Are You Fit Enough for the Marines? (w/Joel Del Rosario)

Today we’re talking to Joel Del Rosario, an active duty Marine and fitness coach who has 17 years of experience with fitness in the military. We discuss fitness standards in today’s military, along with how Joel’s approach to training and combat readiness has evolved over the past decade and a half. If you’ve ever been interested in learning how service members prepare their bodies and minds for the rigors of military duty, this is an episode you won’t want to miss.

Joel Del Rosario BarBend Podcast

On this episode of The BarBend Podcast, host David Thomas Tao talks to Joel Del Rosario about:

  • Why Joel’s fitness journey kicked off in 2005, when he joined the United States Marines (01:58)
  • Joel’s introduction to kettlebells (04:00)
  • Which is the fittest branch of the military? (04:55)
  • How does the Marines test fitness? (07:00)
  • Fitness under duress and why “functional fitness” has a whole new meaning for combat readiness (10:15)
  • Getting smarter about individual performance (15:00)
  • “Walking the walk” of fitness in the military (19:00)

[Related: The Ultimate Guide to Strength Sports for Veterans]

Relevant links and further reading:


Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

…working out or fitness takes discipline. That’s the one thing that we don’t give enough credit for the fitness industry, is the amount of discipline that it takes.


You don’t have to be a PhD. You don’t have to be a CEO of anything. You have to give some credit to the people who show up every day. Do the hard things that it takes to meet the goals that they want to.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast,” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by


Today, I’m talking to Joel Del Rosario, an active-duty Marine and fitness coach who has 17 years of experience with fitness in the military. We discuss fitness standards in today’s United States military, along with how Joel’s approach to training and combat readiness has evolved over the past decade and a half.


If you’ve ever been interested in learning how service members prepare their bodies and minds for the rigors of military duty, this is an episode you don’t want to miss. Also, we’re incredibly thankful that you listened to this podcast. If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend Podcast in your app of choice. Now, let’s get to it.


Joel, thanks so much for joining us today. I wanted to talk to you for a few different reasons, but let’s start with the basics. Let’s get into your fitness background and your fitness journey. I always ask that I have to be careful because it’s not like your fitness journey is over. Bring us up to speed as to how you got where you are today.

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

Yeah. Thank you for having me, by the way. My fitness journey has been all over the place, but really where it started, where it got serious, was in the military. I’m an active-duty Marine, I’m still active today. I enlisted in 2005, back and when OIF was still happening, Operation Iraqi Freedom was still going on.


I was young. I was 19 and I was around other fit people that you have to keep up with them and try to get strong. I’m going to throw this out there. Marines are not the best when it comes to lifting form or anything like that, but they are relentless, and they have a lot of discipline when it comes to going to gym.


That said, I was trying to keep up with my friends trying to get stronger, faster, leaner. That’s pretty much where my fitness journey started.


From there as I got older, I started to realize, I need to start working a little bit more on my flexibility and mobility. Not just about getting strong or building muscle, right?


I met my wife, Rebecca Rouse, who is the other co-founder of Semper Stronger, We’ll Get There [inaudible 3:13] . She was a gymnast. She’s very flexible, very mobile and she has a lot of core strength.


She jumpstarted me into helping me become more mobile and flexible and focus a little more on my form and lifelong fitness, rather than just getting strong. Guess what the single joint exercises ain’t like. That’s where I am today.


She’s got into kettlebell’s through being a trainer at Equinox and she was a manager, as well, for them. She got into kettlebells with one of her trainers. She introduced me to kettlebells. I’ve seen them before as a door stopper. I think of kettlebells as door stoppers. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

They’re very good as door stoppers. You’re not going to find a better door stopper than a kettlebell.

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

[laughs] They’re very good for that. Absolutely. When she started using them, and start teaching them to me, I understood the benefit of using them. Especially for me being in the military when sometimes you can’t take whole gyms with you, you can just take kettlebells with you on deployment.


I learned a little bit more about kettlebells, know how to use them, and implement them in my workouts. I fell in love with them. That’s what I have been doing now is a lot of kettlebells and barbells and all that, but still getting strong and testing my strength with the barbell which is great.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’m going to ask you a question, and you’re going to have a biased opinion. I’m sure. What is the fittest branch of the United States military, and why?

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

 [laughs] I would say, obviously, the Marine Corps. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

Obviously, of course, obviously.

