9 things you need to know before basic training

Take it from the experts — preparing ahead of time will help you be your mental and physical best

9 things you need to know before basic training

(Photo courtesy of DVIDS)

Everyone has their opinion, but the experts are usually right! That is why I asked three basic training experts their thoughts on the top three things you can do to prepare for boot camp. Here are their responses.

Nick Van Wormer- Author of The Ultimate Air Force Basic Training Guidebook

1. The minimum isn’t going to cut it

Many recruits I speak with assure me they are ready for the physical aspect of basic training. However, I soon discover that their idea of “ready” is being able to perform the minimal sit-ups, push-ups and run time required by the military. Aiming for the minimum standards is not the way to success.

When preparing for basic training, set your goals as high as possible.  If you only have 2 weeks from the time you enlist to the time you ship out for basic, then setting a goal to shave off 3 minutes from your run time is not practical. But you should set goals that push you to achieve more than the minimum.  Set a workout routine and stick with it. My three tips for doing so are:

  • Pick a workout plan specifically designed to get you in shape for basic training (which can be found in any of The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebooks).
  • Set a physical goal to meet before your ship-out date.
  • Keep a log of your daily progress.

2. Pay your bills

Just because you’re in basic training doesn’t mean the world stops spinning. Believe it or not, your bills still need to be paid. If you neglect payments while in basic training, they will likely go to collections. Many jobs in the military require a Secret Security Clearance. One of the many factors considered when approving recruits for a security clearance is their financial standing. Someone with multiple unpaid bills, or collection notices, probably will not be approved.

Best way to avoid this? Plan ahead. Many cell phone companies can actually suspend your cell phone contract while you’re in basic training. If you’re married or have a family member whom you trust, show them what bills you have and how to pay them. Sometimes, assigning a specific power of attorney can be helpful so someone can sign your name on your behalf. Otherwise, set up all your bills on an automatic payment system. Then notify the companies of the dates you will be in basic training. You’ll still want to leave an emergency number with someone in case there is a problem with a payment.

I cannot stress enough, do not give this task to your boyfriend/girlfriend. You might feel like you’re in love now, but halfway through basic training, you (or your partner) might fall out of love.  Then you’re left with a partner with an open checkbook, access to vital information about you and virtually unlimited time to do damage to your bank account.

3. Study ahead of time

Upon arrival at basic training, you’ll be required to learn a massive amount of information within a short amount of time. Within the first couple weeks of basic training you will be grilled on this information, and making a mistake will equal additional attention from instructors.

Don’t wait until you get to basic training to start learning the material. Do these in advance:

  • Find out what information you will be required to know.
  • Study this information on your own for several days, or even weeks, if you have that much time.
  • Have someone quiz you.  If you know someone else who is joining the military, quiz them. You will actually retain the information better if you are “teaching” it to someone else.

Tee Major-Military Fitness Instructor and creator of the BW44 Bodyweight Fitness Program

1. Channel your anxiety and fear 

Mental toughness is a huge battle that must be won.  If your mind breaks down, it doesn’t matter how ready your body is for basic.  Eliminate fear and anxiety with understanding and preparation.  Keep in mind that the point of basic is to break down previous belief systems and build you back up with new ones that align with your team.

2. Prepare your body for something different

If you show up fit, then the physical demands of boot camp will be a release of stress, not a mental hurdle. You will be tested on push-ups, sit-ups, and run time (some branches even do pull-ups and swimming). Most stress and anxiety comes from being timed under these conditions, so when practicing before basic, time your workouts. Prepare your body for the actual exercises you will do at basic training.

3. Define your personal “mission" 

My personal "life mission" is to serve others. It doesn’t matter if I’m scrubbing toilets or conducting a fitness class, my philosophy enables me to do it with passion.  Whether you joined to protect and serve, be the first in battle, or better your family’s position in life, you can always refer back to your personal mission to keep your head and heart in check.

Staff Sergeant Brito-National Guard Recruiter at IGuardCalifornia.com

1. Getting your body into the correct sleep cycle
One thing most boot camp graduates agree on is the importance of getting your sleep cycle in sync with the time zone at your basic training location. Your body will already be fatigued due to the sudden change.  Add to that the rigors of boot camp and near-nonstop physical activity and you can see how important proper sleep is.

Find out the time zone of your basic training location and adjust your sleep schedule now so your body will feel accustomed to getting up early.

Don't try to adjust your sleep schedule abruptly. Instead, try going to sleep and waking up an hour early every other day for a week or two. Once your body adapts, try increasing to one and a half hours earlier and so on.

2. Learn a few military fundamentals

By far, the most important thing you can do prior to attending basic training is learn a few fundamentals. Much of your time in basic training will be spent with your face in the Soldier's Manual. If you prepare yourself now, you'll be able to concentrate on the task at hand and fly under the radar of the drill sergeants. My suggestions for "Must Know" items before attending basic training are:

The Phonetic Alphabet
Military Time
Soldiers Creed
Warrior Ethos
Identify Military Rank

3. Brief your family about your limited communication 

Time will be very limited.  Prepare your family members by informing them you will not be able to communicate frequently. When you do have a chance to make a phone call, you can bet there will be a drill sergeant timing your conversation to no more than a few minutes.

The military does this as part of the transformation process. It is the drill sergeant’s duty to transform you from a civilian who knows nothing about military life into a highly trained defender of freedom.  By keeping your family informed, you'll have the peace of mind that they aren't worrying about you, which will allow you to focus on the task of at hand.

About the author

Michael Volkin is a U.S. Army veteran, author, and entrepreneur. He served as a sergeant in Operation Enduring/Iraqi Freedom as a Chemical Operations Specialist where he received an Army Commendation Medal. He has a Master’s degree in Science and has authored four books in three genres. His best-selling book, The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook, prepares recruits for military basic training. He is also the inventor of Strength Stack 52, bodyweight fitness cards designed for military personnel. Find him at Ultimate Basic Training and Strength Stack 52.