Ask Stew: How to Pace to Ace Your Fitness Test

Recruits run at a drill instructor's set pace for a two-mile run (Photo By: Bridget M. Keane).

Do you want a better PFT score? Statistically speaking, most people's biggest issue when preparing for a physical fitness test is inefficient pacing and conditioning/technique. Running and swimming require three things to perform optimally: technique, conditioning and pacing strategy.

Here is a question from a special ops candidate who has to do both the 500-meter swim and the 1.5-mile timed run in his fitness test:

Stew, I think my biggest thing with my running and swimming is simply learning to pace myself. I'm sure you see it all the time with guys and their PST scores, where they just come blaring out of the gate. I've got to fix the same thing with my non-fin swimming so I can learn the right amount to hold back in the beginning. Fin swimming is good to go; I can maintain pace for distance with a pretty calm effort, with no joint or muscular stress from the jet fins afterward. Any suggestions? -- Shane

Shane, good question. Yes, I agree that the first lap or two can crush your overall time if you start off too fast on a timed swim or run. So, yes, focus on GOAL PACE.

Create a test-taking strategy. The last thing you want to do is show up for your first fitness test with a military special ops recruiter/mentor and fail because you have never practiced it before. Believe it or not, there are recruits who show up to a 500-yard swim not knowing whether they will even finish it their first time. That is no way to have a spec ops job interview. And this is an interview. You have to consider these fitness tests with recruiters/mentors as "job interviews," as they are your first entrance exam. They matter.

In order to build a strategy that works for you, you have to learn HOW to take this test by actually taking the test. You should know how it feels to run at your pace and to swim at your pace to yield the scores you want. You should also know that you will need more fuel by the latter half of the fitness test as you tend to "run out of gas" just when you need it for the last event, the 1.5-mile run test. See Nutrition for Fitness

Here is how to develop your test-taking strategy by learning your pace and training for your pace with events like running and swimming.

Same Pacing Workout with Swimming: (Do this 5-6 times a week)

Warm-up 500-yds CSS or freestyle (mix is fine too) but non-stop. When you "warm up" with a 500-yd or 500m swim, you are now training to make the 500m swim "nothing more than a warm-up." This is more of a psychological benefit, but it will also get you more prepared for swimming 500m at a fast pace.

After the warm-up, do the following 50/50 split workout:

Repeat 10 times

50m Swim freestyle FAST (6-8 strokes per breath)

50m NO REST go into Swim CSS -- at your goal pace*

Rest 10 seconds before starting again

*Goal pace swimming will depend on your abilities, but a good standard is a yard or meter per second. Most military swim tests are 500yd or 500m. Shoot for a yard per second and score 500 seconds, which is an above-average score of 8:20. This is good enough (actually above average) for most military programs, even special ops level swimming.

Do this swim workout 5-6 days a week. Minimum standard daily is 1,000-1,500m PERIOD if you want to get in shape to swim 500m fast.

For running, the same type of program works, but you can add in a sprint workout 1-2 times a week if you prefer If your conditioning is solid, focus on goal pace for a few weeks as your only running workout every day (4-5 times a week).

Running Workout #1 (2.5 miles total distance)

Run 1-mile warm-up/stretch

Repeat 6 times

400m at goal mile pace (example 1:30 = 9 min, 1.5-mile goal pace)

Rest with 1-minute calisthenics (squats, lunges, pushups, sit-ups -- your choice, depending on upper body or lower body days). OR if you want to just focus on running, rest with a 1-minute walk.

Run 1-mile cooldown/stretch. Mix in a few sprints if you prefer, with slow jog intervals.

Running Workout #2 (3 miles total distance)

Run 1-mile warm-up/stretch

Repeat 4 times

800m at goal mile pace (example, 3 minutes = 9 min, 1.5-mile goal pace)

Run 1-mile cooldown/stretch. Mix in a few sprints if you prefer, with slow jog intervals.

More running ideas:


Drop mile pace


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