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

The reason for that though, is not necessarily because we have “Marine guards just like to be fit,” it’s because we have high standards when it comes to physical fitness.


All the other branches have a PFT, which is a Physical Fitness Test, or different acronyms for it. Essentially, it is a run portion, an upper-body strength and core portion of a physical fitness test. The Marine Corps, we have a three-mile run that we have to complete. A perfect score is 18 minutes.


You’re doing six-minute miles there. [laughs] You have to do pull ups. You have to do crunches or plank for four and a half minutes.


The Army has a two-mile run versus a three-mile run. The Navy has a mile and a half mile. I don’t think any of the other branches do pull ups yet, but I’m pretty sure they’re going to implementing those or something like it soon.

David TaoDavid Tao

Wait, what is the perfect score? A perfect score is an 18-minute or under three-mile run? What about pull ups and the core portion?

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

Pull ups for my age group is 23 pull ups, strict pull ups, no kipping. Your chin has to go above the bar, your knees can come past your waist, but you can’t bicycle or try anything weird. You’ve got to straight pull ups from dead hang up to your chin, or past your chin. That’s 23 of those.


Then for the crunches, I believe, for my age group is 115 to 120, or you can do the plank, and the plank is four minutes and 30 seconds around there.

David TaoDavid Tao

What is time domain for the crunches? Is it two minutes?

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

For the crunches, yeah. Sorry about that. Yeah, it’s a two-minute time frame.

David TaoDavid Tao

All right. That’s like the perfect score that you have to do all those things. What is the minimum passing score?


Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

The minimum passing score, I’m probably going to butcher this, because I’ve never been there before.

David TaoDavid Tao

You’ve never had to worry about.

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

Right. For the pull ups, again, it’s age related, but I’m pretty sure it’s three for, and it depends on males and females. Three for females and then I believe four, five, six maybe for males. That’s for pull ups.


The crunches, I believe, it’s also for the age range. It’s going to be somewhere in the 70 or 80 range. That’s going to depend on your age as well.


For the run time, if you’re male, depending on age, but the average age if you go past 28 minutes and 30 seconds, I believe is when you fail that event. You’ve got to pass them all in order to at least get a score.

David TaoDavid Tao

All right, I’ve got to ask, what’s your most recent score? We know that you’re not toward the bottom, you’re not worried about the minimum work requirements here. How are you doing on those scores, though?

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

I’m not doing too badly. I’m 36 years old. And surprisingly, the older I get, the more consistent I get. For my runtime, 18-minute runtime, my last one I believe was at 18:55 or 19:10 somewhere around there for a three mile. I’m not a runner, I hate it. I have to keep doing it, to be part of this branch of service and to be a leader, right.


The pull ups, I maxed out the pull ups. I can do over 30 pull ups, that’s not an issue for me. I do the plank rather than the crunches. For me, I feel more comfortable holding a plank for four minutes and 30 seconds. I can hold the plank for over 10 minutes as an elbow plank. It’s kind of like a push-up plank, but it’s an enough of a one.

David TaoDavid Tao

What has changed about the approach to fitness in your branch of the military? I know you can’t speak for everyone. When some people refer to the military, they think of it as a monolithic thing, but they’re all different branches.


There Are variations within the branches. There’s a lot going on. In your experience, what has changed about the military’s approach to fitness, or I guess the Marines’ approach to fitness of the past, 16 years since you first enlisted?

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

A good question. We used to focus heavily on those three events that I told you about which was the run, the pull ups and the crunches or the plank.


The plank is new, by the way, the Marine Corps started realizing that how we were doing the crunches it targeted more than hip flexors than it did the core because of how you were able to do the crunches.


Because they wanted to focus a little more on core strength, they implemented the plank. That is recent. That’s been, I believe, in the last two or three years have implemented that.


For the rest of the fitness in the Marine Corps, we focus a lot more on functional fitness. There’s been a shift more towards becoming strong, not bigger-faster but leaner-faster because we’re carrying a lot of equipment with us.


When we deploy, not only we’re not getting the same nourishment or eating the same kind of foods that we are when we’re back in the United States, but we have less access to water. We have less access to natural foods, probably not as much sleep, so fewer hours of sleep.


We take all that into account. We’re trying to build a more functional fitness culture in the Marine Corps.


The Marine Corps implemented, along with all the other branches — the Army implemented it as well — more of a combat fitness test where you do a small obstacle course. Where you’re doing movements that are mimicking things that you would do on combat. That is also part of our fitness tests that we do every year.

