Military Fitness

Army fitness is not athletic, but comes from training which creates robustness, resilience and endurance, plus reserves that allow men to function without proper food, sleep, shelter or warmth.   Soldiers must be able to live rough, not waste energy complaining, and be able to march then fight.

There is no  point in being able to cover the ground faster than anybody else, but arrive at the other end without the reserves to fight.  Equally, there’s no point in the fitter men arriving ready to fight, and having to wait for others, who may  arrive late – or not at all.

Military fitness is that of the lowest common denominator – the fitness of the least fit of the unit.  The most important component of army fitness is morale and the willingness to fight.

Parachute Regiment’s “P” (Selection) Company

Usually considered the hardest physical selection course in the British Army, the All Arms P Company is used to select people with the right mix of aggression, courage and determination to serve with Airborne Forces – summarised by them as “Go, Guts and Gumption”.

The course is refreshingly honest; physical training sessions each day which increase in severity until the final Test Week, when the specific tests must be passed. The gym sessions can be particularity grim, as even the very fittest people are pushed beyond their limits so P Company staff can see what they’re really like when the chips are down.

The emphasis is on ‘tabbing’ – marching very quickly carrying increasingly heavier weights. The pace of the long marches is that of slow running, but without actually breaking into a jog – a very fast walking technique that can be difficult to get used to, especially while carrying a rifle in the ‘ready’ position, and painful on the shins. Except on certain tests, the squad is kept together, and before each march the weights being carried are carefully weighed – woe betide anyone foolish enough to err on the lighter side…

The tests include marches of increasing lengths, stretcher and log races (the latter a very painful sprint of several miles up and down very steep hills with thick mud), ‘milling’ (intense one-on-one fighting wearing boxing gloves), and confidence tests involving height, balance and the real possibility of injury…

Throughout, the correct attitude must be displayed at all times, and each man is allowed one ‘off day’ but no more. Any displays of bad temper or dissent are ruthlessly dealt with – often by way of spectacular sackings from the course – there and then. NCOs and officers on the course are expected to lead and ‘encourage’ the men – forcing them to keep the pace and discipline. Failure by an officer to do this leads rapidly to their being sacked, or failing the course. Individuals can pass each test well within the time limits, but still fail for not having contributed or pushed themselves hard enough. Cruel but fair…

Commando Course

The Commando Course run by the Royal Marines at Lympstone, is more of a training course than P Company, but nevertheless a considerable test of stamina, endurance, military skill and the ability to continue operating when soaking wet, cold and hungry. Although also involving long marches – known as ‘yomps’ – carrying heavy equipment, the Commando Course also requires high standards of upper body strength, in order to pass the various assault courses, particularly the ropes and wires of the “Tarzan” course. The tests take place after long exercises usually on Dartmoor, and although the pace is less than P Company, people are usually soaking wet, and are required to fire weapons accurately and undertake various military tasks at the end.

The end result is a soldier able to continue unaffected by appalling conditions for considerably longer than his untrained counterpart, with additional commando-type skills like climbing. The commando course also specialises in ‘buggering people around’, on the basis that in war, nobody should expect things to go as planned. Extra inspections take place by torchlight several miles from camp, at the end of long marches the trucks will not be where they were supposed to be, the rations will have run out, and everyone has to swim the river or run in the mud of the estuary at low tide. There’s also a healthy element of “We’re the Royal Marines, so you pongos better shape up”. Happy days, and a good time is had by all…

Fitness Training for Special Forces Selection

There are lots of books and even videos telling you how to pass Special Forces selection…. Let’s be clear, no books or video will do that. They’re written to make money for the authors, for wannabees to buy, who’ll get no further than imagining themselves doing it.

If you are looking for specific guidance as to how to pass, there isn’t any. It entirely depends on whether you’ve got what’s required.

In terms of fitness, you have to establish a very high level of basic fitness, using weights, circuit training, running with running shoes, and walking wearing boots carrying weights. But you have to develop very gradually over a long period – depending on your existing level of fitness. And don’t start with any sort of injury.

The course is designed to reveal all your weaknesses – in character, personality and body. We all have weaknesses; the course finds out how you deal with yours.

Pay particular attention to core strength, and don’t go in for athletic or body building training. But you must be very much fitter than the minimums they quote. Seven minute miles don’t give you much leeway, and the tiredness of the course means you’ve got to be a lot stronger and faster in training…. You have to be so fit that fitness isn’t a factor any more. Other aspects of the course are much more demanding…

But this is the exact same advice for passing any military course – because soldiering isn’t solely about physical fitness, although it is assumed that you will be fit to start with…

5 thoughts on “Military Fitness”

  1. Hi Mr McManners,

    I read your essential guides on military fitness on P-coy and the AACC.
    However would you be able to update it with tips on training for sas selection
    i am thinking of having a go at 21/23 reserves selection and there are tons
    of books out there on “how to pass sas selection etc.” but they all seem to be money spindling crap.

    As i understand it the minimum requirements for weekend 1 are an 8 mile run in 1 hour then a fast CFT the next day (in 1.45 i was advised by the squadron i hope to join) – the training guide they gave they said themselves was lacking.
    I’ve decided to join normal TA infantry first to gain some experience and
    hopefully meet people to train with as my training has stagnated over the last few months and i’m stuck on 8 miles in 1.06.
    In your experience what has been the most effective way to train for these
    sort of courses – i’m guessing its just hills, hills and hills but im trying
    to get over this basic stage.
    Many thanks and you have a very interesting website here!

  2. Hi Im curious about waht you said about SF selection , i am considering SBS reserve selection , im 37 but very fit , if i was to do a 40 mile tab carring 55pounds on trails , would that put enough extreme fitness to the test . I am really keen to hear what you think . Also how did you train in last 3 months prior to attempting the course .

    Many thanks


    1. It gets harder the older you get, from about 23 onwards…. It’s like rugby in that you have to recover quickly enough from the previous match – or test. That’s why people – depending on the position they play, tend to give up rugby once they get into their 30’s. The occasional person does a military selection course of this sort at your age – usually if unusually appointed as CO or RSM from an outside unit. As it’s in the unit’s interests for such people to pass, sometimes they do. But attrition is the enemy, requiring resilience – and the ability to recover quickly which is a function of youth. Sorry to sound discouraging.

  3. Hugh,

    Thanks for your service, and for your excellent website.

    I am considering attempting reserve selection and am trying to gather as much advice as possible. What would you recommend is the minimum fitness standard in terms of running (ie how many miles and in what time)? I understand that selection is about much more than this, but it seems the fitness has to be a given.

    Thanks again


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