OCS in Review: Physical Preparation

Although I’m done with OCS, I will be writing a few more posts to help out future candidates. Basically, these are the posts that have been requested, or that I just wish I had to read before OCS.

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.

Marine Corps Pushup!

Marine Corps Push ups!

Ammo can press/crunch supersets come next. I think the ammo cans are 20 or 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


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!

Final PFT run at OCS

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

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
  • Two soldiers, firemans carry
  • Even the Army can do the 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!

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)


I’m not a nutrionist 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

  • 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!

29 comments on “OCS in Review: Physical Preparation

  1. the Duke says:

    I have a question about the PFT and the CFT. Are the events (like pull-up, 3 mile run and crunches) back to back or is there a rest period in between? The third part of the CFT looks fun/intense!

  2. Lt Weeks says:

    Excellent question. I have always gotten enough time to catch my breath, get some water and even do a little quick stretching in between. At OCS, you will have so much time in between events that the worry is muscles cooling too much if it is winter or fall, in my opinion. They take a few minutes to total everyone’s scores and give instructions for the following event. Hey get excited about the CFT-it is awesome and of course tough: gotta push yourself right?

  3. the Duke says:

    I definitely love a challenge. Thanks for the information and this blog. I cant tell you how many questions your blog has answered for me and my only buddy who is smart enough to consider the Marine Corps OCS, haha. Were you planning on doing a blog about TBS?

  4. Lt Weeks says:

    Ha ha, good stuff! Just getting started with TBS now. I don’t think I’ll do a whole blog on it. Preparation and mental preparation especially is so key to getting to and succeeding at OCS, that’s what I wanted to help other people with. For TBS, you’re prepared if you make it through OCS. And at OCS, they tell you enough of what you’ll be doing at TBS.

    So it won’t get its own blog, but maybe I’ll put some periodic “TBS” posts on here, just for curiosity’s sake.

    Think I should do a blog on TBS too or does that make sense to you?

  5. the Duke says:

    It makes since now that you’ve explained it like that. I have a year, maybe less, in college, so I’ll most likely start the application process after this next semester.

  6. Justin says:

    This blog is a gold mine. Time to do a Fartlek!


  7. John says:

    Agree this blog is very helpful.

    Do you recommend CrossFit also to prepare for Marine Corps OCS.

    I this is my PFT results:
    85 sit ups in 2min
    12 pull ups
    22:10 3 mile run

    I have a lot of work to get there. I have been following your blog since June 09.
    It has been a big help very motto too! Couple of my buddy’s got commissioned Dec 09 too. Glad to see you made it.

    I was planning to go this summer to OCS. Do you know if the OSO’s really strict on speeding tickets? I know one guy just got commissioned in Dec from my OSO Station he was arrested.

    I know I need a better PFT score. What helped you bring up your pull-ups?

    My former Lt’s from Amherst OSO do the CrossFit program.

    Thanks, Semper Fi

    PS: recommend this book for future Marine CO’s “One Bullet Away” by Nate Fick

    very motto great read. keep up the good work!

  8. Hi, so glad to hear this blog has helped you!

    Re Crossfit: It is a great workout program and might help some get ready for OCS (hey, better than nothing) but IMHO does not prepare you for most OCS workouts except indirectly. I definitely do not recommend it for you. You need to work on your bodyweight exercises for sure, and need lots of running for starters.

    What helped me with pullups was doing the Armstrong program: https://manlypat.wordpress.com/physical-preparation/physical-fitness-test-pft-pullups/

    I also began incorporating weighted pull ups as I could do 20, 21, 22 reliably.

    After OCS, I highly recommend Crossfit for your general fitness.

    Speeding tickets aren’t a big deal until you get one during OCS on libo! I had two on my record and no one said anything about them (you should report them to your OSO.)

    Standby for my response to your request for a pre-OCS workout

    Stay motivated!
    Semper Fidelis

  9. Andy says:

    Congratulations on graduating! and thanks for taking the time to put this blog together. It helps a lot. Good luck with TBS.

  10. Tim Reilly says:

    This is just great Marine, thanks so much, great stuff for this soon to be candidate.

  11. cherish says:

    Hi there, I’m a female in the USMC and leaving within the year for basic. I’m terrified, but excited. What was the gas chamber expirience like?

  12. paul says:

    Great site, extremely helpful all around. Looking back on your experience, how much “knowledge” did you memorize before going down to OCS? Knowing what you know now, what would you advise others to learn? thanks again, wonderful resource to all potential candidates.

