What is Marine Corps OCS Like, and What Can You Do to Get Ready for It?
You’re probably reading this because you are considering becoming a Marine Corps officer. Good on you. These days, not too many people think about service to their country. I can speak from experience that it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. I know it’s not for everyone, but those who choose this path will be forever changed for the better.
When I thought about joining the military, there was only one branch that I seriously considered–the Marines. Being a Marine was one of those brass rings I dreamed about as a kid. Getting a chance to lead Marines is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
There was only one thing stopping me. Marine Corps Officer Candidate School (“OCS”). In case you didn’t know, Marine Corps OCS is one of the toughest military training programs that anybody can undergo anywhere. It will demand everything of you physically and mentally to make it through the three months Without getting too hyperbolic, this is where leaders are forged. I know that it transformed me in ways I have yet to fully appreciate. To this day, physical fitness is a integral part of my life. So much so that I devote a crazy amount of time living it and writing about it.
From day one, you will be judged based upon your level of physical fitness. From the very first physical fitness test (“PFT”) to the last, how you handle physical challenges is a huge factor in graduating or not. Of course I’m simplifying things, because your assessors will test and judge you on many other leadership traits. However, physical fitness is the foundation on which your entire candidacy is built. I don’t know anyone who made it through who couldn’t cut it physically.
Let me put things in perspective—you must obtain a first class PFT score before you can even be considered for OCS. I remember being rejected the first time I tried to sign up because my 3-mile run time was not less than 21 minutes. Once I lowered my run time, I was in. That is because you must begin OCS training already in great condition.
The bottom line is this: you cannot lead if you are physically weaker than those who seek to lead. That may be okay in other organizations, but not in the Marines. As an officer, it is expected that you will be stronger, faster, smarter, and better in every way than the enlisted Marines in your charge. You will never get the respect of Marines if they perceive you as weak, regardless of what type of brass is on your lapels.
The bad news is that no matter what you do, there’s no way for you to train yourself mentally for Marine Corps OCS. However, the good news is that it’s possible to train yourself physically. If your physical fitness level is high starting off, you will be better able to deal with the mental stress. The truth is, the “PT studs” have an easier time because they get instant respect and credibility because of their physical prowess. In my experience, the drill instructors are more likely to overlook certain shortcomings of a candidate if he or she is a fitness animal.
If you think this is unfair, you should rethink your decision to join the Marines. It’s a physical organization, so get used to it. Those who are physically tough get all the respect and admiration. Those who are not…
What Can You Do to Prepare Yourself Physically for Marine Corps OCS?
To begin with, I want to say that I’m not writing this article because I want to push products on you. I happen to know from personal experience what you can expect physically at Marine Corps OSC. I’ve been there, done that. I actually wish that these programs were available before I joined in 1998, but they weren’t.
I still made it through, but I believe I would’ve had an easier time if I were more physically prepared. I wish there was a training system in place that could have helped me. I believe that having a well organized and structured fitness program is a good thing because Marine Corps physical training is all about structure and repeatable results.
If you want to be as ready as possible for the rigors of Marine Corps OCS, my strong recommendation is to start your training at least three months in advance. What are your training tools? Insanity: The Asylum and P90X. P90X will develop your upper body strength with resistance training that is similar to what you can expect at OCS. Want to max your pullups? P90X is the workout program that will help you achieve that goal. I’m 44 years old this year, and I can still crank out 30 pullups thanks to P90X (ten more than what I could do while I was on active duty).
Insanity: The Asylum will get you ready cardio wise. It’s system of interval training is guaranteed to take your fitness level up several notches. It is simply the best program you can do without the “assistance” of a drill instructor. You can literally measure the improvements that you will experience with this workout program.
The combination of P90X and Insanity: The Asylum will get you in shape for the grueling physical demands which will be placed on you as an OCS candidate. I’m not talking about a hybrid schedule, either. I’m talking about doing both Insanity: The Asylum and P90X at the same time. Do one workout in the morning, then another in the afternoon. This will give you a fair idea of the physical challenges that awaits you at OCS. I wrote another post about my experience here.
When you’re at OCS, there is a daily 1.5-2.0 hours physical training session first thing in the morning (“zero dark hundred”). There is a lot of cardio, calisthenics, and resistance training. You will then attend classes for several hours. After the classes are done, you will then go out in the field for additional training. While the field work is not considered physical training per se, it is nonetheless very physically demanding. There’s a lot of running, marching, climbing, etc. involved. Don’t expect to sit on your ass for too long, because you are always on the move.
At OCS, you will only get one day off from physical training. This is similar to the workout schedules for P90X and Insanity: The Asylum. You may say six days a week of intense physical training sounds like a lot, and I wouldn’t argue with you. But this is what you should expect if you plan on graduating from Marine Corps OCS. Your body will go through a lot of wear and tear, so might as well suck it up and get ready for it. Get used to it. Learn to love it.
Let me be clear: I’m not saying that P90X and Insanity: The Asylum is the same thing as going through Marine Corps OCS. What I am saying is that these programs will help you get in shape to tackle OCS. The truth is, nothing can replicate the insane physical demands you will undergo in Marine Corps OCS. Have you ever carried a telephone pole on your shoulders while running cross country through the woods for three miles? That’s one of the fun things you will be doing. Unless you have a telephone pole handy and you can get eleven friends to run with you, you’re not going to be able to practice the “log run” at home.
However, you will be able to practice pushing yourself beyond your physical limitations every day. Practice pain and discomfort and make it a way of life. Practice doing things that other people would call crazy. Practice feeling fatigue and exhaustion, but carrying on because you have no other choice. That’s they mindset that you have to get yourself into.
In case you’re harboring doubts about whether a home based workout program can be tough enough, drop them now. I can assure you that the workouts in P90X and Insanity: The Asylum will kick your ass. Olympian Apolo Ohno uses them to stay in shape. I’ve done both of them, and they are very well executed fitness programs that will produce amazing results.
If you take my advice and do these two workout programs, do yourself a favor by pushing yourself hard and not taking any breaks. Because they are both home workout programs, the temptation will be there for you to push the pause button. You won’t have that luxury at Marine Corps OCS. The workouts won’t be at your pace, and don’t expect any unscheduled breaks. The drill instructors will also be monitoring you closely as you train, and if they notice that you aren’t putting forth maximum effort, stand by for extra motivation.
I can’t promise you that if you do P90X and Insanity: The Asylum that you’ll make it through Marine Corps OCS and become a Marine officer. There are other variables that are completely up to you. I can promise you, however, that you will be better physically and mentally prepared. You will have a slight edge knowing that you’ll be as ready as possible to make it through the physical training, and therefore, you have a fighting chance of getting commissioned. Best of luck to you.
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P.S. This article has not been reviewed or endorsed by the U.S. Marine Corps. It’s just my damned opinion. Take it for what it’s worth.