Tactical Fitness: Strengthening Situps for Those in Shape

Army training.

Often people fail or are overly taxed by the two-minute sit-up test that is required every six months in the military.  Here is a question from an in-shape Navy petty officer who trains 5-6 days per week, but is lacking in the sit-up test for his PRT.


I am having a hard time with the sit-ups (2 minute, Navy PRT).  I work out 5-6 days a week and usually focus on weight training, and run every other day.  I am not out of shape at all, but I have a tough time with sit-ups.  I know I can fit more sit-ups in my schedule, but I do a lot of core work already.  Any specifics you can recommend? 

Thanks, Tom

Tom –

This is common and, yes, specifics are what you need, but you may have some other issues.  Usually the failures (or less than optimal scores) come in three groups:  

  1. Pacing issues that can be fixed with muscle memory pacing drills for a few days or weeks.  If you start off too fast, you will typically not be able to maintain that pace for two minutes.  From my experience, failing to find and maintain your goal pace is the biggest culprit to failing sit-ups.
  2. Lacking muscle endurance to do two minutes of sit-ups at ANY pace. If you do not practice 1-2 minute sets of situps it is difficult to finish the test at any goal pace.
  3. Technique issues hips, back, butt bone, shoulders/arm/neck, torso flexibility. This one is more structural in nature and you may want to have someone look at your form if situps are causing you any pain.

It sounds like you have a training plan already, so what I suggest is supplementing some situps and other core exercises into your normal program.  For instance, pick two days (like Tuesday and Thursday) to add rest with core strengthening exercises (not necessarily situps).  Get creative with both exercises and core stretches:  leg Levers, planks, crunches, weighted versions of planks and situps (light), but also stretching the lower back (basic yoga down dog, up dog, knee to chest, cat pose etc.) is a great way to strengthen and loosen the core.

The other 3-4 days should consist of focusing on the goal pace of situps.

I would recommend Mon / Wed / Saturday to do the following:  Add in sets of 30 seconds situps (shoot for the goal pace of 80 for instance – that is 20 sit-ups in 30 seconds.)  If you want more than 80 then do the math (25 in 30 seconds = 100 in two minutes).

Friday can be a running focused day (rest the core) and test on Saturday for the first two minutes, then continue with three to four 30 second sets throughout the workout.

  • Week 1 – 30 seconds of 20 reps of sit-ups, rest 4-5 minutes before doing it again. Perfect in between 1/2 mile repeats or doing 5-6 sets while in her room studying in the evening.  Goal is to get 4-5 sets of 30 second sit-ups.
  • Week 2-3 – Reduce rest times to less than 2 minutes
  • Week 4 – Try to put it all together in 1-2 minute sets. Take a training day off,  test 2 minutes

To rehash in chart form:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Strength / Upper body plus 4-5 sets of paced sit-ups for 30 seconds


Strength / Lower body plus rest with core (not sit-ups) exercises for 1-2 minutes in between each set of lifts.


Strength / Upper body plus 4-5 sets of paced sit-ups for 30 seconds


Strength / Lower body plus “rest with core (not sit-ups) exercises for 1-2 minutes in between each set of lifts.


Non impact Cardio and / or running focus

Core – rest day

Strength / Upper body plus 2 minute test of Situps THEN 3-4 sets of paced sit-ups for 30 seconds

Each week, reduce rest time in between situp sets as you are able. Make each week more challenging with less rest times.

Sunday, day 7, is your rest day. Focus on the flexibility of your hamstrings, hips, and lower back (mix in some foam roller exercises too).

This should push you into the zone of sit-ups on the test if you can be persistent with this type of schedule for 3-4 weeks.

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