Are you Strong Enough? An interview with Mark Rippetoe

Updated: October 7, 2014


By Nick Barringer

Mark Rippetoe is highly sought after strength coach and author. His books Starting Strength, Strong Enough?, and Practical Programming are great resources for anyone looking to become stronger. I recently had the great pleasure of speaking to Coach Rippetoe and he was kind enough to share his thoughts on military fitness with the RU community.

“But in a combat situation, a person’s deadlift is much more indicative of his value than his 5-mile time”–Mark Rippetoe

What are your thoughts on the current state of military fitness?

My opinion is that military fitness operates under a 100-year-old paradigm that places endurance training above strength. I think the realities of modern mechanization have made endurance testing for military people obsolete, and it ignores the physical reality of the Soldier in 2014. Soldiers in 2014, as opposed to 1914, come from a completely different background. In 1914, people worked on a farm – they bailed hay, they picked heavy things up, they were stronger. You can get people in endurance condition pretty quickly. Endurance for people who are not endurance specialists comes on pretty quickly. Strength, on the other hand, takes years to develop. If it is not trained, it never develops. Having talked to lots of people who have occupied a combat role, it is my studied opinion, and theirs, that strength contributes more to combat readiness in 2014 than endurance does. But our testing paradigm is cast in stone, “We shall test endurance.” Therefore if physical testing is endurance, we have to train for endurance, or we fail the test. That does not constitute testing for combat readiness in terms in of the specific physical adaptations encountered in the field. My opinion is that boot camp should incorporate a novice linear strength progression for every recruit from their first week in training. We need to get them stronger, because they are not strong enough. For 3-4 months there should be a strength training program that causes these people to come up to a higher standard of physical strength. When we need them to be endurance trained, we can do that in couple of weeks. But in a combat situation, a person’s deadlift is much more indicative of his value than his 5-mile time. Therefore that is what we should train. The question should be, “How strong are these people? Can they pick-up their buddy in kit and move him?” I’ve talked to hundreds of Soldiers about this, and strength is the physical parameter that determines battlefield success in physical battlefield situations in 2014.

“I know most post gyms look like health spas with leg extension machines. Why?”-Mark Rippetoe

How would you change the approach to military fitness? What is the model that gets the military to where it needs to be?

Strength training should be incorporated from induction forward. It should start in basic training. Barbell equipment is very cheap. It is much less money than is typically spent on a weight room which consists of a lot of machines. If you have training facilities dedicated to strength training, all you need is a bunch of barbells, a bunch of platforms, a bunch of power racks, and a bunch of plates. This equipment is still the cheapest equipment available in the fitness industry, and cost should not be a game-changing factor. Strength training methodology should be incorporated very early in the Soldiers training

What about space issues?

strong peopleThere should be enough space. Space can be acquired, and the equipment is relatively inexpensive. If you take Soldiers at initial entry and put them in a strength-based program, strength becomes part of their culture. Then you don’t have to talk post-basic Soldiers into training for strength, because they’ve already been taught that’s what they do. In terms of a deployment or field setting, you can take the equipment with you. Power racks can be unbolted and shipped easily, and plates and bars don’t take up a lot of space. This is not a logistics problem – it only is if you make it one. But we ought to be past that. If we are willing to admit the fact that barbell training is the most efficient way to get strong, we just need to figure out a way to make it happen. I know most post gyms look like health spas with leg extension machines. Why? That’s stupid, we know that it’s stupid, so why is it being done? Because there is no military-wide institutionalized strength training paradigm. Everybody tells me that running is not terribly applicable to a combat situation, but as a result of the military’s endurance focus things are not being done to make training as effective as it could be.


“But if you have a person that would be too fat under the present metrics, but who can still do 12 chin-ups and run a 75 second 400, let them stay!”-Mark Rippetoe

If you could design a PT test for the military what would it consist of and why?

I think everybody in the military ought to be able to deadlift twice their bodyweight. And that does not represent a powerlifting specialization. For a 165-pound Soldier, a 330-pound deadlift is not a remarkable feat of strength. But it at least ensures that there is a minimum standard. Next, we would have an overhead press test that would be 75% bodyweight. I would not test the squat because there would be too many problems with judging it for compliance with the standard. You have to train the squat, you just don’t test it. I would also test chin-ups and 400-meter sprint. I think a Soldier should be able to do 12 chin-ups and run 400 meters in 75 seconds or less. The additional benefit of having the press, chin-up, and 400 meter run tests is that they do away with the need to do body composition testing, which takes up a lot of time and can be a problem for muscular Soldiers. If Soldiers are too fat they are not going to be able to meet those standards. But if you have a person that would be too fat under the present metrics, but who can still do 12 chin-ups and run a 75-second 400, let him stay! People like this are not hurting anything, because they are physically capable of doing the job. I think you would still need assessments that are mission-specific, but these would be the most basic testing standards, and I think they cover all your bases much better than the current assessments. They are easy to administer and fairly straightforward in terms of both training and application to combat readiness. Of course you give people extra points for crushing the basic standard, but these numbers should be the minimum.

