How to ACE the Navy SEAL PST

Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL students participate in surf passage at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. (U.S. NavyMass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Russell)
Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL students participate in surf passage at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. (U.S. NavyMass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Russell)

The Physical Screening Test (PST) is your entry exam to the Navy SEAL Teams, you have to ace this first, then get through BUD/s and SQT, but it is your first step nonetheless. Consider this your job interview / entry exam.

Where many go wrong is they walk into a recruiter’s office and discover that they have to take a fitness test having never prepared for it EVER. They get the paperwork going, get through MEPS, and join the Delayed Entry Program (DEP) then they take their first PST with the SEAL mentor of the recruiting district.  If you have practiced this test dozens of time prior to taking it for real, you will do fine.  If your first time ever swimming 500yards or running 1.5 miles at this first test, you will be lucky to even finish it much less pass. So now, on this first Navy job interview, you have been placed in the failure group. This is not the best first impression you can make for yourself and likely the first former SEAL contractor you have ever met. 

You can stay in the delayed entry program for a year if you need it, taking PSTs with your mentor every week or two, but it is on YOU to train for this test.  If it takes you several months to just pass the PST, you still may not be eligible for the competitive scores required to be submitted for the draft system which takes the best PSTs / ASVABs / CSORT combined scores in the nation first. Now, if you go into your first test and crush it with scores like:  8:20 500 yd swim, 100 pushups, 100 sit-ups, 20 pullups, and 9 minute 1.5 mile timed run, you will be in good stead to now focus on getting through BUD/S and prepare yourself for longer runs, longer swims with fins, treading, pool skills, load bearing activity like rucking, log PT, and boat carries.  This alone is where most people who get to BUD/S neglect to accomplish fully as it is easy to get TO BUD/S but it is difficult to get THROUGH BUD/S. This is Phase 1 and Phase 2 of Tactical Fitness defined.  Giving yourself time in both phases is required, but once you master the PST, it is easy to maintain those scores while you prepare yourself for the more rigorous events of SEAL training.

Strategies for Each Event:

500yd Swim – First skill is swimming and it requires technique learning the underwater recovery strokes of breast stroke, side stroke or modified side stroke known as the combat swimmer stroke (CSS).  Watch videos on the CSS.   The way to ace this test is to break down the 500yard swim into 10 x 50yd events.  Learn your pace.  If you want an 8:20 that requires you to do 50 yards in 50 seconds. 100 yards in 100 seconds. 500 yards in 500 seconds equals 8 minutes and 20 seconds. Perfectly pacing this swim will yield those results every time IF you can get in cardio shape to maintain that pace.  One workout we like to do to help with that is sprints / goal pace swimming:

Warmup with a 500 yard swim – any stroke (now a 500 yard swim will become a “warmup” mentally!)

  • Repeat 10 times
  • Swim 50 yards fast – free style
  • Swim 50 yards CSS at your goal pace

If you are new to swimming, it is recommended to get into the pool 4-6 days a week and practice the 500 yard swim, learn your goal pace intervals, tread water as a rest, practice bottom bouncing and swim with big scuba fins on leg days (after squats / lunges / hill runs etc.).

Swimming Key Points:  technique, pace, cardio conditioning, watch videos for assistance.

Pushups – Fitness test with Pushups in 2 minutes are tough are require you to build your muscle stamina with practicing big sets of pushups every OTHER DAY.  No need to do large volume pushups (200+) in a workout every day. In fact, you need to recover from previous day’s workout when doing high volume calisthenics, just as you would with weight training. Push your pace on this one with perfect form to get fast pushups done for time.  A way that is successful is to do 1 minute as fast as you can without stopping. Then do sets of 5-10 with small rest sets placed in the last minute to push into the 100 pushups in 2 minutes zone.  Typically, if you can do 70-80 in the first minute (that is fast but doable), you will be able to do small sets of 5-10 for the last minute to get close to 100 reps.  Pushup Form.

Sit-ups – Pace yourself in 30 second intervals. Consider the 2 minutes test as 4 x 30 second blocks. Start off on a steady pace – not a sprint pace. You only need to do 20-25 in the first 30 seconds and maintain that pace for the remaining time to get 80-100 sit-ups in 2 minutes. Muscle memory that pace.  See Sit-ups Pace Routine.

Pullups – These require practice. Not just with pullups, but getting your grip, biceps, shoulders, and back muscle stronger if you cannot do them.  For a max repetition test, you obviously have to do several. To get to 20 pullups you have to turn a strength exercise into an endurance exercise.  This takes time and practice EVERY OTHER DAY.  See Pullup Progression – Zero to 20 Pullups.

Another classic PT Test workout can be found in the classic military PT test training week article.

1.5 mile run – Like swimming, learn your pace to reach your goal time. If you want a 9 minute 1.5 mile run, you need to learn how to run a 1:30 quarter mile, a 3 minute half mile, a six minute mile pace. Multiple sets of running at a pace for these shorter distances is much better than going for a long slow 4-5 mile run at an 8 minute mile pace. Focus your running set at a pace and then get in shape to master that pace.  Running Timed Runs / Dropping Goal Pace.

To get good at this PT test you need to practice this test.  Not necessarily all together but your workouts should have elements of some of these events.  Especially the events you are weakest, you need to place into your regular training routine often – not every day not at least the upper body days, running workouts, and swimming workouts.  For more about the entire test, minimum, competitive, and recommended standards – see Navy SEAL Standards

Check out the official Navy SEAL / SWCC Website (SEALSWCC.com)

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Fitness Navy SEAL Training