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Preparing Mentally and Physically to Earn a Pilot License

Learning to fly a plane is more than just becoming familiar with aircraft and instruments. There’s mental and physical preparation involved, which can be started well before enrollment in flight school.

Mentally Preparing for Flight School

Pilots need to be prepared to handle stressful situations while remaining calm. It’s not a job for everyone, and the mental fortitude required may not come naturally. So, how can you mentally and emotionally prepare for flight training?

Just like any new adventure, mental health plays an important role. Whether you’re trying to get psyched up to start a new exercise regime or get into a habit of studying, you need to start small.

Total Health and Fitness shares insight into the impact mental health can have on fitness HERE. Like anything in life, it’s important to set attainable goals so you stay motivated to improve yourself. This relates to most things in life, whether it’s starting pilot training or a nutrition program. Getting your mental health stable before working on the physical prep for flying can help you have the stamina and coping skills to succeed in flight school.

Face Your Fears

When prepping for flight school, you may need to address your fears before stepping foot in the classroom or taking a seat in the simulator. When you identify what you’re worried about, you’re better prepared to conquer the fears through proper training and study. Taking an introductory flight is one of the best ways to help prepare mentally for flight school. FLT Academy in Utah offers intro flights with an instructor during which you will have a chance to take the controls yourself while learning about the basics of flying and emergency protocol as a pilot.

If you’re not sure what to expect during your actual flight training, FLT Academy has a blog post HERE about getting ready. They touch a bit on everything from the enrollment process to sitting in the flight simulator and eventually getting off the ground.

Vet Your Vices

What are you currently doing to cope with stress? Ideally, you have some healthy coping habits you can turn to when your training gets tough. Cutting out bad habits such as excessive drinking, smoking, or bingeing junk food can benefit you in the long run both mentally and physically as a pilot.

Stock Up on Sleep

While you might not be able to bank extra hours of sleep to prep you for flight school, it’s important to get adequate rest every night. It’s not only helpful for allowing your brain to retain everything you’re learning, but it can calm your nerves and help keep your reflexes sharp. If you have trouble sleeping, be sure you look into remedies that will support your sleep when you’re in training to become a pilot.

Physically Preparing for Flight School

To enroll in flight school, prospective pilots need to have a medical certificate issued by an FAA-approved medical examiner. Here’s how you can prepare to earn a first- or second-class medical certificate.

Diversify Your Diet

Part of a healthy lifestyle is a diverse diet. Your nutrition needs to come from well-balanced meals and snacks. This will boost not only your physical performance but your brain health as well.

The FAA Fit for Flight brochure suggests a diet should consist of the following:

  • 50-55% complex carbohydrates
  • 15-20% protein
  • 25-35% fats

If you’re not sure what your specific macronutrients should be for your level of physical activity, consult with a nutritionist; the team at Total Health and Fitness does virtual consultations as well as in-person to help clients build a customized nutrition plan to meet specific goals.

Good Sources of Complex Carbs

  • Beans/Legumes
  • Starchy Vegetables
  • QuinoaVegetables
  • Whole Grains

Good Sources of Protein

Good Fats

  • Avocados
  • Cheese
  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Tofu

Developing healthy eating habits before you start school can help you maintain momentum throughout your training and, eventually, in your career. Being on the go as a pilot may make it difficult to stick to your nutrition goals, but it’s possible if you laid the initial groundwork.

Engage in Exercise

An active lifestyle is not only important for helping you pass the medical exams needed for flight school and a job as a pilot, but it sets the foundation for a healthy life. Medical certificates expire every two to five years, so you need to get into the habit of living in such a way that you’ll continually pass for uninterrupted approval to fly.

Your exercise regime as a pilot or pilot-in-training doesn’t have to be elaborate. Even just 10 minutes of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be helpful. Since you’ll spend a lot of time in a cockpit, try some of the following exercises to counteract all the sitting you’ll be doing:

  • Bent Rows
  • Bridge
  • Chair Pose (high squat with forward fold)
  • Deep Squats
  • Dead Bug/Happy Baby
  • Dead Lifts
  • Kneeling Lunges
  • Planks
  • Rotating Lunges

It might also be helpful to engage in exercises that reduce the effects of “tech neck,” which is the tension and strain experienced in our upper bodies due to looking at screens or driving/flying for long periods.

  • Camel Pose (kneeling chest opener)
  • Cobra or Sphinx Pose (prone chest openers)
  • Extended Child’s Pose
  • Supine Twists
  • Supported, Lateral Neck Stretches
  • Prone Snow Angel Arms
  • Puppy Pose
  • Thread the Needle (thoracic rotations)

Other ways to prepare physically for flight school include aerobic exercises and strength training. Aim for 30 minutes of cardio every day, and up to three days of weight training each week. If you’re not sure where to start, see if your local recreation center or gym offers personal training to help you make a plan.

Ready for Lift Off

Implementing these recommendations is not required to get you ready to earn a pilot’s license, but it will probably make the process a lot smoother. There will be some things you can’t fully prepare for, but caring for your overall health before you enroll in school can ensure you have the mental and physical stamina to succeed.

The founder and CEO at ThriveVerge, The Verge, and Thrive Revolution. He launched Thriveverge in 2016, a leading behavior change technology, business, media, and entertainment company with the mission of ending the collective delusion that burning out is the price we have to pay for success.


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