How to Ace the Navy SEAL PST

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

The physical screening test (PST) is your entry exam to the Navy SEAL teams. You have to ace this first, then get through Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) and SEAL qualification training (SQT), but it is your first step nonetheless. Consider this your job interview.

Where many go wrong is that they walk into a recruiter’s office and discover that they have to take a fitness test without ever preparing for it. 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 before taking it for real, you will do fine. If your first time ever swimming 500 yards or running 1.5 miles is at this first test, you will be lucky to finish, 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 with 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 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 PST, ASVAB and CSORT combined scores in the nation first.

Now, if you go into your first test and crush it with scores like 8:20 500-yard swim, 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 20 pull-ups and nine-minute 1.5-mile timed run, you will be in good stead to focus on getting through BUD/S and prepare yourself for longer runs, longer swims with fins, treading, pool skills and load-bearing activity

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

500-yard swim: The first skill is swimming, and it requires learning the breaststroke, side stroke or modified side stroke known as the combat swimmer stroke (CSS). The way to ace this test is to break down the 500-yard swim into 10 50-yard 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, etc. Five hundred yards in 500 seconds equals 8 minutes, 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:

Warm up with a 500-yard swim -- any stroke (now a 500-yard swim will become a “warmup” mentally.)

  • Repeat 10 times
  • Swim 50 yards fast -- freestyle
  • Swim 50-yard 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.

Push-ups: Fitness tests with push-ups in two minutes are tough and require you to build your muscle stamina with practicing big sets of push-ups every other day. No need to do large-volume push-ups (200+) in a workout every day. You need to recover from the 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 push-ups done for time.  A way that is successful is to do one 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 push-ups in two-minute 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 two-minute test as four 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 two minutes. See Sit-ups Pace Routine.

Pull-ups: These require practice. Not just with pull-ups, but getting your grip, biceps, shoulders and back muscles stronger if you cannot do them. For a max repetition test, you obviously have to do several. To get to 20 pull-ups, you have to turn a strength exercise into an endurance exercise. This takes time and practice every other day. See Pull-up Progression: Zero to 20 pull-ups.

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 nine-minute, 1.5 mile run, you need to learn how to run a 1:30 quarter-mile, a three-minute half-mile and 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, four- or five-mile run at an eight-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 it. Not necessarily all together, but your workouts should have elements of some of these events. 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)

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 stew@stewsmith.com.

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