David TaoDavid Tao

Is the obstacle course standardized, or will it be different from one facility to the next? What kind of movements might you be doing in that obstacle course?

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

It’s standardized. You can do it in 100 yards. You need about 100 yards. You’re doing low crawls, high crawls. You’re doing sprints. You’re doing this in boots. You’re doing it in uniforms, like full uniform. That way, you can emulate what it’s like to do this in combat, right?


You execute zigzag on cones. You pick up a buddy. You carry a buddy with an over-the-shoulder carry or a farmer’s carry. You carry them down about 35 yards. You pick up ammo cans. There’s a square can where you put ammo in. They are 30 pounds each. You carry two of those back and forth.


Then you throw a grenade, and you come back. You got to do this all within a certain amount of time. When we’re done here, I’ll send you a link to what the CFC or a combat fitness test looks like. It’s really interesting.

David TaoDavid Tao

You’re basically describing like a WOD that a CrossFitter might do. You’ve got the buddy carries. You got the farmer’s carries with the ammunition cans, crawls, sprints, all sorts of stuff. The one caveat might be the grenade throw, but they did have, I think, a softball throw at the CrossFit Games years ago.

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

It’s very similar.

David TaoDavid Tao

It all kind of fits in. Take us through your first time going through that. You’re a pretty fit guy. You wouldn’t be on this podcast. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if it weren’t for that. The combat fitness test is something relatively new. It’s now in the Marines, also utilized a version of it by the Army.


Take us through your first time ever going through that. Did you think that it was a good replication of some of the stress you might face in a combat situation physically?

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

Just so I can give you where I’ve been before to understand my perspective, I deployed to Iraq in 2007. Then I deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 and ’10. In 2018, I came back from my more recent deployment where we trained with other units across the world.


In my last deployment, I was engaged in combat there. I understand a little bit of how it feels, what your body goes through and all of that. To answer your question about the CFC, the combat fitness test, and my first time going through that, I was younger when it first got implemented.


When it first got implemented, the first thing you do…Again, I told you one portion of the CFC or the combat fitness test for the obstacle course. Before that, you have to do a half-mile sprint. Then with the same ammo cans that was 30 pounds, you have to do overhead press to lock out for about 110 reps of that, which is light at first. You have two minutes to do it.

David TaoDavid Tao

Well, just take a 30-pound dumbbell and press it overhead 100 times. I don’t care how strong you are overhead. You’re going to feel some fatigue.

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

Absolutely. For the half-mile sprint, it’s the first thing that you do. I was young. It was like a half mile. It’s not that bad. I’ve never run before in my heavy boots and uniform. I took off completely, just did a fullout sprint. Not even a quarter way through, I was gassed. This is not what I was expecting.


I still did pretty well on that portion. I forget what the time was. Maybe I got somewhere in the three-minute mark for a half a mile. It’s not what I was thinking that it was going to be. I was young, dumb. I was just like, “I could do this. I don’t get tired.” I just took off.


That set the stage for the rest of the other two events that were coming, because my body was gassed. You get a couple of minutes of rest between the events, but when I got to the ammo cans, overhead presses, my legs were jello. They were jello. My heart rate wasn’t going down. I can feel my heart just coming out of my chest.


Then when I got to what we call the maneuver under fire, which is the portion I told you about where you do the zigzags and pick up a buddy and all that, they call that a maneuver under fire. When I got to that portion, I was out. I was just running on fumes at that point. That was my first experience. At that point, I got to practice this.


I saw other people do well. I saw other older people do well, which was surprising. I did some studying. I worked with myself and figuring out what I was doing wrong. Eventually, I figured out that just like a CrossFit exercise or a functional fitness test, you have to pace yourself.


If you don’t pace yourself, you’re going to eventually end up getting a worse score than if you pace yourself. Now when I do the half-mile sprint, I start at 70 percent, and I keep at 70 percent. Then towards the end, when I’m at my last quarter portion of the half mile, I will give all I have, which is still maybe the same speed.


I maintain that speed, which gives me a much better time. I was able to get like two minutes and 15 seconds on my half-mile sprint, which is much better than I was at my first time doing that.


Same thing with every single other event, it’s just if you pace yourself, you end up getting a much better score, which is what older people are doing because they understood their bodies better. They also didn’t want to get injured. They’re like, “I’m just going to go get this one step at a time, not try to go all out to impress anyone.”


