How to Develop Load-Bearing Strength While Preparing for a PT Test

Workouts with dumbbells
Dumbbell. (Staff Sgt. Desiree Ware/U.S. Air Force photo)

This week, I'm posting in response to a request from a military candidate who needs to maintain high PT test scores while working on the ability to handle more load-bearing activities.

Many people can crush the calisthenics and cardio events on a fitness test but lack the necessary strength to handle events like rucking, fireman carries, stretcher carries, body drags, log PT and other load-bearing and grip events.

This system will maintain your calisthenics and endurance capabilities, but also build on the strength training events that are placed into a block periodization cycle. Here is how it works:

Warm up with calisthenics

Your warmups always will be similar, no matter whether today is a leg day or an upper-body day, even though you will swap out a few interchangeable exercises. The big three warmup exercises are push-ups, pull-ups and squats placed into a ladder drill with short jogs and dynamic stretches between sets.

Leg day

  • Squat: 1
  • Run: 50-100 meters at an easy jog
  • Squats: 2
  • Run: 50-100 meters at an easy jog
  • Squats: 3
  • Run: 50-100 meters but start to mix in 25 meters of dynamic stretches as you start to get warm.
  • Continue up the ladder until you get to 10 squats and stop.

This is a great ACFT warmup drill, too. Other cardio-based, leg-day options should be considered during the week.

Upper-body day

Do the same as above but with pull-ups and/or push-ups. Go with a ladder up to 10 of each.

After the upper- or lower-body ladder, run a warmup mile.

This warmup is a good way to make sure you are staying on top of muscle stamina and endurance needs for the calisthenics and cardio fitness tests while not burning out too much before you focus on strength training.

If it is a leg day for you, consider this Leg Day option for the tactical profession in your future.

Follow the above warmup with this upper-body strength and conditioning workout.

Repeat three times.

  • Bench press: 10
  • Dumbbell rows: 10 per arm

This push and pull combo can be done with minimal rest, as each exercise allows for an active rest of the opposing muscle group.

Death by Push-ups

10-minute plank with 10 push-ups every minute on the minute (EMOM).

This is a great training combo. Many branches of service are now testing plank pose instead of sit-ups or crunches. It is fine to rest in a side plank left or right, but try to stay in the plank or up push-up position as long as possible and build up to 10 minutes.

Repeat three times.

  • Weight vest pull-ups: max (or heavy pull-downs: 5-10 reps)
  • Weight vest dips: max
  • Dumbbell biceps curl and military: 10 (biceps curl that transitions into a military or overhead press movement with dumbbells)
  • Sit-ups: 1 minute

If sit-ups are part of your fitness test, add them as an active rest. Otherwise, pick your own core exercise for one minute.

PT Reset

The PT Reset is a way to balance out the front side of the body exercises with opposing muscle-group movements to help with balance and better posture.

The workout can go into a 3:1 Block Periodization model. This means that you focus on strength training for three weeks, then take a deload week (3:1 ratio). Make the deload and strength recovery week more of a calisthenics and cardio focus that resembles the PT test for which you are also preparing. You also should focus on maintaining your current high scores while in a lifting phase.

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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