Physical Fitness In The Military - Inside MDT

Posted by Rob Orgel on 2024 May 23rd

Physical Fitness In The Military - Inside MDT

Editor's Note: With Memorial Day approaching, we wanted to publish this piece from Rob Orgel, a United States Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this article, Rob discusses the reality of physical fitness in the Military and how it differs from what you see in popular culture and Hollywood. Thoughts and prayers for the Fallen.

Films and popular media often give misguided perceptions about fitness in the Military. Our cinematic experience will paint a picture of a Rambo-type—shirtless and shrugging off gunshot wounds. However, few people look like Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger, especially in the Armed Forces. Why is this not true, and why does the Military put so much energy into cardio, such as running, and not Bodybuilding? In this article, we will break down the misconceptions of G.I. Joe Bodybuilder portrayed by Hollywood and understand the reality of physical fitness in the Military.

Before we start, I want to discuss Bodybuilding. Bodybuilding does involve some strength training; however, that sport is about presentation. Looking big does not scare a foreign fighter as he looks down his sights at a squad patrolling in the open. While this might be highly effective eye-to-eye in a bar, it doesn't work the same way in traditional or counter-insurgency operations.


It is important to understand that many people hesitate before signing on the X at the recruitment station. When you sign your name on that X, you sign a blank check. You don't know what the price is. You will be losing your freedoms (but fighting to preserve everyone else's). You will belong to the government. You will do your job, no questions asked for at least four years while on active duty. This is likely to come with health hazards and high levels of stress—up to the loss of life. After you sign this check, you are not suddenly prepared to fight and give your last breath—you must be trained. You must be trained in the abilities of your job, which will likely include various weapon systems. This training covers life-preserving skills, as well as other topics. However, all of them will be ingrained in the prioritization of the mission over the individual. That is what the blank check is about. This takes conditioning both mentally and physically. The best way to prepare that fighter is through their cardio endurance.


The strength is in the heart. American warfighters are typically young—mainly between 19 and 23 years old. You won't see this in the movie, as many people will view these young men as children. They don't have the bulging muscles and mature face of the actor we choose to represent them. It's painful to watch someone barely old enough to vote get blown up by a roadside bomb or shot by a sniper. This is often why the actors who play these roles are well into their 30s. Now, understanding that this is a young age, it's difficult to be bulky and have big muscles. It is not where the priority lies. The priority is cardio. Your ability to press 330 pounds doesn't work when you must carry a 60-pound pack for dozens of miles. This applies to the physical stress involved in combat operations. It's patrolling and doing team rushes for long distances requiring a sustainable high heart rate and endurance. This is why, when in the Military, we get ready for physical fitness training, we're not talking about going to the gym; we're going on a death run.

Marines rucking with a significant amount of weight.

The heart strengthens the mind. One of many reasons in the Military is that we do these death hikes and death runs (meaning we're going to push our body much further than our body wants to be pushed. It's going to feel like you're dying). These serve as a test of mental and physical fortitude. You don't quit, and you don't complain when you're tired. You understand that these orders and this mission are more important than your pain. You might even feel like you're dying, but you will continue the hike. This teaches the warfighter that the mission is more important than his pain. This conditioning makes for strong warfighters. They will fight to their very last breath because they understand the job and the service to their country is more important than their own mental stress or physical pain. This is what makes warfighters. So, when we say get ready for PT in the morning, be ready to run.

Since Memorial Day is right around the corner, this article is written in honor of the service members whom I've served with, those who served before me, and those who continue to serve in our armed forces. We live in a free country today because the men and women who serve in uniform are willing to undergo strenuous training and pay the ultimate sacrifice to preserve freedom.

Articles from Rob Orgel of Emergency Response Tactical


Rob Orgel enlisted in the USMC in 2004 as an Infantry Rifleman (0311), serving with 3rd Bn 1st Marines in Iraq, including roles as a point man in OIF-3 & team leader in OIF-6. Later, he joined the 1st Marine Regiment, achieved the rank of Sergeant in 2010, & continued service in Afghanistan. Upon returning, he became a Combat Instructor at the School Of Infantry West. Transitioning to private military contracting with Securing Our Country (SOC), he instructed at the American Embassy in Iraq. In 2018, Rob became Chief Instructor at GPS Defense Sniper School, revamping their program. Now, as owner & lead instructor at Emergency Response Tactical, he focuses on training novice to advanced shooters on the range over 300 days a year. 


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