When you don’t try to impress anyone, just focusing on what you got to do to get done and get a better score, you’d figure out that pacing yourself in situations like that works a lot better.

David TaoDavid Tao

Well, you mentioned that you’ve gotten more consistent as you’ve gotten older. With age comes wisdom. Part of fitness, it’s between the ears. It’s understanding what you’re capable of, where your threshold is over time. It’s refreshing to hear. For anyone listening to this, fitness is not just a young person’s game, right?

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario


David TaoDavid Tao

You got to be smart about this. You’d be surprised at what you’re able to do. Let’s talk about a little bit about…You’re not on deployment right now which is…

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario


David TaoDavid Tao

We could actually record. I have recorded podcasts with folks — I think not on active deployment but obviously in other countries — thanks to the magic of the Internet if they have a good connection.

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

I know. It’s so great. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

Tell us a little bit about your life now. Obviously, you’re active in the fitness community. I know you and your wife work together on a lot of fitness initiatives. I’d love to hear about that in just a second. Tell us a little bit about how fitness is a part of your routine these days as an active-duty military service person.

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

Thank you for asking that question. Fitness is not for me, it’s not a chore. It’s more like a part of my lifestyle.


I’ll be completely honest, if it was up to me, and I could sit down and just watch Netflix all day and not do anything and still be able to perform I would because I love to watch movies. I love to just sit down and not do anything.


I understand that in order for me to be…I’m a captain in the Marine Corps. That means that I have to lead other Marines.


In order for me to lead other Marines and not be a hypocrite, I have to be able to perform and ask of them what I would be able to do myself. I wouldn’t ask any of my Marines to do something that I would not be able to do myself or that I’m not willing to do myself.


I have to be a representative of what I say, now I have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Part of my life has become a fitness mindset as well, but not because I want to get muscular. That’s a secondary thing to come. For me, I just want to be able to perform.


In the Marine Corps, just like a lot of other military branches as well, when you show up and you meet someone, if you’re physically fit, you are considered competent until proven otherwise.

David TaoDavid Tao

There are a lot of ways to prove you’re not competent, let us be clear.

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

Exactly. It’s not saying that you’re competent, but first impressions when you meet someone and they’re in the military, and they’re physically fit. OK, this guy, I’m going to listen and then, he or she can then prove me that I’m either right or wrong.


If you show up and you’re out of shape, you look like crap. You don’t have a fresh haircut, and your uniform looks like crap, then you’re going to be considered incompetent until proven otherwise.


Again, it’s not necessarily saying that that person is incompetent. It just that is how you’re showing up to the “job interview.”

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s great to know that I would fail just on the basis of never looking like I’ve had a recent haircut.


We’re not going to use the video, the podcast, we’re just going to use the audio, but I got my hair cut, like a week and a half ago, and it already looks like an overgrown bush.


Good to see I chose the right line of work for me.

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

[laughs] As you know, I mean, working out or fitness takes discipline. That’s the one thing that we don’t give enough credit to for the fitness industry is the amount of discipline that it takes. You don’t have to be a PhD. You don’t have to be a CEO of anything.


You have to give some credit to the people who shows up every day, do the hard things that it takes to meet the goals that they want to. It’s not just like, oh, you have the genes to do it. I hate when people tell me that, oh, you’re genetically gifted. No, that’s not a thing.


I mean, yeah, you can be genetically predisposed to be able to grow muscle more easily, but you still have to put in the work. The discipline that it takes to be a strong person is something that we don’t give enough credit to for the fitness community.


I think that’s a big portion of being in the military as well because we’re full of discipline. We preach discipline in the Marine Corps. That the first thing when you go to boot camp is you learn discipline.


Discipline has some negative connotations. When you talk about discipline, it has so many different meanings. It can mean to be punished. It can mean a field of work or a field of study, someone’s discipline. In our case, it means the ability to… I want to word this correctly. How we approach and how we are going to implement, I’m trying to get the right wording here.


Discipline pretty much is how we go in day in and day out. And we try to fulfill our goals and try to shape our world in a positive way, but you have to do it in a consistent manner. Consistency is part of discipline. You have to do when you don’t want to, and when you want to.


Discipline comes in and plays a big part in everybody’s life. When you wake up in the morning, and you’re like, “I don’t really feel like going to the gym today, I don’t really feel like going to work,” discipline is going to get you there.


