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

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ASTB Study Guide

So you want to go to OCS and are considering aviation.  You will be taking the Aviation Selection Test Battery to help the Corps in making selections for aviation applicants.

What you need is the ASTB study guide!

Click here for the pdf.  Good luck.

marine corps aviation

What is the ASTB?

The Aviation-Selection Test Battery is used by the U.S. NavyMarine Corps, and Coast Guard as one criterion used in making selection determinations for officer aviation program applicants. The most recent complete revision of the ASTB was completed by the Naval Operational Medicine Institute (NOMI) in cooperation with the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, New Jersey in 1992.

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Getting over 20 Pull-ups

Once you can do between 10 and 20 deadhangs, do this work out! 

An important piece of equipment that you might want to buy, if your gym doesn’t have one, is a dip belt. It looks like a weight-lifting belt with a long chain attached to it.

Set #1 – Do 5 slow warm-up pull-ups! Take a short rest, 1-2 minutes!

Set #2 – Using the dip-belt add 15-30lbs to the belt and shoot for 7- 13 reps! If you aren’t getting 7 reps lower weight, if you are getting 13 or more increase the weight! Take a 3-4 minute rest!

Weighted Pullups Rock!

Weighted Pullups Rock!

Set #3 – Add 10-20lbs (Total weight 25-50lbs) more to the dip-belt and shoot for 3-7 reps! Take a 3-4 minute rest!

Set #4 – Do a max set no weight added to total failure! 8-20 reps! After you’ve finished with the pull-ups, move over to the lat pulldown machine. Use your preferred pull-up grip! Do 3 sets of lat pulldowns.

Set # 1 – (10 reps)

Set # 2 & 3 heavy sets (5-10 reps, total failure)

Armstrong Pull Up Program

Fact: No one I know who has used this program has failed to reach 20 pull ups, given enough time. If you are dedicated, you’ll get there. Simple.

Check out the updated page on our new blog here!

Armstrong Pull-up Program

1. This program was used by Major Charles Lewis Armstrong, USMC to prepare himself to attempt to set a world record in number of pull-ups completed in a single exercise session. The program provides the necessities for successful physical improvement namely, VARIETY,

Pullups at OCS

Be one of the candidates who gets 20 pullups the first day of OCS!

OVERLOAD, and REGULARITY. Users have achieved remarkable results in only 6 to 8 weeks. This means that most, if not all, have been able to meet the performance level they have set out to achieve, a single set of twenty repetitions.

It can not be overemphasized that his program depends upon regularity. Daily performance of the exercises listed in the following paragraphs holds the true key to reaching and to maintaining the twenty repetition level.

The Morning Routine

Each morning perform three maximum effort sets of normal pushups. The pushup is one of the best, single exercises for strengthening the entire set of muscles that makes up the shoulder girdle. Major Armstrong described his morning routine in the following manner. “After rising, I would drop onto the deck and do my first set of pushups. I would then move into the head (bathroom) and start my morning toilet. I would return after a few minutes and do my second maximum effort set after which, I would go back into the head to shave. After shaving, I would return to the bedroom and complete the third and final set. Having completed all of the pushups, I was awake and ready for a relaxing shower. “

This routine should be followed during the entire training period. Since it takes most of us at least four weeks to reach our goals, you will probably find that you have inadvertently established a morning routine that is easy enough to keep as a lifetime habit, if not, you will at least appreciate the morning shower a little more.

It has been noted that this pushup routine helps to alleviate any soreness during the first couple of weeks. It is recommended that you use the pushup routine everyday during this period so that you feel more comfortable during your initial adjustment to this regime of exercises.

Read On: Training Routines


Next month, I am taking the PFT-Physical Fitness Test, part of the process.

For the Marines, it consists of the maximum sittups done in 2 minutes, maximum pullups or chinups done in one set (no touching ground, that is) and a timed 3 mile run.  You can get a max 100 points in the 3 categories, and must score a combined 225 to pass, and be classified as “1st class.”  http://usmc.pftcalculator.com/ gives a handy online calculator to see where you’re at in your training!  Yesterday was a big day for me because I got up to 14 pullups for the first time.  I’m happy because in my estimation, that puts me about the 260 mark, which is solid improvement over a month or two ago.  (Assuming max crunches and a 19:25 run, which I have done)

Just so you realize, there is no cutting corners on any of these events!  Just look at all the rules about pull-ups on this page!