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What is the Best Way to…?

Army PFT Sit-up Score Chart

For over a decade and a half of writing about working out and acing fitness tests primarily, I often get questions that start off with, "Stew — what is the best way to (insert event)? The most common one is "run faster in timed runs". Or "do more pull-​​ups, push-​​ups, sit-​​ups" is often asked. And, of course, there is swimming times related question — "What is the best way to increase my swim speed /​ decrease swim times per given distance?" Or a very controversial topic — "What is the best way to build muscle?"

The reason why I bring up this topic is after reading an email from a young man trying to ace his situp test, I got distracted. He is seeking a goal to keep a pace of one sit-​​up per second or scoring 120 situps in 2 minute period. This is a great goal! It is not uncommon in the Spec Ops candidate world to see 120+ on 2 minute sit-​​up tests and there is a way to build up to get there. Is MY way the BEST way? I do not know — depends on how you define BEST. Here is the question:

"Stew — I have a sit-​​up test that a scored near the minimums on the first time (60 in 2 min), acceptable a month later (90 in 2 minutes), but I want to master this event as it once embarrassed me. The sit-​​ups — I overestimated my abilities and did not practice (like you said) and was ranked last in our group on sit-​​ups. Now I want to max it and not far away from it. What is the best way to get that max score in sit-​​ups?"

How do you define BEST? I Digress…

These questions of improving scores have one word that brings out the nay-​​sayers, dissenters, and people with an opinion on how stupid a method of training is over their own. That is the word BEST. How do you define BEST? Is there a BETTER way to get the BEST results? Are you in a race and the BEST results have to be done in a certain period of time? Are you wanting to do the least amount of effort possible and produce the BEST results? Is there some sort of fitness invention that will HELP me get the BEST results? Is there a pill I can take that will make me the BEST? So much is made over this word BEST in the fitness world and most of the people and companies, and even academic studies involved in fitness are guilty using this word to sell a point.

Fitness Programs

Most fitness programs will say their methods are the best at performing "X". Whether that is general fitness, weight loss, muscle gain, athletic performance like speed, power, agility, endurance, there are many programs that yield excellent results. But the BEST? Most fitness programs do not take us anywhere near our total fitness potential. They might make us look good, perform very well for our age groups, even get through tough military training programs, but are missing that 5–10% of total potential of the human body performance. Let’s be honest — If you are not creating programs for biggest, fastest, strongest athletes in the world who compete with the best of the best (Olympians, Pro Sports) chances are you do not have the BEST methods out there. The best of the best are constantly searching for ways to find that missing 5–10%. That is the BEST!

Fitness Products

Most fitness companies selling a weight loss product will claim they have the BEST products and system on the market because they produce the most amount of weight loss (other) in the shortest period of time. Even if the claims are true — does that make it the BEST? What is the difference of losing 50 lbs over a six month period or a 3 month period? Sure — three months, but at the end of the six month period when two people look back at their similar results do you think they are still happy that they lost 50lbs? Both are happy with results. Is one better since it worked faster? Maybe? But my point is both methods worked and you cannot argue with the end result.

Fitness Studies

In academic studies, they use the word OPTIMAL. This is fine and I enjoy reading studies that disprove other studies that I have been following for years. Most of the time, the study finds a way to say that this way for fat loss /​ performance /​ muscle gain /​ etc is better than the way that has seen results for decades. BOTH STILL WORK! One just maybe BETTER according to the criteria set up in the study. This criteria could be studying OPTIMAL results in men /​ women, young /​ old, athlete vs non-​​athlete. Depending on the criteria set up in the study, the BEST or OPTIMAL way to do something may or may not pertain to your fitness goals. In other words, read things carefully before you make massive changes to a program that might be working fine for you. Unless you are finding yourself injured often, stuck at same results for long periods of time (months), or de-​​motivated with current programming, you should consider looking for new ways to train that work for you.

Back to Sit-​​ups

Sorry for the rant. This question got me a bit off track but that word "the BEST" causes me to ponder on the effective methods of training with anything. Back to your question with my answer: So to get 120 sit-​​ups in 120 seconds sets you up on a pace of 1 per second. Easy math!

The method I think works the best is to do timed sit-​​up sets every OTHER day at your goal pace.

Since you are already at 90 sit-​​ups in a two minute test, you have a great foundation and should see your results pretty quickly. Start off with 30 second sets scoring 30 sit-​​ups. Then 1 minute sets scoring 60 seconds…and so on.

See if you can handle the following Supplemental Sit-​​up routine:

Do at the beginning and end of your normal workout routine

Repeat 4 times
30 sit-​​ups in 30 seconds
"rest" with another calisthenic exercise is 1/​4 mile run at goal mile pace

If that was easy, up it a notch with:

Do at the beginning and end of normal workout routine
Repeat 3–4 times
60 sit-​​ups in 1 minute
1 minute plank pose or 1/​4 mile run at goal mile pace

Once that gets easy, increase your time limit to 1:30:

Do at the beginning and end of normal workout routine
Repeat 2 times
90 sit-​​ups in 1:30
rest as needed with any exercise /​ cardio event for 2–3 minutes

The last step: Any time during your normal workout, stop and do a two minute test of sit-​​ups. Do this a few times every other day and soon you will see that this two minute test pace of one sit-​​up per second is very achievable.

Finally and Most IMPORTANTLY for BEST results! Practice the TEST. Do not just practice the 2 minute sit-​​ups, remember in most fitness tests the sit-​​ups are not the first exercise. So when you do your 2 minute tests, try to mimic the fitness test you are striving to ace in order to "feel" the way you will when you have to perform for 2 minutes of sit-​​ups.

Do not forget: Balance out the core with plank poses as well for the amount of time spent doing sit-​​ups each day.

So the BEST strategy is PACING YOURSELF. Learn the pace you need, practice the pace until you build the needed muscle stamina to maintain that pace. This is not a sprint exercise since it is the 2 minute test so work the pace you need to get the score you want.

Notice I did not say use the Ab WHEEL, take a Sit-​​up Pill to get better at Sit-​​ups, or STOP doing sit-​​ups because a study proved them to be back for you back. If you want to get better at these exercises — DO THEM! And the great thing about this is if someone has another way that helps you get 120 sit-​​ups in 2 minutes — GREAT! It does not mean one method is wrong or even better than the other. It just means there is more than one route to get to the destination.

Good luck with your training and good job seeking to score the BEST! There is nothing wrong with wanting to be the BEST! Hope you enjoyed the rant. Stew Smith OUT!

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Contributor

Stew Smith works as a presenter and editorial board member with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He has also written hundreds of articles on Military.com's Fitness Center that focus on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

Latest Fitness Books: Navy SEAL Weight Training and Tactical Fitness

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