Struggling with a Military Fitness Test? Here’s How to Find Another Way Forward

Basic crewman training candidates tread water in a pool while waiting for instructions during their first physical screening test at Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado in California.
Basic crewman training candidates tread water in a pool while waiting for instructions during their first physical screening test at Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado in California, May 11, 2009. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Shauntae Hinkle-Lymas/U.S. Navy photo)

Whatever the challenge, look for another way to get there if something does not work for you and you fail to meet the standards or finish what you started. As Thomas Edison said, "There's a way to do it better. Find it."

Here is an email from a young sailor in the Navy looking to change career paths:

Stew, I enlisted at 18 after high school mainly to learn a skill and get on the GI Bill for college. I am not enjoying my current rate and want to prepare to become a Navy diver, maybe learn underwater welding. Any recommendations? I took the Navy PST in DEP [delayed entry program] and never passed it, or I might have been a diver after boot camp. Thanks for your guidance. Very Respectfully, Sean.

Sean, I advise getting on a Physical Screening Test training program and creating training strategies to help you ace the PST. Practice pool skills such as treading water, swimming and general water confidence; run progressively; and add in calisthenics because you will see push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups again.

As you know, the Navy PST for jobs like SEAL, Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman (SWCC), Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)/diver, and rescue swimmer is the entrance exam, and preparation and taking the test as a workout on occasion is key to your success in the future if you want to get to the training.

Getting to the training, though, is not enough to graduate and get through training to become a diver. The better you improve your overall fitness and water comfortability, the better you will endure the diving school you seek. This is what I call Phase 1 (getting to the training) and Phase 2 (getting through the training) of tactical fitness.

I advise you to look more into the Construction Battalion (CB), or Seabees. Then, as you have changed rates in that community, adding diving to your skill set can be part of your career progression if you still want to master underwater welding/diving and be part of an underwater construction team. But if you want the streamlined option to dive school, consider being a Navy salvage diver by attending Dive School and becoming part of a Navy dive unit.

As you can see, you have some options in front of you, and your path will largely depend on your time in service, your current rating manning and the year groups of the potential rates you want to try out for. Regardless of these answers, if you do not do well on the Navy PST and get command approval to try out for these jobs, you are limited in your opportunities. My advice is to be the best sailor you can be in your current job and work hard to crush that Navy PST.

See related articles on improving the physical skills you need:

Check out the Classic PST Training Week, as it includes more swimming, which you need, as well as more calisthenics and running to help turn a strength/power athlete into a well-rounded, total tactical athlete.

See the video discussing the Classic Week of Military Special Ops PST Training.

If you really want to do these types of jobs in the future, start preparing now, as you will need to be comfortable and confident in the water, handle running and load-bearing activities, and do PT/calisthenics exercises at high-volume repetitions.

Getting good at all of these takes time, so start preparing now and do the administrative paperwork required to change rates in the Navy.

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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