How Good Is Good Enough for Special Ops?

Soldier does push-ups during the Army physical fitness test.
Soldiers from the U.S. Army Medical Command participate in their semiannual physical fitness test on May 5, 2019, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. (Staff Sgt. David Meyer, U.S. Army Medical Command Public Affairs/U.S. Army photo)

Throughout your journey in the military, you will hear people describing their PT scores as "good," "great," "optimal" and, occasionally, as a "PT animal."

But what is good enough?

All scores are relative to the individual, programming, branch of service and the person evaluating the performance.

As a tactical fitness trainer with decades of this type of training, I will try to add objectivity to a vague scoring process to better guide candidates along the journey of getting to and through special operations selection and getting good enough at everything.

Navigating the three phases of tactical fitness (specifically, the spec-ops selection process) is a confusing and challenging process in which you will question what you need to do, whether you did enough and whether you are really prepared.

The number one question to ask yourself is, "What is my weakness?"

How do you determine whether you have a weakness? Below is a range of scores going from "good enough" to "PT animal." Anything lower than "good enough" on the chart still will be above the minimum standards, so you will qualify with those scores. However, you may have to engage your mental toughness and dig deep to avoid being in the bottom half of the class or borderline failing in certain events.

In selection courses such as BUD/S, Air Force Special Warfare, Army Special Forces, Marine Recon/MARSOC, Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer and SWAT team training, your weakness typically will be exposed in the first days of training.

Getting to the Training

There are many special-ops fitness tests, but most involve similar exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and running various distances. Some include swimming.

This assessment will determine whether you get to attend these competitive training programs, so getting "good enough" is not enough. You will need to push the optimal scores. Anything near or better than the following PT scores and times will serve you well as you journey through phase 1 of tactical fitness -- getting selected.

*Notice I am not discussing the minimum standards; you can look those up on the official recruiting websites. The minimum standards never should be the ultimate goal for anyone seeking special operations selection. Typically, minimum standards are not good enough. However, there is a small percentage of graduates who were accepted on the minimum standards and found a way to gut out every challenging day and meet the standards or avoid quitting or getting injured.

What is good enough? Here are some rules to consider:

1. Stop doing daily PT.

Daily push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups are not required. Often, people do 500 push-ups, 100-200 pull-ups and 500-1,000 sit-ups/ab exercises seven days a week. Instead, do upper-body PT one day, followed by cardio and lower-body PT/weights the next.

Your body needs time to recover, especially if you are pushing those kind of numbers in your workouts. Besides, if you can do that many reps in a workout, that is good enough. Move on to another weakness, such as running, rucking or swimming.

If you can score 80-100 reps in push-ups/sit-ups per two minutes and 20 pull-ups, that is good enough. But building a higher volume of 200-300 reps and 100+ pull-ups on upper-body days is a foundation in muscle stamina that will be useful in spec-ops selection.

2. Running

Fifty-plus miles a week is plenty, much better than good enough and perhaps too much if you are starting to display injury and aches/pains caused by running (feet, shins, knees, hips). Depending upon your background and military branch, you most likely need to focus on faster-paced four- to six-mile runs and rucks rather than 10- to 15-mile runs.

At BUD/S, if you do not pass the four-mile timed run every week at roughly a seven-minute mile pace or faster, you will be kicked out. That is 26 weeks of four-mile timed runs. Getting better at faster-paced, shorter runs and limiting weekly totals to 30-35 miles is good enough.

Some will argue that 25 miles per week is plenty; they just need to be at a seven-minute mile pace or faster. Build a sub-six-minute mile pace for your shorter PT testing runs and a six- to seven-minute mile pace for your longer four- to six-mile runs.

3. Swimming

If you are a swimmer, you may not need to spend much time in the water and instead focus on other weaknesses, such as getting used to gravity (weights, load-bearing rucking, running). However, many people's weakness is swimming, and they must train in the pool near daily (5-6 days a week) to get into "good enough" swimming shape.

The goal pace that is "good enough" and might even put you in the top half of the class is a yard per second, no matter what distance, with or without fins.

500 yards or 500 meters in 500 seconds = 8:20 swim.

That is great. Many of the groups I work with consider this their "personal" minimum standard, which puts them in the top 25% of the class.

1,000 yards in 1,000 seconds = 16:40 with fins.

Once again, a yard per second is a good/great goal pace. If you already can do that, move on to something else. Keep this pace up for 2,000 yards, or one nautical mile, and you have a 32- to 33-minute time.

If you can do your two-mile ocean swim in roughly 60-65 minutes or faster, you will be good enough and in the top half of most classes. Faster than an hour in a two-mile swim is a great/optimal level score.

4. Rucking

In some selection programs, you will see a rucking pace that must be kept, or you will fail to meet the standards. These range in speed and distance, but a good enough/fast but steady sustainable rucking pace is 10-12 minutes per mile. Typically, the minimum standard is a 15-minute mile pace or 4 mph. But if you can get closer to 5 mph, you will be in the top half of the class and likely meet those mystery distance rucks in which you do not know the distance when you start.

The final takeaway: Do not spend your time doing more and more of the things you are good at doing. You need to get good at things that will be assessed in the testing and selection phases.

Do your research and understand what you are about to endure. Then practice it. Practice your weaknesses until they become strengths.

And don't do it until you get it right; do it until you cannot get it wrong, even on a bad day. That type of fitness foundation will be what you need to be a competitive tactical athlete, no matter what program you are training for.

Related articles for recruits seeking spec ops:

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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