Ask Stew: Navy PFT Preparation for OCS Candidate

U.S. Naval Academy plebes carry a modified telephone pole during the log physical training station of Sea Trials.
U.S. Naval Academy plebes carry a modified telephone pole during the log physical training station of Sea Trials. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Chadwick Runge/U.S. Navy photo)

Editor's note: The new Navy physical fitness test consists of a 1.5-mile run, plank pose and push-ups. Rowing 2,000 meters for time is an option for the 1.5-mile run once you are active duty. The new PT test replaced crunches with the plank pose in 2021.

Every year, thousands of people apply for various officer training programs. Depending upon the specialty, the intensity of physical training can be part of a very competitive selection process. Officer Candidate School is no joke. You need to begin your preparations far ahead of submitting your application.

Here is an email concerning preparation and improving the fitness test prior to acceptance into OCS:

Hi, Stew -- I'm writing you as I am wanting to apply for Navy OCS for an SNA slot. I would like to meet the April deadline for the May selection boards. I am currently able to meet the bare minimum PRT requirements for a male 20-24, but I am not much over that. I would really like to be able to score at least an outstanding low, but right now I'm in the good low category. What workout plan would you recommend, and what is the possibility of that big of a jump in 90 days? I am already using your advice on eating and have a strict diet for some basic weight loss. Thanks for any advice you can give me. -- Richard


It is very smart to be preparing well in advance of your application due date, as well as continuing this fitness process until the day you start training if you get selected. Here are some things to consider with the standard Navy physical fitness test: push-ups, crunches and 1.5-mile timed run.

Push-ups: Focus on proper hand placement first. Then practice. Get specific and do push-ups. Make sure the form is good (all the way up/all the way down). Some favorite PT workouts: PT PyramidPT Super SetsMax Rep Set workouts and more.

Classic Warmup like this (below) will help you with your push-ups. Once you are able to do 50-100 push-ups in a multi-set warmup, you will have no problem with two-minute push-up tests.

Repeat 5-10 times

  • Jumping jack 10
  • Push-ups 5-10

Quick fixes to PT scores: Check out the methods to increase PT scores significantly in a 14-day period.

Push-up Push: With this supplemental plan, you could increase your push-ups significantly in two weeks.

Sit-ups Push (Curl-ups): With this supplemental plan, you could increase your curl-ups significantly in two weeks, just by learning the proper pace.

However, after this two-week period, go back to doing normal split routines with push-ups every other day.

Curl-ups: The secret to good sit-ups is pace. Pace yourself at your goal pace, especially in a two-minute test. People typically will do great in the first 30 seconds and get 25-30 curl-ups, but fail to match that in the next 1:30 of the test. However, by slowing down the pace to perhaps 18-20 in 30 seconds, you are setting yourself up for 70-80 curl-ups in two minutes.  Pace yourself.

The second trick is to let gravity take you down and exert only on the upward movement (same as pull-ups/push-ups). Drop back so your shoulder blades touch the floor and exert on the upward motion so your elbows touch your knees to finish the repetition. The key is not to flex your abs as you are descending, giving your abs that split second of relaxation every curl-up versus being flexed constantly.

Recommended workout: Try timing yourself with five sets of 30 seconds, setting your pace to reach your goal. A good pace is 20 sit-ups in 30 seconds, totaling 80 in two minutes. A perfectly respectable score.

Transition from the PT to the run: After you perform the PT test, take 2-3 minutes to stretch the arms, chest, shoulders, stomach and lower back. Then run for about 2-3 minutes at an easy pace to get the blood flowing toward your legs. Finally, take about 3-5 minutes to stretch your legs. Keep shaking the arms, throughout the time between the PT and run, to loosen up.

1.5-mile run: For most people, the most challenging event of any PFT is the run, especially after maxing out on push-ups and sit-ups for two minutes each.

You can fix this, but it requires making running a habit.

Big tip on timed runs: The most important thing is not to start off too fast. Learn your pace and set your goal by pacing yourself to the finish. For instance, if your goal is to run the 1.5-mile run in 10:30, you must run a seven-minute mile or a quarter-mile in 1:45.

This is basically learning how to run at your pace needed to reach your goal. Consider this a "muscle memory" drill of running. You soon will be able to know how a seven- or eight-minute mile feels by the way your breathing, arm swing and stride are affected with each interval. The workout below is a classic for you to run at your goal pace. Eventually, you will be able to maintain that pace for the entire timed run distance. That is goal pace running.

Repeat 6 times

  • Run quarter-mile at goal pace
  • Walk 1-2 minutes

Try to hit your goal mile pace every lap. Decrease the rest interval as this gets easier, then increase the distance to a half-mile and three-quarter-mile intervals at that same pace.

Other running workout ideas:

Programs to consider:

Getting specific with your training in preparation to score well is the key to success. If your workout looks like this fitness test in some way, you will be moving in the right direction. Once the test is over, then you can focus on some of the other specifics of the training in your future at OCS and beyond.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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