How to Crush Military Fitness Tests

Army PT Training
Army 2nd Lt. Kyle Cook (left) and 2nd Lt. Alec Aguilar (second from right) attempt to lift weighted, 40-pound ammunition boxes as many times as possible during the Marine Corps Combat Fitness Test. (Photo Credit: Joan Vasey)

To enter into the military and every six months, members must pass the fitness test. Depending upon the branch of service, the PT tests vary in exercises, timed events, and run distances. Typically, there are three groups of test takers when scoring the test. You will have the following: Failures and Borderline Failures – Some people strive for the minimum standards on fitness tests. A borderline PASS / FAIL should not be anyone's goal. If you have a bad day (like we all do), you could easily be on the failing end of that fitness test. In some military units after failing, you get to work out with someone else in charge of you passing the next fitness test. Now you are on their time. The 0500 wake up for Remedial PT sessions have begun. The problem is that NO ONE wants to be there. Check out this related article on methods and remedial training to build you and / or your unit back up to speed.

Ideas on Ways to Train -  Running, Pushups, Pullups, Sit-ups Failures and learning HOW to train.

If injured or severely ill for a significant time, see related training article to help you build back up to passing standards.

Comfortable Passing Zone – The majority of service members are passing the standards rather easily each cycle by exercising regularly, avoiding over-eating, and just staying active. The tests are not designed for the world class athlete and anyone can be fit, even obtain advanced levels of fitness. Some basic daily habits of working out will get into the comfortable passing zone. Check out this related article on methods to steadily improve or maintain your goal fitness standards throughout your career.

The Classic PT Workout – If you do this PT Pyramid once a week with other sports or weight training mixed into the week, you will constantly be in the passing zone of PT tests and never have to worry about failing a fitness test. Many people like this workout so much, they do it every other day and get creative with weights, kettlebells, other calisthenics, and core exercises.

Those Who Strive to Max the Test – There is a group of people who train hard several days a week and crush any PT test and take these events as a personal challenge. This attitude is particularly common in military members, highly competitive spirits, and those seeking advanced training programs within the military that require challenging selection programs.

Pushing the PT / Running Limits – If you are in this group, you may your workouts tough. Here is a way to mix in sprints with goal paced running while adding in calisthenics testing events as well.

Max Rep Sets – If you are focusing on peaking with your PT scores, the Max Rep Set workout is a way to reach maximum level scores relatively quickly – IF – you are already in the intermediate level of fitness. This one is not for beginners.

Training for Timed Runs – Whether you are just trying to reach the passing stages or want to be the fastest runner in your group, the workouts in this related article will get you there. The only difference is your amount of effort and speed / pace you put into each running workout.      

Acing the Sit-ups – Nearly every fitness test has some form of core strength exercise – usually crunches or sit-ups. If you want to ace the sit-ups and score in the 100+ range in 2 minutes of 60+ range in 1 minute, you need to learn and muscle memory your goal pace. Whether you want to just pass or max the test, the difference is you pace. Focus on what your pace is every 30 seconds.

Examples:  If your goal is 80 in 2 minutes, your pace is 20 sit-ups in 30 seconds for a 2-minute test.  If maxing the test requires 100 sit-ups in 2 minutes, shoot for 25 reps every 30 seconds. And practice that pace. You can even “rest with 30 second sit-ups / crunches sets” in between weight room lifts, calisthenics sets, or running intervals. The trick to acing sit-ups is to learn your pace, build your 1-2 minute foundation at that pace, and stick to it.

Flexibility of the Trunk / Legs requires daily stretching and training in strength and flexibility.  Ending workouts or doing stretching and mobility days in the week are recommended. See ideas for a full core workout / stretching routine like the Lower Back Plan

Maxing the Pushups and PullupsBuilding upper body strength is key to success. Whether that is a foundation in weight training first, or strictly body weight calisthenics, you have to eventually turn these strength exercises into endurance exercises and maintain pushups and pullups at a steady pace for 1-2 minutes.Building muscle endurance to last two minutes to thoroughly max the test will take some effort but it can be done in a few months of consistent training.

Proper Form: A helpful method to learning how to do pushups properly and use chest, shoulders, and triceps together to maximize your effort.

Some classic training ideas for all events (pushups, sit-ups, and pullups): 

PT Pyramid   - To make this workout harder, add ¼,  ½, or 1 mile runs at your goal pace every 5 minutes.

PT SuperSet – To make this workout harder, add ¼, ½, or 1 mile runs at your goal pace every 5 minutes.

Here is an example of a way to put it all together in what is call the Classic PT Test Training Week for acing fitness test.

It is not recommended to train for a PT test year-round. But a cycle of 6-8 weeks or less even will put you in a solid PT test mode. After the Testing cycle, you should be doing other workouts that help you with the performance of your actual job in the military. If your job is extremely physical and your fitness can make the difference between life and death, then by all means, focus on all the elements of tactical fitness (strength, power, endurance, muscle stamina, speed, agility, flexibility, mobility) with your training.

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