If you are contemplating joining, or if you are in the process of signing up for the military, one of the vital things to do is learn how to prepare for basic training. Basic training marks the beginning of your military career and, as a new recruit, you have a lot to learn.
Know that the journey you’re about to embark on will not be easy, but it can be very rewarding. While it’s important to be well-trained physically, you must also know how to prepare mentally for basic training. Knowing what to expect and getting into the right headspace can help you adjust to military life.
Put our 143+ years of military knowledge to work for you as you prepare to enter basic training. You’ll learn important information you need to know, including branch-specific physical requirements, tips to get in the military frame of mind, what to pack, and more.
How to Prepare Mentally for Basic Training
One of the fundamental aspects of getting ready for basic training is getting your mind in the right place. You need to be mentally tough to make it through the program, and that means being able to handle stress, anxiety, and homesickness. Here are some tips to help you mentally prepare for basic training.
1. Talk to Veterans
If you know a friend, family member, or neighbor who is serving or has served in the military, talk to them about their experience. They’ll be able to give you first-hand tips on what to expect and how to prepare mentally for the challenges of basic training. You can also get insight on how to stand out to your commanding officer and advance your career after basic training.
2. Understand the Military Environment
One of the most impactful elements of basic training is learning discipline — a lot of discipline. Every aspect of your life as a recruit is controlled and on a strict schedule. Training from your drill sergeant will likely be intense, so be prepared to obey orders even when you don’t want to.
Remember that everything your drill sergeant says or does is meant to help you succeed. They may yell at you or put you in difficult situations, but it’s all part of the process. If you keep that in mind, it will be easier not to take offense and stay focused on your goals.
3. Start Implementing Military Practices
One of the recommended ways to prepare for basic training is to start waking up early. That way, when you’re in boot camp and have to wake up at 5 a.m. each day, it won’t be such a shock to your system.
After waking up, make your bed. Create a schedule for yourself and do your best to stick to it. Though it won’t be the same as your future basic training schedule, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of having a routine and executing each step within a set timeframe.
4. Read Books
There are plenty of books about basic training and the military lifestyle that can help you prepare for what’s to come. Reading about other people’s experiences will give you a better idea of what to expect, both good and bad.
One popular basic training book is The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook: Tips, Tricks, and Tactics for Surviving Boot Camp by Sgt. Michael Volkin. The publisher behind this book also made “Ultimate Guides” for each military branch.
5. Find a Support Group
If you don’t know anyone who has served, there are plenty of online/social media support groups that can help. You may connect with other individuals going through the same thing as you, and they can offer advice and support.
6. Learn How to Maintain a Positive Mental Outlook
One of the most important things when learning how to prepare mentally for basic training is to teach yourself to have a positive attitude. Even if you naturally have a positive disposition, the challenges of basic training can still take a toll.
Positive thinking is proven to improve your psychological and physical health, your ability to cope, manage stress, and boost your energy levels. Here are some positive thinking techniques to put into practice in basic training and everyday life:
- Always find a silver lining.
- Practice gratitude.
- Start journaling.
- Find humor in the situation you’re in (internalize it if your commanding officer is nearby!).
- Spend time with people who lift you up.
- Practice positive affirmations and self-talk.
How to Prepare Physically for Basic Training
In addition to learning the physical requirements of your chosen military branch, there are some general things you can do to physically prepare for basic training.
1. Learn the Physical Requirements for Your Branch
During basic training, you’ll have to pass a Physical Fitness Test (PFT). PFT requirements vary based on the branch of service you’re entering (except the Space Force, which currently utilizes the Air Force’s PFT).
Here’s a brief overview of what you’ll be expected to be able to do physically in basic training for each branch:
All recruits are required to pass the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) at basic training, and then again several times a year throughout their military career.
