Top 5 Workout Programs for Army Soldiers

There are many fitness expectations of active duty soldiers. Whether they are man or woman, there are specific fitness standards put into place to ensure strong, healthy individuals.

A soldier has to be fit, has to be healthy, and has to be strong—mentally and physically. They are trained to fight and need to have high endurance and stamina, and the strength to do their jobs. According to the soldier is a combination of an “endurance athlete and a gymnast”.

They are, most commonly in basic training and AIT, tested in fitness with bursts of high intensity physical activity such as when doing push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. Aerobic activity requiring high endurance is also included; some physical activities include ruck marches (miles!), swimming, running, etc. Needless to say, the Army soldier should be in top physical condition to fit these requirements, or even excel.

Based on this, one needs to keep themselves fit and performing at top level. I am giving a list of the top 5 workout programs for Army soldiers that I have found. Because of the demand on stamina, endurance, strength and agility, I am including workout programs that focus on these 4 aspects, among others. There are more resources out there, and the workout has to be right for the person.

1. TRX Suspension Training- This TRX (Total-body Resistance eXercise) system was developed by former Navy SEAL squadron commander Randy Henrick. He wanted something that would offer a way for active duty soldiers to maintain a peak physical condition when deployed in remote areas around the world. This started as parachute materials draped over trees, beams, tanks, etc. and used to work all areas of the body where physical fitness resources were not available. This system can be used to work upper body strength, core muscles, and lower body strength. This is a resistance type of training that can be adjusted from 5% to 100% of body weight. When utilized properly, this workout program can deliver strength, core stability, and flexibility in a program fitted to the user.

2. P90X- Yes, I went there. There is a lot to learn about body discipline (as well as mental) from Tony Horton’s extreme fitness program. According to a forum discussion on a contributor had this to say about P90X in the military: “Much can be learned by the US military about P90X. The core strength improvements “WILL” reduce training injuries especially the lower back injuries that are common from rucking. The other is Time Management, saving at least an hour a day off of the traditional military fitness routine. P90X training philosophy will save the military millions of dollars in injury prevention and additional millions of dollars in time that is saved just in man hours to reach the same level of fitness. P90X slightly modified to include running and rucking specific exercises would totally revolutionize American military fitness.” ( P90X, anyone?

3. Calisthenics VS the Gym- Calisthenics is the use of your own body weight to achieve top physical fitness. You don’t need all the equipment, just your body. Strength will come from being able to control and utilize just body weight. A combination of calisthenics with strength training can be a great addition to any workout, and it can be used in addition to other workout programs and training for Army soldiers.

4. Running, Swimming, Pull-ups, Sit-ups- When at basic or AIT, a lot of attention is given to endurance…A LOT! Running and running long distances, swimming, a lot of pull-ups and sit-ups, ruck marches…LOTS of endurance. These are great activities anyway (though I personally would never elect to go on my own ruck march) and the harder you train the more fit and strong you will become; endurance will harden as well. Plus, these endurance training exercises are natural (calisthenics, remember?) and can be done anywhere…well, with the exception of swimming if there’s no water.

5. Breathing- Yes, breathing is a workout. Any effective workout for any person has to be accompanied by proper breathing. Proper breathing will open the lungs and strengthen the diaphragm. Circulation and respiratory functions improve, resulting in higher and longer performance and endurance. And the best part? Breathing exercises can be performed anywhere.

Though my #5 wasn’t an actual “ 10 reps” blah blah type of workout program, proper breathing is very important! Just as important as keeping your diet balanced and healthy and full of the nutrients that the body will need to maintain and repair lean muscle. If there are any more effective workout programs fit for Army soldiers, please feel free to include them.

About the Author: Lauren is a stay at home mom currently working from home as a freelance writer. She is certified in Education with a background in education, writing, and tutoring to help students develop their educational skills. She comes from a military family and writes articles about education, military life, and personal development.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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20 thoughts on “Top 5 Workout Programs for Army Soldiers”

  1. Amy Skalicky

    Something I like about all of these workouts, the ones Lauren listed as well as the additional ones discussed in comments, is that they all are body-focused, not equipment-focused. The body itself can provide the most effective workout, cardio and resistance training, but too often the weight machines and the dumb-bells are the focus. I also like the variety and opportunities for cross-training mentioned, for the body, like the mind, gets bored, and variety is the best way to build it and keep it happy.

    1. Good points, Amy. Some of the best workouts I ever had were when I was in the Army and we did exercises such as push-ups, squats, sit-ups and running. We didn’t use any weights at all and still got a good workout.

  2. Maintaining physical fitness is incredibly important, especially if you need your body for your line of work. All of these are great workout options for Army soldiers. However, the most important factor is the individual. You don’t need to go out and buy anything in order to get fit or gain mass. Experiment with workouts and discover what suits your individual needs. On top of that, pay attention to your nutrition. If you don’t get a high level of clean calories you won’t have the energy to power your workouts.