Mark Rippetoe PT Test

  1. Double bodyweight deadlift.
  2. Standing Overhead Press with 75% of bodyweight on the bar.
  3. Chin-ups-12 minimum
  4. 400 meters in 75 seconds or less.

You can read more about barbell strength training on Coach Rippetoe’s website www.startingstrength.com .

Ok folks, there you have it. Now I want to hear from you. Do you agree with Coach Rippetoe that strength needs to be the focus of military fitness? Do you disagree and think endurance should indeed be the focus?   What do you think about Coach Rippetoe’s PT test? Can you meet the standards? Who stole Mike Katz’s lucky t-shirt before the 1975 Mr. Universe Competition? What would be your ideal PT test? For police, firefighters, and first responders is strength the most job relevant physical characteristic?




  1. Gunship Load

    October 7, 2014 at 8:43 am

    Doing those four components doesn’t mean you can ruck 20 miles with 70+ pounds of gear.

    Then again, being a two mile ten minute man doesn’t mean you can ruck 20 miles with 70+ pounds of gear.

    You have to find the balance in all of it.

    • William O. B'Livion

      October 7, 2014 at 2:17 pm

      The vast majority of military personnel (for example the aforementioned Navy folks) will never be in a position where rucking 20 miles with 70 pounds of gear does anything useful, but almost everyone in harms way needs to be able to move and lift shit.

      For those who do need to be able to walk to the ends of the earth and still be functional to fight there the sorts of strength Rippetoe is talking about provide a base to work from.

      A tanker has very different needs from a FAC, from an 18D. But building a base of strength helps *all* of them.

    • Common Sense

      October 7, 2014 at 7:05 pm

      Hell yes, agree 100%

  2. Jo

    October 7, 2014 at 10:14 am

    This seems legit I have been strength training for a while now and have plans to go to the Navy have to transition from what I do now being strong moving to endurance and losing strength just to meet requiremnets. Just wanna be the best I can be in any circumstance they ask for but the strength training should be recommended. Good article.

  3. JoeC

    October 7, 2014 at 10:24 am

    I don’t think there is a single PT test that is going to cover every person in every MOS. What good is a 400lb deadlift, 75 second 400m and 150lb overhead going to do a C-130 pilot that needs to fly a 10 hour sortie? What good is a 10 minute 2 mile going to do someone that needs strength to do their job? The requirements need to fit the job. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be one standard just to get in, but at some point you need to be assessing what someone actually needs to do their job.

  4. joe_mama

    October 7, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    @Gunship Load,
    Is a 20 mile ruck still relevant in today’s military, or is it just there out of tradition/PT test? Not playing devil’s advocate, genuinely don’t know the answer.

    • Gerrish

      October 10, 2014 at 11:31 pm

      The answer to this; Absolutely applicable.

  5. Mark Rippetoe

    October 7, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Joe C. comments: “I don’t think there is a single PT test that is going to cover every person in every MOS.”

    Do you really think that this proposed test is suggested as a replacement for unit training? Was I that unclear when I said that “I think everybody in the military ought to be able to deadlift twice their bodyweight.”? If so, I’m sorry. But the current PT standards do not represent the culmination of physical preparedness for every unit in every branch of the military either. They represent a MINIMUM STANDARD, as do my proposed standards. Mine are just more reflective of current reality.

    • JoeC

      October 8, 2014 at 11:58 am

      You weren’t unclear, I just think you are wrong about what you listed being a good minimum standard for everyone in the military. If you had said it was good for every infantryman, fine. I’d buy that. Airman Snuffy that sits at a console all day every day and flies a drone doesn’t need that. Should they be fit? Absolutely! But if he somehow ends up having to fight a battle man to man he is going to have lots bigger problems than his PT score.

  6. Jon

    October 7, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Gunship, I believe there have been studies done comparing DL strength to a timed ruck. I can’t find it right now but I remember arguing with a PL about it using that study.

    Joe, if you’re talking army… Then everyone should train to be a grunt first. We talk about how there are ‘no POGs’ anymore so we should all have the same standards. Period. End of story.

