Common Issues with Taking a Fitness Test

Situp workout.

Every command in the military will have people who struggle with the bi-annual fitness test.  Many are new to this type of training and testing, some are recovering from an injury that sidelined their preparation, and unfortunately there are others that are just not prepared and too deconditioned to pass the test.  I often get asked to help prepare all levels of fitness test takers.  Recently, at a nearby Navy command, I saw several very common issues people have with failing one or more sections of the standard Navy PRT:  Pushups, situps, sit and reach, and the 1.5 mile run.

Here is what I observed:

Lack of Fuel, Lack of Pacing, Lack of Technique

Proper Fuel Prior to a Workout

This all started at an early morning PT session that started at 6am.  Many people were running on fumes of the previous day's meal, so they were starting a workout with a low blood sugar.  Many people may have a drink of water prior starting a fitness program, but if you are going to be pushing your limits to master a test or if it is all you can do it barely pass, you need fuel.  This is a broad recommendation that has several correct answers. 

The thing is, you have to find what works best for you.  I personally find an orange or banana and a few sips of Gatorade or juice is enough sugar to get me through a testing fitness session.  Doing max pushups and sit-ups for two minutes straight burns a lot of sugar. Running a mile and a half afterwards at a pace that gets the heart rate higher than your normally run burns even more sugar. 

This sugar is pulled from the muscles or liver in the form of glycogen.  Typically, we have about 20-30 minutes of this high-octane fuel.  If you have a high heart rate, you are anaerobic and are burning this fuel primarily. Having some form of good carbohydrates will help you during those last few minutes of the fitness test when you have to put out to maximize your scores. Depending on your fitness level and conditioning, this could be the difference of passing or failing the test. Even those who are conditioned enough to max the test will have reduced scores if they run out of fuel.  Fuel is key!

Related article:  ABD's of Nutrition

Pacing the Sit-Ups and the Run

Too many people start out way too fast on two-minute sit-up tests as well as the first lap of a 1.5 mile run test.  To fix both, so you do not fall off your pace, you have to practice the events for several weeks at a goal pace

For instance:

Problem:  Sit-ups – Many people fail sit-ups or fail to reach a competitive level because in the first 30 seconds, they can do nearly 1 sit-up per second.  Even most people who do not practice sit-ups regularly can do this for 30 seconds.  The problem is that for the next 1:30 of the test, you do not match your first 30 second performance. 

Answer:  Start out slower.  Practice a goal pace for 30 seconds, 1 minute, and 2 minute timed sets.  Every thirty seconds, you should be at 25% of your goal pace.  If your goal is 80 sit-ups in two minutes, work to muscle memory the pace of 20 per every 30 seconds.

Tips:  Do not waste your stomach muscle energy on going down. Staying flexed during the up and the down part of this exercise will take away those last 5-10 or more sit-ups in a two-minute test.  Exert on the UP movement and relax on the DOWN letting gravity do its job.

Add in plank poses.  Also, to balance out your core, add in plank poses any time you perform situps.  For every minute you do sit-ups, rest in the plank position 1-2 times that long.

Related Article:  Proper Situps

Stew Smith, plank pose

Problem:  Timed Runs – Similarly to the sit-ups, starting the first lap (1/4 mile) of your 1.5 mile run too fast can lead to poorer than expected performance.  Often the adrenaline of testing is pumping and everyone pushes too hard out of the gate. Even after hearing me say, “keep this first lap slower than you think,” people will still will run 10-15 seconds faster than they should.  I often see people who can barely run a 12 minute 1.5 mile run, come across the first lap at a pace equivalent to a 9 minute 1.5 mile runner (90 seconds).

Answer:  Practice your goal pace.  If you take your goal pace, divide it by how many laps you must run or use the mile markers on the course, you will find your first lap pace can actually be comfortable. For instance, if you want to run a 10:30 1.5mile timed run, you need to run at a 7-minute mile pace.  That is also broken down to a 1:45 quarter mile and a 3:30 half mile.  Making a workout of several sets of 1:45 quarter and 3:30 half mile repeats is a great way to get faster at pacing your runs. Rest with 50-100% of the time it takes you to run that distance.  Eventually, your rest will become less and less required and you will be able to maintain your goal pace for the entire 1.5 mile timed run.

Related article:  Drop Mile Pace / Increase Speed

Pushups:  All practice and hand placement

Practice makes perfect with pushups.  Perfect Pushups!  Pushups need to be done with good form (all the way up, all the way down) but proper hand placement can make a huge difference.  Make sure you treat your pushups the same as a bench press.  Your hands should make a straight line across your chest. 

See link for pictures for hand placement tips.  Pushup Hand Placement.  Also, practice pushups every other day using a variety of workouts as linked below.

Stew Smith, pushup pose

Related articles:  PT Workouts

Depending on your PFT, there are likely dozens of issues that technique and pace can fix. Make sure you are optimizing your scores and not losing time or reps due to your lack of preparation or strategy.  The Military, Police, and Fire Fighter PT Test Survival Guide (ebook) or book has answers to more than a dozen common issues with a variety of fitness tests.

If you have questions, please feel free to email me at

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Fitness Military Fitness