- 3 pull-ups or 34 push-ups (2:00 time limit)
- 1.5 mile run in 13:30
- 40-second plank (1:03 minimum)
- 44 crunches (2:00 time limit)
- 1 pull-up or 15 push-ups (2:00 time limit)
- 1.5 mile run in 15:00
- 40-second plank (1:03 minimum)
- 44 crunches (2:00 time limit)
The assessment will include a 1.5 mile run, push-ups, and planks. Check the age and gender-specific requirements here.
Air Force and Space Force
The assessment will include a 1.5 mile run, push-ups, and sit-ups. Check the age and gender-specific requirements here.
- 1.5-mile run
- Jump off a 1.5-meter platform into the pool, and swim 100 meters unassisted.
Check the age and gender-specific requirements here.
As you can see, the physical requirements vary for each branch. Make sure you know what’s expected of you before you begin your training.
2. Get in Shape
The best way to prepare for basic training is to get in shape before you arrive. This means doing cardio exercises to build up your endurance and strength training to improve your muscle endurance, especially as you’ll soon be carrying heavy equipment on your back.
If you’re not used to running, now is the time to start. You’ll need to be able to run long distances and at a fast pace, so begin gradually and increase your mileage and speed over time.
In addition to cardio training, push-ups and sit-ups should be a regular part of your exercise routine. Focus on mastering your form rather than increasing the number you can do within a certain timeframe.
3. Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet before you begin basic training is also important. A steady diet of nutritious foods will help your body recover from the physical demands of training.
4. Get Plenty of Sleep
Getting sufficient sleep is crucial for both your physical and mental health. Make sure you’re well-rested before starting basic training to perform at your best.
5. Consult Your Doctor Before You Start
If you have any medical complications or concerns, it’s important to consult your doctor before starting basic training. They can help you determine whether there are any risks specifically for you that are associated with the physical demands of training.
How to Prepare for Basic Training FAQs
1. How Long Is Basic Training?
The length of basic training varies depending on the military branch you are joining.
- Army: 10 weeks
- Marines: 13 weeks
- Navy: 7 to 9 weeks
- Air Force and Space Force: 8.5 weeks
- Coast Guard: 8 weeks
Keep this in mind as you strategize and prepare for your workout to ensure you have the stamina to make it through.
2. What Should I Bring to Basic Training?
Now that you have an idea of how to prepare mentally and physically for basic training, it’s time to start thinking about what to pack. You’ll want to bring with you:
- A pair of clothes suitable for running and exercising
- Sturdy shoes for physical activity
- A small basic toiletries kit like soap, shampoo, deodorant, etc.
- A padlock or combination lock to secure your belongings
- Your orders, which you’ll receive before you leave, so you know where to go
- Any required documents such as your birth certificate, Social Security card, etc.
- A small, recognizable backpack to carry your paperwork in
- A durable watch (no smart watches)
- A few pens and a small notebook
- A permanent marker to write your name on the interior of all your belongings
These are just a few things you should pack for basic training. Check with your specific branch for a complete list of what to bring. Remember, you won’t need much since you’ll spend most of your time in uniform.
3. What Can I NOT Bring to Basic Training?
You are not permitted to bring the following items with you for basic training:
- Expensive personal items
- Non-prescription medications
- Snacks and drinks
- An extra phone (yours will be taken from you when you arrive)
These are the main things you should NOT bring to basic training. Check with your specific branch for a complete list.
Good Luck from AAFMAA!
We hope this guide on how to prepare for basic training helps you make the first step in your military journey an impactful one. Making the right decisions early on in your military career can help secure a successful future for you and your family.
AAFMAA is dedicated to teaching servicemembers how to maximize their military benefits. One way is through BeyondBasic™, which fills the gaps that your Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI) plan doesn’t cover, and stays with you when you decide to leave the military some day.
Learn more about BeyondBasic on our website, then you can enroll online or contact our Life Insurance team to get started.
For more resources about military life, check out the AAFMAA Learning Hub.
Use of DoD imagery does not constitute or imply DoD endorsement. Photo by 2nd Lt. Leland White. Soldiers assigned to HHC 201st Regional Support Group perform their Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) in the early morning of June 8, 2018 during their annual training on Dobbins Air Reserve Base.