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Top 12 Physical Fitness Test Exercises

Airman weightlifting.

If you are familiar with all the different agencies in the military and law enforcement that use fitness tests as either an entrance standard or regular occurring maintenance, then you know that there are over 30 different fitness tests used by our country's military and first responders. But amazingly, they all share roughly a dozen common exercises and events. Master these exercises, and you will master the fitness elements required to serve your country and communities in nearly any capacity.

A majority of all fitness tests will have the standard pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and a run of some sort. 

The first section is the most common section:

Pushups: 

The pushup is the most commonly used exercise in military, law enforcement, and fire fighter training programs.  Learning how to ace a fitness test is required for most groups, but, being able to do sets of countless pushups is usually required in most indoctrination training programs (Boot Camps, Basic Training, Military and Law Enforcement and Fire Fighting Academies).  Here are some tips for the exercise that has been around for thousands of years.

  1. Proper hand placement – Just outside of shoulder width with fingers pointing forward at a slight outward angle.
  2. Elbows bend 90 degrees in the down position but should be at about 45 degree angles between the torso and shoulder
  3. Touch your chest to someone's fist on the ground to keep an accurate count of full pushups.
  4. Up and Down movement
    1. Sprint movement – gravity aided
    2. Exert on the up, relax on down
  5. Rest in up position
  6. Keep your back straight and head up

Sit-ups:

There are a few groups who use regular sit-ups as a testing exercise. The difference between this exercise and the crunch is the hands are interlocked behind the head and you have to lift your entire back off the floor. This requires some lower back strength as well as hip flexor and psoas strength and flexibility. For some ideas to stretch and build lower back balance to support this exercise, check out the Lower Back Plan.

  1. 1 - 2 minutes tests
  2. Used by Army, FBI, and other law enforcement agencies
  3. Hands behind head and fingers interlocked
  4. Touch elbows to knees and shoulders to floor
  5. Exert on up, relax on down (use gravity)
  6. Rest in up position

Crunches:

  1. Used by USN, USMC, USCG, AF, Police, Fire, and others
  2. Pacing Exercise, 30 intervals
  3. 1 - 2 minutes tests
  4. Arms and hands crossed over chest
  5. Elbows touch thighs or knees and shoulders to floor
  6. Exert on up, relax on down (use gravity)
  7. Rest in up position

Pull-ups/ Chin-ups:

  1. Advanced Upper-body exercise
  2. Requires strength and practice
  3. Used by all Special Ops, USMC, and others
  4. No time limit
  5. Exert on up, no kipping.
  6. Look up and arch upper back
  7. Chin over bar and arms straight

Running

  1. 1 mile run –  USMC Initial Strength Test, Service Academy
  2. 1.5 mile run –  USN, USCG, AF, Police PFT
  3. 2 mile run – US Army PFT
  4. 3 mile run –  USMC PFT
  5. 4 mile run – Navy SEAL (weekly)
  6. 5 mile run – Ranger School Day 1
  7. Pace, breathing, arm swing, stride
  8. Injury prevention and proper stretches

The Fairly Common Section includes speed and agility tests, swimming, obstacle courses, and ruck marches.

Running Speed and Agility Tests

  1. Shuttle runs: FBI, DEA, USNA, Police
    1. 300yd shuttle run (6 x 50yd)
    2. 120yd shuttle run (4 x 30yd)
    3. 120ft shuttle run (4 x 30ft)
  2. IL Agility Test
  3. Beep Test (shuttle run with increasing speed over time)
  4. 300m sprint:  FBI  and Coopers Institute
  5. 400m - 800m sprint with gear: SWAT
  6. Build VO2 max with intervals, speed work, leg stamina through calisthenics, weights, and plyometrics