  13. Ben says:

    How are the pull ups done. As in are your hands facing forward or toward your body?

  14. Candidate says:

    Whichever you prefer, palms in or out. You can even switch mid-set if you don’t drop off the bar, as I’ve done once or twice.

  15. Z says:

    Great info, but one thing that wasn’t mentioned was the HUMPs, or forced marches. Any of you preparing to go to OCS will want to see how you do “walking” 6 miles in boots and wearing a weighted rucksack at atleast a 4 – 4.4 mph pace. I believe 6 miles was the minimum distance. I remember wishing I could run rather than walk at that speed. The info on this site is priceless! Get your speed and endurance, then work on touching up strength.

  16. Alex says:

    I am going to OCS not this summer but the following summer, on the Bulldog program. I currently have a 279 PFT but am more concerned with keeping up with humps (the farthest we have gone is about 9-10 miles), and improving on the CFT. I’ve been Crossfitting for about a year but your suggestions seem a lot more applicable. My main question is, how often should each of these workouts be done per week?

  17. Brock says:

    I’m plan on becoming an officer, but where do I learn cadences? Or do you learn them at OCS?

  18. Brock, excellent question. You will pick some up at OCS but I remember candidates calling cadences on almost our very first runs already.
    I highly recommend getting a cd of them or mp3s, and running while memorizing them. That’s what I did and I wished I had learned more ahead of time.

    Just google “run to cadence” on http://www.shopping.google.com

  19. Alex, crossfit is a good workout, but it is not the USMC OCS workouts–these are. Usually, I would say, do these workouts as much as you can. Most non-crossfitters would not have the discipline to be able to match the OCS intensity of them, but perhaps that wouldn’t be your problem.

    So give yourself a day or two of rest a week, that’s just my recommendation but get out there and work out 5 days a week, and you won’t be sorry. That’s about the frequency we were doing it at OCS.

    Also, I had never humped before in my life–they break you into it. First was a 4 miler, then 6, then 9 then 12. Each time I was more confident and ready than the last. If you want to load up a pack and put on your boots and head out to practice, feel free. The preparation will be mostly mental because I assure you, these workouts will strengthen your body enough.

  20. Brock says:

    But do cadences vary like do words change depending on your drill instructor or are they set in stone

  21. Brock says:

    And also will they yell at you if you repeat cadences? The only one I know by heart is “If I die in the combat zone”

  22. Cadences vary widely–there’s no set verses or anything like that. More freestyle rap than Church doctrine hymn.

    You can repeat them but I wouldn’t do it too much. If you know, say, 3 to 5 that will give you a comfortable minute or two then you can call out another candidate to call some more.

    Here’s how:

    Next motivator won’t you come on out?/
    We wanna hear you scream and shout!/
    Take it on the left foot,/
    Mighty, mighty left foot./
    Take it!/
    [New Leader:] I’ve got it!/
    [Everyone else:] He’s got it!

  23. Brock says:

    Alright so I dont have to know all of them just like 5 or 8 and thank you so much I learned 3 more

  24. Brock says:

    Oh and also how often do they tell you to write essay and stuff I am not a very talented writer I actually suck at it

  25. Brock says:

    Oh and I keep forgetting to ask but do you ever get to practice the O course or do you just do it with no practice

  26. Mike says:

    I am planing on joining but im really worried about the running I can run 1 mile in 8 minutes 35 seconds my average time I get but after that i cannot run any more I feel out of breath is there a way you think I can fix this. Im doing great on the other parts of the PFT the most pull ups I can do is 18 consistently and the sit ups I can do 100 in 1 minute 50 seconds. Also do they let you drink water during the run?

  27. *********
    EVERYBODY: Please direct Questions to this page: http://usmcocs.wordpress.com/ocs-questions-answers/

    Thank you

  28. Victor says:

    I was selected for OCS this coming summer, but my PFT is hoovering around 250. I recently hurt my shoulder and it will heal by OCS but I am afraid my PFT is going to dip down to 230.
    My question is, will I be sent home if I perform a low PFT? Even if it is still a 1st class PFT?

  29. No you will not be sent home for a low 1st class PFT but you will get lots of negative attention, that’s for sure. If you are injured, you will still have to perform PFTs but they will understand I assume.

    EVERYBODY: Please direct Questions to this page: http://usmcocs.wordpress.com/ocs-questions-answers/

    Thank you

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