  7. Carl Pham

    October 7, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    While I agree completely with Rippetoe that strength should be a basic aspect of military training, I think one thing the endurance standards usefully test is grit. Can you still perform when you are dead tired, stressed, aching everywhere, have already been doing your best for hours? There’s a fair amount of psychological strength that is tested and developed by endurance activity. And I don’t think grit and psychological toughness are no longer important characteristics of the soldier.

  8. richard40

    October 7, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    I think strength matters more to the army, than to air force or navy, but the Ripentoe standards make some sense for all. I dont think they should abandon endurance entirely though, since it is helpful for heart health, and might help also if they have to do a long hike in combat. How about adding the traditional 1.5 mi run in 12 min to the standard as well. That way, you have strength and endurance both being tested. I agree that if you can meet both strength and endurance standards, a weight standard is not necessary, and in the case of extremely strong guys is even counterproductive.

  9. Common Sense

    October 7, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    While I agree completely with Rippetoe about the need to add strenght training, I completely disagree that we don’t need endurance training as much. Endurance is as much a mental fight as physical. There needs to be a move away from endurance RUNNING to endurance RUCKING- or even just realistically loaded combat gear marches.

    I also don’t buy the “in today’s military” portion. That smacks of trying to win the last war/the one we are still fighting, by different means. The focus needs to be moved from allowing leaders to make each soldier into a tank of armour and spare equipment- and lightening the load into something that is manageable both for PT AND for extended combat periods.

    I know several soldiers that can DL 400lbs plus, but can’t ruck for shit beyond 2 hours because they don’t have the endurance training to do it.

    I also disagree with any test that involves chin ups (except perhaps testing to pull on the risers). Overhand pull ups- which directly relate to how a soldier will move their body over walls, up ladders, through windows etc, those are the exercise to test.

    I don’t understand the requirement to overhead press 75% of bodyweight- what specifically is this related to? Why not require a soldier to overhead press a SPECIFIC weight that directly mimics a combat task? Pick something- ammo cans, support weapons, etc. It’s just another arbitrary argument for “overall” fitness (strenght vs endurance), which could be argued as a poor representation of ability. The tests need to be SPECIFIC to a soldier’s combat role.

    How could the squat be too difficult to examine on a test? That’s a genuine question, not an argument. Teach leaders the proper points of performance- as for any of these other exercises, then make the soldier do it.

    My test-
    Day 1
    20km ruck, total weight of equipment 85lbs (240 gunner has a lighter ruck than those with an M4, etc)
    60 min break
    -Squats, total weight of equipment (no ruck, but in combat kit weapon slung) 50lbs, no time limit + continuous
    -Overhead press, (dressed as above) an ammo crate or something similar, no time limit + continuous

    Day 2
    -Pull ups, no time limit+continuous
    -Full situps, 2min + continuous
    -Chest to ground pushups, 2min + continuous
    -3km run, combat kit weighing 50lbs total with weapon

    It’ll never happen, but that’s what makes sense to me.

  10. Pickle

    October 8, 2014 at 2:09 am

    Ever try to deadlift 400 pounds on a moving ship? That’s a first class ticket to snap city right there.

  11. Marshall Allen

    October 8, 2014 at 6:55 am

    Regardless of how strong you are, there will always exist the possibility that the task will demand more than you can deliver. That is when you have to possess some other quality…like ingenuity. You cannot paint a scenario that fits the attributes of a weightlifter and call that combat. It takes strength, for sure. Strength of body, strength of mind and strength of character. The only aspect of this article that I agree with is that our society is no longer producing that in our citizens.

  12. Detectorist

    October 10, 2014 at 4:35 am

    I agree 100% with the first paragraph. However, Rip’s proposed standards are insane. 2x body weight for deads? Most dedicated gym goers can’t even do that.

    We need to eliminate the venerable 2 mile run. Replace it with a 1 mile run test. too much running kills muscle. We need more strength.

  13. Rook

    October 14, 2014 at 8:23 am

    I agree with this mostly. It’s way better than the current test. Leaving the 2 mile test in is not a bad thing, but training specifically for it is. The “endurance is good for heart health” is ridiculous. Run some 400m sprints or do a heavy set of deadlifts, if your hearts not beating out of your chest you are already dead. And lol @ everyone saying the 2x body weight deadlift is way too high. If any male trains seriously this is possible in a year for nearly everyone. It’s not supposed to be an easy standard we don’t want weaklings. If you can’t pick up 2x bodyweight as a young guy you’re weak end of story. This test is great.

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