    1. Good points, CB.

      Everyone is different, so there isn’t one cookie cutter approach to fitness.

      I also believe that variety is a good thing. Do different exercises and routines and change it up whenever possible. This is a great way for Army Soldiers to stay physically fit.

      It’s also important to do enough push-ups, sit-ups, and running so you can still pass the Army Physical Fitness Test.

      Finally, your point about nutrition is spot on. You can exercise until the cows come home, but if you don’t eat right, you are only fooling yourself.

      Thanks for the comment.


  3. Katelyn Hensel

    Calisthenics are underrated. I recently started my own program made up of calisthenics because I tend to not have enough time to make it to the gym throughout the day. Instead I do a round of squats, planking, burpees, etc in the morning when I get up, again before I shower, and then finally again at night. Though it doesn’t seem like much from the outside, I’ve felt a huge difference in my strength and physical health. I think I’ll have to try P90X soon. I’ve heard a lot of good about it and would love to give it a try.

    1. Good for you, Katelyn. You have to exercise whenever you can, if you want to stay in shape. Doing a little bit of exercise every day for a long period of time can pay huge dividends. Good luck with your fitness goals. And check out P90X. I’m sure you will love it.

  4. All of these programs have their merits and drawbacks. The livelihood of a soldier is a blend of technical expertise and physical fitness, so it’s important to be ready for most any activity, in any environment. It’s also important to consider what you’re putting into yourself (food, drink, supplements) as what you’re putting yourself through. Not every supplement on the market is ‘perfectly safe,’ as the March 17 2013 NYTimes article recalls.

    1. Good points, Michael.

      You’re right, every exercise program has pros and cons. The key is to change up your routine every month or two and mix things up. Do plenty of push-ups, sit-ups, weight training and cardio-vascular exercises. Always be prepared to take an Army Physical Fitness Test.

      You should also consider taking supplements. Get with your doctor to find out what pills/vitamins you should take to give you the added boost to your nutrition.

      Thanks for the comment.


  5. Neil O'Donnell

    I think this post is spot on with regards to breathing. I would also suggest that for those living in seasonal settings where ample snow falls, take your workout outside. Beyond cross country skiing, hiking in snow shoes will help tremendously with developing muscles and endurance. Hiking in general, especially over mountains/elevated terrain, is a great fitness routine any time of the year for that matter.

    1. You are spot on with that Neil. When it is cold, we not only build better endurance, but we also learn how to breathe better. I have always been one that has not put a big emphasis on weights and machines. Personally, I feel gyms are a waste of money. We have the means right in front of us when we look in a mirror. Running, hiking, pushups, crunches, all of these will build our bodies to a level where we are fit to serve our country.

  6. For do-it-yourself types, who tend toward calisthenics and running as a core workout, Bill Pearl’s book, Getting Fit, is a comprehensive set of workouts for every type of sport and lifestyle. For runners, a boxing training class is ideal for developing upper body power that sometimes gets neglected when we worry so much about our running speed.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Larry.

      I’ve never read Bill Pearl’s book “Getting Fit” but it sounds like a good book.

      We all have different lifestyles and body types, so it’s very important to develop a fitness program that matches us specifically. It’s also good to change things up from time-to-time to confuse your body and muscles.

      I’ll have to check out the book and tell you what I think.

      Thanks for the comment.


  7. I’m surprised that P90x is on the list. I always just kind of thought of that workout as more of a fad type of deal. Although with it being on this site now and having heard about from numerous ex-military friends of mine, I may have to look into it and see what the entire program has to offer.

    Have you heard anything about Crossfit? I know that there were a few guys in my unit who did Crossfit and they benefited a whole lot from it. Perhaps that’s something you could talk about at a later point.

    1. Crossfit is another good physical fitness program. The key to success with any fitness program is to get started and stick with it. I’d bet there are 100+ programs on the market that would benefit any Soldier, making them stronger and fitter, but you have to follow through with what you start! You can’t just do a program for a week or two and expect much for results. Good things take time.

      Chuck Holmes

  8. Give #5 a lot of credit. As a martial arts student many years ago, I was immediately taught the importance of proper breathing. It’s also a tremendous help when running–the military doesn’t use cadences just to keep you in step, you know. If you’re running alone, which for most people is harder than running in formation, focusing on your breathing–in through the nose, out through the mouth, and at a steady pace–is a good way to occupy your mind and will improve your performance. This is particularly true when you’re getting back into shape and running really sucks at first!

    1. I do a lot of running myself and I’ve always struggled with the breathing part. I have to really concentrate at it if I want to breathe properly.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Chuck Holmes

  9. Great list Lauren. I would also like to add “Insanity” to your list. I’ve done the Insanity workout myself and achieved tremendous results. What I like most about the program is that you can do it from the comfort of your own home, and it doesn’t take hours upon hours to do. Most of the Insanity workouts are 24 to 60 minutes each and can be done during a lunch break or before or after workout.

    Thanks for sharing your list. I have never tried the P90X, but will do so soon.


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