
  • 3-mile run in 24:51
  • 60 ammo lifts (instead of an ammo can, clean a 30-pound dumbbell and press overhead with both hands)
  • Movement to contact in 3:26 (perform a .5-mile run in 3:26) 
  • Maneuver under fire in 3:12 (a shuttle run with obstacles; get the full instructions here.)

Next, pick at least four of the job-specific challenges. You can get the full list with descriptions here (starts at page 21). We picked the most manageable — assuming you don't have an M1A1 tank or Howitzer handy — but not the easiest. To simulate a fighting and reconnaissance load, wear a 45-pound weight vest or backpack with hip supports loaded to 30 percent of your bodyweight. To mimic carrying a service weapon use a weighted bar or 15-pound barbell.

  • Casualty evacuation (CASEVAC): Wearing a fighting load and carrying a service rifle, sprint 25 meters to a simulated "casualty" (use a partner), evacuate the "casualty" 25 meters in 54 seconds.
  • MK-19 Lift: lift machine gun from ground to overhead (substitute an 80-pound sandbag).
  • Scale a Wall: Scale a 56-inch wall unassisted while wearing the fighting load and carrying a service rifle (30 seconds).
  • 20km Hike: March with MOS-specific weapons and fighting load in 5 hours.
  • Vehicle CASEVAC: Clean and overhead press a barbell with 115 pounds.
  • Lift vehicle tow bar: Deadlift and hold barbell with 150 pounds at knuckle height for 30 seconds.
  • 20km Recon Ruck run: Run with a service rifle while wearing the reconnaissance load in 3 hours.
  • 2K Recon Swim: With fins, swim 2,000 yards with a service rifle while wearing and pulling/pushing the reconnaissance load (1 hour).
  • Lift & Carry 5 x Artillery Rounds: Lift an artillery round (use an 80-pound sandbag or boxing heavy bag) from ground to shoulder and carry 50 meters, then press overhead (5 reps in 4:56).
  • Load 5x 155mm Rounds on Feed Tray: Lift an artillery round (use an 80-pound sandbag or boxing heavy bag) from ground to waist height and carry 5 meters (5 reps in 1:15).
  • HESCO Lift: Clean and press barbell with 100 pounds to overhead.
  • Lift 3x Tank batteries: Lift tank battery (use a 50-pound kettlebell) from the ground and clean to chest (3 reps, 1:50).

Want to turn these moves into a full workout? Challenge yourself with Wilson’s DIY version of the job-specific standards here. Perform all drills back-to-back as quickly as possible with perfect form, no rest in between.

  • Sprint for 10 seconds.
  • Bear crawl for 10 seconds.
  • Sandbag ground to overhead lift x 1.
  • Sandbag shoulder carry: 30 seconds x 5, drop sandbag between reps, lift back to shoulder and walk each rep.
  • Clean and Press a 115-pound barbell x 1.
  • Sandbag battering ram: Lift 80-pound sandbag to hips and swing forward from the hips into the wall x 5.
  • Clean and Press a 115-pound barbell x 1.
  • Medicine ball clean: Lift 40-pound medicine ball from floor to chest x 3.
  • One-armed kettlebell snatch with 30-pound kettlebell x 1.
  • Clean and Press a 115-pound barbel x 1.
  • Deadlift hold: deadlift and hold 150-pound barbell at knuckle height for 30 seconds x 1.
  • Clean and Press a 115-pound barbell x 1.