Ask Stew: Strategies for Improving PST Scores

A student in the Joint Corporals Leadership Development Course takes the opening physical training test in March on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. (Photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel DeCook)

Let me be clear, I do not like the phrase “tips and tricks,” especially when asked in such a manner: “Do you have any tips to becoming a better runner / swimmer?” My initial answers want to be – YES – run and swim more. But it does not end there with these type of questions:  “Do you have any tricks to getting more pushups, pullup, or situps, on fitness test?”  Or the grand finale of these type of questions, “Do you have any secrets to getting through BUDS?"

My answers to these questions are NO – there are no tips or tricks to getting better PT scores or through challenging selection programs. There is NO SECRET SAUCE. Your increases in performance all requires WORK. But, I do have strategies and methods to help.  See the question below that prompted the above rant:

Stew, Do you have any tips to scoring better on the Navy PST. It seems that I can do OK on the events individually, but putting them all together 500yd swim, pushups, situps, pullups, and 1.5 mile run is killing my PT and run scores. Thanks for the time. Jack

Let’s call tips and tricks what I assume people mean when they use it – STRATEGIES. Do I have any strategies to help with better PST scores – YES. But they are not tricks, tips or easy.  They all require hard work and practice. In fact, many popular articles written in the past contain these “tips” that you need to apply not just individually but as a group of exercises in a circuit so to speak. Getting in shape for the PST require you do start having workouts that look like the PST.

Swim first – Do your swim first as it will tire you out for upper body PT and the run. Your glycogen, electrolytes (energy stores) will be lower and need to be replenished during the workout / test itself with sips of some form of sugar / electrolyte drink that you like (Gatorade, etc) especially if you are sweating profusely during the test.  See more info here – Combat Swimmer Stroke  (video)

Push-ups – It is recommended to do push-ups, bench presses, dips, military presses in an upper body workout every other day with regular changes to focus on strength and muscle stamina with your body weight. More push-ups means you are taking a strength training exercise and getting your first few reps and turning it into a muscle endurance exercise. Play around with bigger sets to push your endurance in this exercise but use the days in between push days to rest that muscle group. Do legs days or cardio days in between days of max push-ups (pushing) workouts. See Push-up Push for 2 week challenge. But see proper push-ups for form tips.

Sit-ups – Like running, sit-ups require you to learn a goal pace.  For instance, if you want 100 sit-ups in 2 minutes, you need a pace of 25 sit-ups in 30 seconds. Most people lose their pace when they do 30-35+ in the first 30 seconds. Then they discover that they cannot match that pace in the next 1:30 and maybe only achieve 65-70 sit-ups. Learn the pace and in a few days you will score in the 80-90s if that was your problem. See Proper Situp Pace Drills.

Pull-ups – These are the toughest for most people. Heavier people tend to have more issues but the bottom line is you have to practice pull-ups, or start by getting used to your bodyweight hanging from the bar.  See Three Step Progression for Pull-ups.  Also try the Pull-up Push.

Learn How to Transition from the PT to the Run. Taking the 10 minutes in between the PT and the run and get the blood back down to your legs after max rep sets of push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups is key to you running efficiently in the next event.

1.5 mile run – Learn your goal pace and stick to it. Practice it with 400-800m intervals.  Running last is a tough combination that you have to get used to. In fact, even when doing a longer distance runs 4-5+ miles, make sure the last 1.5 miles of the run are at close to testing / goal pace speed.  Push yourself on the last 1.5 mile run in other words. This is preparing you for the last event of the PST this way and you can do that any day. See 1.5 mile Running Link.

Putting it all together, I created the PST Clinic to teach a strategy to preparing and testing yourself so you reach optimal scores. See how to take a PST and build a strategy around your strengths and weaknesses. To do this requires you to regularly test yourself with self PST workouts. In fact, doing the Double PST is always a good way to make a single PST easier.

More Articles to Reference: CSS Swimming Clinic, Evolution of Running Styles, Pt Progressions, Classic PT Week

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