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Marine Initial Strength Test (IST) Standards

If your goal is to join the Marine Corps, your first challenge is to pass the Initial Strength Test (IST) to attend training as a recruit.

This strength test is an indicator that a recruit can pass the upcoming physical test before the completion of basic training.

The IST is comprised of three events, including a timed run, planks, and pull-ups or push-ups.

For some recruits, there is an added event; the ammo can lift category.

The goal of this test is to ensure recruits are strong enough to meet the demands of boot camp as well as the United States Marine Corps (USMC) Physical Fitness Test, which is given every six months.

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Marine Corps Male Initial Strength Test Standards

Marine recruit performing the Initial Strength Test – IST. Image:

For men who intend to specialize in a non-combat related Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), they should be able to perform the following:

  • Run 1.5 miles within 13:30 minutes
  • Execute three pull-ups or 34 push-ups within 2 minutes
  • Hold a plank for a minimum of 1:03 minutes

Marine Corps Female Initial Strength Test Standards

The expectations for female recruits are very similar to their male counterparts.

For those who are planning for a non-combat-related MOS, these are the expectations:

  • Run 1.5 miles within 15:00 minutes
  • Perform one pull-up or 15 push-ups within 2 minutes
  • Hold a plank for a minimum of 1:03 minutes 

Recruits with a Combat MOS

Recruits who wish to pursue a specialty such as Recon Marines, combat engineers, or any other demanding occupation, the expectations of the IST are higher:

  • Run 1.5 miles within 13:30 minutes
  • Perform three pull-ups
  • Hold a plank for a minimum of 1:03 minutes
  • Perform 45 ammo can lift within 2 minutes.

How to Prepare for the IST?

Being adequately prepared to pass the IST depends on your current level of physical fitness.

However, there are strategies to help you prepare, no matter where you are in your fitness plan.

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Start Running

If you have not already begun a running regimen, do so now. Running is a standard expectation throughout a Marine’s career, so it is best to begin running right away. Add running to your routine and aim to increase your speed and distance a little at a time.

Start Working Out Your Core

Add core exercises to your fitness routine

Core work might include crunches and planks.

Having a strong core gives stability to your body and helps you keep your balance and prevent injuries.

Start Doing Pull-Ups

Be sure you can do pull-ups.

This exercise requires a lot of upper body strength, and these are a struggle for many potential recruits.

If you cannot perform a pull-up, begin by building in exercises that target the back, abs, biceps, and forearms.

Also, begin with assisted pull-ups until you can perform a pull-up unassisted from a fully extended position.    

Related ArticleUSMC PFT/CFT Calculator

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

Female Marine recruits conducting the Marine IST. Image:

The Initial Strength Test is the first Marine strength and fitness test a new recruit will face, but it is just the first hurdle.

As a Marine, you will always strive for new goals in fitness tests.  

Where is the IST conducted?

The IST happens at one of two United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD).

One MCRD is located on Parris Island in South Carolina, while the other is in San Diego, California.

Usually, recruiter station commanders work to prepare their recruits well before they get to basic training.

Often, the recruiting station commander will raise the level of expectations to ensure success before the first week of boot camp.

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Why do the recruiters raise the expectations of the fitness tests before recruits head to an MCRD?

If the recruit administrators set a higher level of expectations, this ensures success when recruits show up at training.

Recruits are often exhausted from travel and paperwork upon arrival and under stress.

Being over-prepared means you are likely to meet minimum standards no matter how tired you are.

Why are there different IST requirements due to the MOS?

The Marine Corps breaks combat jobs into two categories. There are load-bearing and non-load-bearing occupations.

The load-bearing jobs are infantry, reconnaissance, and combat engineers.

On the other hand, non-load bearing includes artillerymen, light armored reconnaissance, and air defense jobs, to name a few.

To qualify for a combat job, a recruit must pass the IST with a higher set of expectations.

Why is the IST necessary?

The IST is in place to make sure recruits can pass either the Physical Fitness Test (PFT) or the Combat Fitness Test (CFT).

These advanced fitness tests occur about eight weeks into training, so if recruits show up able to pass their IST, they are more likely to pass the next round of physical tests.

Also, the fitness scores impact promotions in the Marines and determine if a recruit passes basic training.

What is an ammo can lift for the combat MOS version of the IST?

The ammo can lift is the act of lifting a 30-pound ammo can above the head as many times as possible within a two-minute time frame.

How long does the IST take to complete?

Recruits perform each individual section of the IST one at a time.

The entire group of recruits works through each section, so the time it takes overall and as a group varies.

What is a perfect score on the IST?

The IST is a pass/fail fitness test, rather than a scored test.

There is, however, a scoring component to the Physical Fitness Test eight weeks into training.

What happens if you fail the IST?

For recruits who are unable to pass the IST, they are dropped from the training platoon and placed in a Physical Conditioning Platoon (PCP).

The PCP is a place to focus on physical conditioning.

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The Marine Corps’ basic training is a challenge, but that is intentional.

To ensure your success, it is essential to be prepared by understanding the areas in which you will be tested.

Your recruiting officer will help prepare you by having higher expectations of your abilities before you even show up to your training.

While you prepare, evaluate your current level of fitness and work with your recruiter to ensure you are as fit as possible.

Levi D.

General FAQ

What is the Initial Strength Test (IST)?

The Marine Corps Initial Strength Test, or IST, is a test that measures the physical fitness level for recruits entering Marine boot camp.

What happens if you fail the IST?

Recruits that don't pass the Initial Strength Test are dropped from their platoon and placed in a special platoon that gets them in shape.

What are the requirements for the Marine Initial Strength Test?

We lay out the exact requirements for the IST in our article. The test standards vary for both men and women, and have also changed over the years.

How should I prepare for the Marine IST?

Preparing for the IST requires you to start running on a routine basis, start practicing core body work, and start doing pull-ups.

How long does the test last?

There really isn't a hard and fast number for this. It will depend on how many recruits are taking the test at any given time, as well as other factors.

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