How to Prepare for Tactical Fitness Testing

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An airman drags a fire hose during Police Week at Aviano Air Base, Italy.
Airman Jamal R. Carter, 31st Security Forces Squadron (SFS) member, drags a fire hose during Police Week at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 11, 2021. (Senior Airman Ericka A. Woolever/U.S. Air Force photo)

Many service members leave the military and later become police officers. Many reservists are already active law enforcement officers as well. Although fitness testing and police academies are similar to the military, there are a few differences in the selection process that you need to consider if you are thinking about joining law enforcement.

Tactical fitness testing, like the POPAT (Police Officer Physical Abilities Testing) is one such test. Though it is not overly challenging, it requires some skills that normal push-ups, sit-ups and 1.5-mile run training will not provide.

There is little consistency from state to state and city to city with physical entry testing, so do your homework and start training specifically for these new events.

  • While sitting in a car, unbuckle your seat and open the door.

  • Run 200 yards to 100 yards, then back to the car.

  • Remove a person or dummy (150-200 pounds) from the car and drag 50 feet.

  • Staircase climb three times up and down five steps

  • Move through a weighted door.

  • Push-ups 20, sit-ups 20 (your chin must hit a counter's fist on the floor)

  • Repeat stairs

  • Crawl 40 feet through a pipe.

  • Push-ups 20 and sit-ups 20

  • Run 200 yards again (100 yards away and back)

  • Finish with a body drag for 50 feet again (150-200 pounds)

Some states may vary with added events, like wall or fence climbs and dry firing drills with your left and right hand.

In the military, the fitness test is simply that. It determines whether you are healthy and fit enough to do the basic skills required in the military. Though the Marines have developed more of a tactical fitness test with the USMC combat fitness test (CFT), the rest of the military does not focus on job-related skills for entry-level testing like police departments do. 

Many Special Ops groups have been using combat conditioning courses with job-related skills for decades, and they added in events like shooting during runs, rucks, swims, obstacle courses, PT, injured man drills, etc.

If you are considering a profession that requires the above POPAT, you need to dissect the test and start training for it. First, your typical weight-room workout will help you build the foundation to do this test sufficiently if you are mixing in calisthenics and weight training. Now you just have to get creative and add some crawls, carries and running.

For example, one of our favorite workouts mixes in push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and abs, and running. Pull-ups are a great addition to any workout, especially if you are required to jump and climb walls or fences during your job-related fitness test. Here is an example of mixing those skills together:

PT Pyramid: a foundation-building workout for calisthenics and running.

Working and PT: What this test comes down to is your ability to work and be winded. Here is a great way to mix in calisthenics and running. Replace burpees with push-ups and sit-ups until you fail up the pyramid.

You should do what you can with this one -- it's pretty advanced level -- but it mixes in all of the muscle groups needed for carries, drags, more challenging crawls, running and more. 

Note: Replace burpees with push-ups and sit-ups to prep for this test.

The main goal of this test is to see whether the cadet or applicant can do the basic skills that they likely will see as a police officer. You would be surprised at the people who fail this test, because they never practice. Push-ups and sit-ups fail them if they are not used to running with calisthenics.

The lack of cardio conditioning slows their runs to walking portions. Lifting and gripping the dummy drag event get those who fail to train grip, legs and lower back muscles as well.

Here is a fun PT progression that incorporates many, if not all, skills needed, as well as helps the cadets practice thinking while they are physically tired and stressed out. 

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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