Ask Stew: 'I Need a PFT Starter Kit'

Soldiers go through monthly physical training.
U.S. soldiers, with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, complete various exercises in a monthly physical training event in the Central Command area of responsibility in Syria, Dec. 14, 2020. (Spc. Jensen Guillory/Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve)

Preparing for a fitness test to get selected into a training program, as well as training for the selection course, is an incredible challenge. Many people in the military, police and firefighter communities seeking to advance into special operations, special tactics and rescue diver types find themselves in this dilemma. Here is an email from one such tactical athlete:

Stew, I hope I have given myself enough time to prepare for the selection course PFT I am preparing for in the military. What do you recommend for a fitness test that contains push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and a 1.5-mile run. The following training will be tougher than the test, so I need to up my game at the same time as preparing for the PT test. Any recommendations on a "PFT Starter Kit" for a test about two months away?

Thanks, Stan

Stan, yes, given your current fitness level is not beginner and you have a steady foundation of physical activity for the past several months/years, a focused program to master this PT test as well as follow-on selection training is possible in a few months.

Here is where I recommend you start if you want to build it yourself:

Classic Week of PT: This workout includes all the elements you are seeking to pass in a one-week program that is scalable and repeatable as needed, however, I find the same old week done for too long gets a little boring, so you could opt for a program like the PFT Bible or the PT Test Survival Guide.

Running Plan: If you need a little extra assistance with running, you can supplement this running plan into your week or replace the above plan, if needed.

Getting Stronger with PT programs: If you want to get better at PT tests and ace the push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups, use a system of workouts, versus just one style of training. Incorporate the PT Pyramid once a week, the Super Set once a week and the Max Rep Set Workouts once a week. 

Do not do the same muscle groups on back to back days. Give yourself a day in between not to do upper-body PT. You can work legs and do more running, swimming and rucking, depending upon the type of selection you are seeking to attend. Some other technique tips.

My short answer for you is to start training specifically for your test and the events of the selection today. The next two months can be a perfect amount of time for you to build your body, confidence and training abilities to handle the daily grind of a selection course.

PS: if your training requires rucking or carrying gear (backpack; a self-contained breathing apparatus, or SCBA; body armor), you may want to add in some lifting, rucking or weight-vest workouts when doing your calisthenics workouts.

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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