Swimming Tests

  1. Combat Swimmer Strokes (CSS) / Freestyle: Special Ops
    1. 500yd:  Navy SEAL / AF PJ / CCT PAST
  2. Full Gear swims – RECON / Ranger / SEAL
  3. 12 minute swim – USCG
  4. Underwater swims – USN / USCG / AFPJ
  5. Alternative to running for sailors in Navy
  6. Freestyle / breaststroke / sidestroke / CSS
  7. Weekly 2 mile ocean swim with fins at SEAL training
  8. 6 mile swim with fins at SEAL training

Obstacle Courses

  1. Spec Ops / Military / Police / Firefighter
  2. Crawling Sections
    1. Low crawl / Bear crawl / Dragging body
  3. Climbing / Balance Sections
    1. Walls / Fences / Rope / Ladder / Stairs
  4. Sprinting sections
    1. Runs in sand / hills / pavement etc
    2. With full gear / injured man drill
  5. IDEAS to train for O-courses:
    1. Sprint workouts mixed with Pullups, pushups, jumping.
    2. Rope climbs or rope pullups (grip)
    3. Buddy / heavy bag carries
    4. Crawling exercises / bear crawls
    5. Hips / lower back exercises

Obstacle Course Simulation Ideas

Ruck Marches

  1. Used by military, special ops, Forestry Service
  2. Running / walking fast with back pack
  3. Weighs 40-80 lbs
  4. Long distance for 2-3 hours
  5. Minimum 4 mph = standard pace
    1. 15 minute mile (Pack Test / Army standard)
    2. Better to push 10-12 min/mile
    3. Requires slow shuffle and march from waist down
    4. Secure shoulder / waist straps / wear weight high

The Less Common Section includes weight tests, basketball throws, and kettlebell snatches and swings.

Weight Training Tests:  Bench Press, Dead lifts, Squats

Lifting weights is getting more popular in Special Ops and Tactical Athlete circles now that many of these agencies are adopting strength training to build stronger members of the team. Some units even hire collegiate level and professional strength and conditioning coaches to create more longevity training for their members.

Bench Press – Most common lift tested in all agencies

  1. Body weight – max reps
  2. 225# max reps (same as the NFL Combine) – Some Special Ops units use this.
  3. 1 rep max weight (1RM)
  4. Used by SWAT / FLETC / Spec Ops
  5. Free weights or Machine test
  6. Exert going up, controlled on down.
  7. Feet flat on floor / hips on bench / bar touches chest / arms straight on the end of repetition.

Other weight events that are being used in active duty special ops programs are the squat and deadlift using the following bodyweight levels:  member's bodyweight lift, 1.5 bodyweight lift, and 2.0 bodyweight lift for max reps.

Odd but True:  There are some exercises that make you ask, "Why do we do this?"

Basketball Throw

This is a rarely used exercise but it is said to measure "athletic potential" of incoming candidates to the Service Academies.  You will only see this one on the Service Academy Candidate Fitness Assessment.  Practice makes perfect on developing proper throwing strength, motion, angle, and form.

  1. Used by Service Academies
  2. Physical Aptitude Tests – Measures athletic potential
  3. Candidate Fitness Assessments
    1. USNA
    2. USMA
    3. USAFA
  4. Sit on knees / use hips / shoulders / arm
  5. 45 degree angle throw for max distance
  6. Form – Video assistance

Kettlebell Snatch and Swings

The US Secret Service uses the Kettlebell Snatch as a fitness test while at the Academy. 

  1. Used by Secret Service / other Special Ops groups
  2. Cardiovascular / muscle development
  3. USSS use the 10 minute Snatch Test – How many snatches can you get in 10 minutes?
  4. An alternative to 10 minute run test, but harder.
    1. Gut check
    2. Form – Video assistance

If you are not sure how and where you want to serve, find out what your groups do for testing to get into the training and make that a focus of your workout programming. Once you narrow down your selection options, start preparing to get through the training program of your choosing.

Or if you just want to challenge yourself and master the dozen plus exercises and events, you will find yourself busy for the next year programing all of the above elements into your training regimen.

Stew Smith works as a presenter / editorial board with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).  There are also over 800 articles on Military.com Fitness Forum focusing 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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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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