USMC Combat Conditioning Exercises

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Combat conditioning is essential in the U.S. Marine Corps. In fact, the USMC has added a specific test to measure combat readiness. The USMC used to only test for muscular and cardiovascular endurance, but trends showed that type of testing was not indicative of what Marines face in combat. More sprint-, power- and strength-based activity was needed, so the USMC incorporated the Combat Fitness Test, or CFT, in addition to the Physical Fitness Test, or PFT. Marines incorporate specific exercises to help get them combat-test ready.

Combat Fitness Test

According to, the CFT involves three stages with a five minute break in between each stage. The first stage is an 880-yard sprint for time. The second stage is the ammo can lift. Marines must lift a 30-pound ammo can below their chins to over their head as many times as possible in two minutes. The final stage is the maneuver under fire. This involves a 25-yard sprint, a 25-yard crawl and a 25-yard agility run, which goes immediately into a fireman’s drag and carry for 75 yards, a 75-yard sprint with two 30-pound ammo cans, a grenade throw to a target, and a 75-yard sprint with the ammo cans.

Power Lifting

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, one of the best ways to increase power, speed and strength is by power lifting. The major exercises in power lifting are the clean, jerk, snatch, bench press, squat and deadlift. Use heavy weight and low repetitions when power lifting. Do three to six sets of two to five repetitions maximum for best benefits. Do power lifting once or twice per week on nonconsecutive days and incorporate them first into your workout before you exercise small muscle groups.

High-Intensity Interval Training

HIIT training involves alternating high-intensity exercises over 85 percent of your max heart rate with lower-intensity exercises for recovery. This type of training is ideal for Marines training for combat and functional fitness because they need to be able to sprint, sometimes while carrying heavy loads. Alternate one minute of sprints with one minute of a light jog for recovery. During strength training, add sets of mountain climbers, jumping jacks or jump rope to keep heart rate elevated and increase exercise intensity.


Marines need to be able to turn on a dime, especially for the agility portion of the CFT. Set up various cone drills that require many quick turns to train the knees and ankles to respond appropriately. Cone drills will decrease reaction times. Incorporate agility ladder drills into the beginning of your workout, which will be a challenge for the mind and body as they learn to work in conjunction.

Speed and Strength

The best ways to increase both speed and strength is to incorporate both into a workout. Try sprinting with a resistance, such as a weighted vest or pulling a sled. Grab a 10- to 20-pound medicine ball and throw it as far as you can. Sprint to it, pick it up and throw it again. Repeat for 50 yards and sprint back with the ball.