Need to Ramp Up Your Fitness Test Training? Focus on These Three Areas

Security forces defenders at Joint Base San Antonio participate in incident response drills.
Security forces defenders from the 502nd Security Readiness Group at Joint Base San Antonio participate in incident response drills at the Combat Arms Training and Maintenance range at the JBSA-Lackland Medina Annex, May 4, 2017. (Andrew C. Patterson/U.S. Air Force photo)

Here is a very common email received from a young man seeking to join a local police academy. He has to pass his law enforcement physical fitness test (PFT) in two weeks:

Stew, I have about two weeks until I need to pass my fitness test that will allow me to join the county police academy. I need to increase my bench press by 40 lbs. and drop my 1.5-mile run time by two minutes. What plan do you have or advice do you have for me?

Wow, I have to be honest. I am not sure there is any program out there that will allow for that kind of progress for what I am assuming is reaching the minimum standards at best. So you are likely not at all ready to push yourself at these levels yet. Simply put, you need more time. Depending on your current fitness level, you might achieve those goals in two months.

Fitness is a continuous journey, not a one-stop destination that you decide to reach out of the blue. You can double your bench press and drop 4-6 minutes off your 1.5-mile time and still be in the average category, so your growth potential is huge. 

I would give yourself a good six months and start a progressive running program. I would start off at the beginner plan on this page, mixing in some running with non-​​impact cardio activities 4-5 times a week.

Here are my suggestions:

Work the Core

Most likely, you will need to add in core training as well. That means crunches, sit-ups and plank poses to develop a foundation on which to build your arms and​ legs. Have you ever seen a tree with bigger limbs than a trunk? No, so focus on your core almost daily. See the Lower Back Plan for ideas.

Upper-Body Strength

Mixing in pull-ups, push-ups, air squats and other calisthenics is a great way to build a foundation of fitness on which to add weight training easily. Pull-ups are the toughest exercise in the calisthenics family, so you may want to start off with machine pulldowns, assisted pull-ups and dumbbell rows until you build up to pull-ups. 

Push-ups will carry over to your bench-press increases and will help you build your bench press to your desired goals. Slowly start progressing with the weight on your bench press.

Leg Muscle Endurance

Mix in non-​​weighted leg exercises to build up your leg muscle endurance. When you run, you will feel it in two places -- your lungs and legs. So mix in leg calisthenics with your running intervals to build a solid goal pace for your 1.5-mile run. For example, if your goal is to finish a 1.5-mile run in 12 minutes, then shoot for two-minute quarter-miles, four-minute half-miles, etc.

So give yourself some more time. You need to progress logically to reach your goals in order to avoid injury, which also could sideline your military or law enforcement employment goals.

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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