How to Create a Fitness Test for Yourself

Staff Sgt. Brian Lecates, 436th Force Support Squadron Airmen Leadership School instructor, competes in the 436th Security Forces Squadron 17th Annual Korean War Ruck March Feb. 27, 2016, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. (Tech. Sgt. Elizabeth Morris/U.S. Air Force photo)

If you were the fitness king for a day and could create a fitness test for yourself to qualify for any job or goal, what would it be? Since this is a military fitness blog, we are looking more for military fitness solutions for individuals, but any goal is fine if you are not planning to take tactical fitness tests for military, police or fire.

I like to take an entire week to test a wide variety of abilities. Spread the test out over a week, and doing a split-routine test could look like this:

Day 1: Cardio endurance (run, swim, and/or ruck) events, 1.5-mile run, 500-meter swim, four-mile ruck (50 pounds) for time. Depending on the job, you may need all of the above or just one or two to test your abilities. Are you ready for a Spec Ops Triathlon that includes a run, swim and ruck?

Day 2: Upper-body test: 20-pound pull-ups, body-weight bench press or hand-release push-ups on cadence.

Day 3: Sprint and agility: 300-yard shuttle run, 5-10-5 pro agility test, 300-meter sprint or beep test (a multistage fitness test)

Day 4: Lower body and lifts. Deadlift, three repetitions maximum; standing long jump

Day 5: Hips, core and grip. Farmer walks for max distance with two 50-pound dumbbells in each hand, plank five minutes or cadence flutter kicks five minutes OR combine all three with max rep hanging knee-ups until your grip fails.

The time and logistics involved in this type of testing is a bit overwhelming and not very practical in large military groups. However, this way helps you test endurance, strength, power, speed, agility, flexibility, mobility, grip and core stability. These are all the essential elements of fitness needed if you want to be a well-rounded tactical athlete.

You could do all the events in a single session or in one day with rest periods, but splitting up the days will allow a better assessment of all elements because you allow yourself to recover from the previous day's events.

What would your test be? Do you prefer the push-ups, sit-ups, 1.5- to two-mile runs that make up the tests that most of the tactical fitness world uses? Some people still like to do those tests even after they've served for years.

A few branches of the service already are making changes to the way they test the fitness of their members. For instance, the Marine Corps does it with a tough physical fitness test (PFT) and a Combat Fitness Test (CFT) .

PFT: Pull-ups (or push-ups), sit-ups or plank, three-mile run. Though they added a few options, the test is relatively the same and keeps the old muscle stamina and cardio endurance testing methods.

The CFT is the most recent change to tactical fitness testing within the Marine Corps:

Run 880 yards fast (two laps around a track), simulating movement to contact in battle dress uniform.

Lift a 30-pound ammunition can overhead from shoulder height for max reps for two minutes. (push press)

Perform a maneuver-under-fire simulated event, a timed 300-yard shuttle run in which Marines are paired up by size and perform the following tasks: sprints, agility course, high crawl, low crawl, body drag, fireman carry, ammo can carry, push-ups and grenade throw.

There are other branches and units who have good tests that test multiple elements of fitness, and you can pull from them to make your own.

The Army also has followed suit with the Army Combat Fitness Test that tests more elements of fitness. The Army CFT is gaining acceptance as more people start to train differently, adding in exercises other than push-ups, sit-ups and two-mile runs.

The Army CFT is a more thorough testing process as it introduces the soldier to strength and power movements (deadlift, power throws); speed, agility and load bearing (sprint, drag carry, grip); more grip, core, hip strength and flexibility (leg tucks); muscle stamina (hand-release push-ups); and cardio endurance with the two-mile run.

Here are some of my favorite answers that I got when I posted this question on social media:

The Bro Split

Yes! There are many out there who like the push/pull/leg split routines in the weight room. Here is a neat idea with a weight, calisthenics and cardio event each day:

Day 1: Push. Bench press one-rep max or body-weight max reps and ammo can push press max or dips for two minutes, followed by a 1.5-mile timed run.

Day 2 Pull. Rope-climb with no feet and max weighted pull-ups (20 pounds), followed by a 500-meter swim and tread for five minutes with no hands. For dry land speed and agility instead, try the 300-yard shuttle run or 300- to 400-meter sprint.

Day 3: Legs. Deadlift three reps max or kettlebell goblet squats two minutes for max reps, followed by an obstacle course and complete four-mile ruck with 50 pounds in under one hour.

The Classic PT Test

Many veteran friends shared that they still like the old-school PT test to see how they are doing compared to their days in the service. Many old Frogmen enjoy the BUD/S physical screening test (PST) of a 500-yard swim, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and 1.5-mile run. Several old Marines still like the USMC PFT of being tested in pull-ups and the three-mile run.

I must agree with the older frogs on this one. I still like to get after the PST during our spring and summer calisthenics and cardio cycles, but I also like many of the lift, agility and obstacle course tests in the winter lift cycles.

One reader shared a comment that took the challenge of being fitness king for a day to a much broader scope. He wrote that the test in any fitness unit is important, but that test does not necessarily have to measure elite fitness standards.

A job-related fitness policy that has a standard health and wellness test (medical evaluation plus testing of basic fitness, calisthenics and cardio) is great for general fitness and less physically demanding jobs.

Depending on the physical nature of your job or specialized unit, you must create a more specific fitness test that is suitable to the mission. In other words, a truck driver does not need to be in SEAL shape, but they should not be unhealthy and overweight, either. Additionally, any test must be practical in terms of time and logistics. Keep it simple and remember that we're trying to measure a wide variety of abilities for a total force.

What is your ideal fitness test? Get creative and keep it fun with events you like, but also address any weakness you may have.

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

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