A 'Dirty Dozen' of Tactical Fitness Training and​ Testing Ideas

A U.S. Air Force airman participates in the swimming portion of the physical ability and stamina test.
A U.S. Air Force airman participates in the swimming portion of the physical ability and stamina test (PAST) at the Young Men’s Christian Association in Sumter, S.C., Dec. 10, 2014. (Airman 1st Class Diana M. Cossaboom/U.S. Air Force photo)

Training large groups with varied fitness levels is one of the most challenging things to accomplish with success. Success will be defined by the group's increased fitness levels, as well as not injuring people who may be ill-​​prepared for new, challenging exercises. Here is a great question from a new PT coordinator concerned with adding new ways to test the group in exercises and​ events not common to the Air Force physical fitness test (PFT).

My unit has placed me in charge of the PT program, which is a combination of remedial PT failures as well as the top fitness levels on our base. We are -- for the most part -- a competitive group, and though we do focus on the PFT exercises so we stay on top of the test, I would like to change it up and add new fitness testing exercises to challenge our team. I recall you writing that there were about 10 to 12 exercises that have been deemed as acceptable (validated) for most military and police fitness tests. 

However, there will certainly be some naysayers who will be less than enthusiastic about fitness programming and evaluation on a department-​​wide basis -- even if it is for fun. I know you have a lot of experience in this area, so I wanted to see what your thoughts were on the best exercises/tasks for testing purposes.

Many tests are used by a variety of military, police, SWAT team and special-ops units; some are actual fitness tests, selection evaluations and general or​ advanced fitness events. Here is a list of what I like to call the "dirty dozen" if you need differing exercises to test during workouts each week.

Your test is what I called the PFT Bible, the standard push-ups, sit-ups and 1.5-mile run, which is used by most of the military and half of the police departments in the nation. Keeping these exercises are easy to add, as you can "rest" with running, sit-ups/crunches, plank poses and push-ups between a circuit of many of the following list of other testable exercises:

Running/Other Cardio Additions

  • 120-yard shuttle run (4 x 30 yards): Used by the Drug Enforcement Administration
  • 300-meter sprint: Used by the FBI
  • Longer runs/rucks: Two-mile run (Army), three-mile run (USMC)
  • Beep test: A version of the shuttle run done on "beeps" at decreasing intervals each lap. Used by various police departments.
  • 12-minute swim test: How far can you swim in 12 minutes? Used by the Coast Guard.
  • 500-meter or 500-yard swim test: Used by Air Force Pararescue (AFPJ), Navy SEAL, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), divers and RECON

Calisthenics/Weights/Core Additions

  • Pull-ups/flexed arm hangs: Used by USMC and various special operations and police departments.
  • Pull-ups with body armor: Used by special ops and FBI SWAT.
  • Bench press: Body-weight percentage for max reps (Used by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and various spec ops).
  • Kettlebell snatch test: Five or 10 minutes (used by U.S. Secret Service).
  • Step test: Step up on a box (up/down) for five minutes for max reps (used by various federal police)
  • Vertical jump: Jump as high as you can from a stationary position (used by various police departments)
  • 40-yard sprint: From a prone position, carrying weapon (used by FBI SWAT)

Adding many of these exercises into a fun circuit or a group of upper-body and lower-body day supersets will create some variety for your PT programs. These exercises are related to the standard PFT in some way and actually will help your team to continue to improve on the PFT and add new life to the same old PT exercises.

Don't forget about the UBRR -- Upper Body Round Robin -- an ultra-challenging test for your upper-end, fitness-level members.

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 stew@stewsmith.com.

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