That is the biggest thing that we take away. We don’t give enough credit to the fitness community is the discipline that it takes to work and get to those goals that we want to meet every single day.

David TaoDavid Tao

I want to just as a perfect example of Joel’s discipline. He’s one of the rare podcast guests who was logged on early to this podcast recording. Punctuality, consistency, I always like to point that out.


Let’s transition and thank you for the explanation. It’s not always easy to take a concept that could be as nebulous as discipline. What does that mean? You asked someone on the street to define discipline, they’re going to be like, “Ahh, ahh, ahh.” That’s what I would do.


Taking us through the different connotations and meanings that a single word or concept can have applied in various walks of life and in various lifestyles, I think it’s important. I think that we use buzzwords a lot in the fitness industry. They become crutches.


Are we examining what that means and how it impacts our process? I appreciate that and I’m glad we dove into that.


Tell us a little bit about your company, your approach to fitness. I know you and your wife work on it together. I did just the right level of Internet stalking to prepare for this podcast.


Tell us a little bit about that, what is that? What are your goals?

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

Semper Stronger is the name of our company. It’s a phenomenal project. I want to call it that because it’s not over yet. We’re not done with it. There’s so much more that’s left to do in Semper Stronger.


What it is, my wife and I last year during the whole COVID situation, we decided that we wanted to start a platform that’s going to make and help people become stronger so they can overcome life’s challenges with confidence.


It’s a platform that is helping people become stronger versions of themselves, physically and mentally. We do this by providing high quality fitness programs. Kettlebell programs is what we’re known for right now.


Kettlebell work is what we’re known for, mainly because I think it’s still slightly untapped communities that a lot of people can have a lot of advantage and can use to their advantage quite a bit.


We still have barbell work. We have body weight as well and more. This program we’re providing is [inaudible 26:38] is focus of the day. It focuses on developing physical and mental strength.


The physical is by obviously providing those programs and the focus of the day and then the mental comes from the mindset.


We do our best to try to implement, like I said before, a discipline mindset approach to working out. It’s a supportive community that we have. What we stand for, which is hard work, discipline.


Other than that, we do it day in and day out to show up and do the workout and inspire each other and to actually get the work done. Not only is it to finish the workout, but that bleeds into everyday life for people. That’s the mindset that we’re trying to build, a discipline mindset that is going to look like a training.


If I may define discipline a little better. It’s training that corrects and molds or even perfects mental or physical things that you want to do in order to build your moral and physical character. It’s pretty much training that corrects the things that you want to make better and make yourself better. That is [inaudible 28:03] for me.


Training not only fits into the physical strength to get strong, but you have to train your mind in order to be resilient and be able to not only get through that workout but the workday or that stressful situation. That’s what our platform, that’s we want to do.


That’s what we’re doing, but we want to be able to incorporate a little more mental aspects and that’s coming soon for anybody who’s listening. Know that we’re going to be implementing a lot more of the mental resilience and training into the Semper Stronger platform.

David TaoDavid Tao

Where’s the best place for people to follow along with the work you’re doing? If people, even if they’re like, “Oh, I don’t want to go that deep. I want some cool workouts. I wanna watch this guy throw around some heavy bells with some fit people.”


Where’s the best place for people to follow along with you?

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

Best place is @semperstronger on Instagram. We also have a web page. I am not the face of Semper Stronger. My wife is. Her name is Rebecca Rouse, so @rebeccarouse. You can find her. She’s very impressive. If you haven’t seen her yet, she’s the reason why we’re successful. Again, I’m going to be successful.


She is, as I said, very impressive. We have @semperstronger on Instagram or Facebook. We also have For me, I am [laughs] on Instagram joellerblades. Kind of like rollerblades but with Joel in the beginning. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

I love it. I’m so glad we talked about it. It’s such a good handle.

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

[laughs] It’s fun. You look and find us there. We also are going to be moving to Dallas soon. We’re going to be bringing Semper Stronger over to Dallas and try to have some physical workouts or in-person workouts with people.


People can get to know the brand, get to know what we do, learn about how to get physically and mentally stronger, so they can conquer life challenges with confidence.

David TaoDavid Tao

Well, Joel, thanks so much for joining us. Joel, or Joellerblades as he might be better known. That’s such a good name. Thanks so much for joining, thanks for sharing a little bit about your story, your work. I appreciate it.

Joel Del RosarioJoel Del Rosario

Thank you so much for having me. I look forward to hearing the podcast and the future podcasts you have on.