Physical Fitness Tests - Do They Really Matter?

Physical Fitness Tests - Do They Really Matter?

Here is an email from a distinguished military and law enforcement officer concerning physical fitness testing in military and police professions. 

He writes:

"Stew - I like your programs and articles but what is the big deal with physical fitness testing? Do you really think that maxing a fitness test is going to make you a good soldier or police officer? I have been in the military on the Special Ops side (now reserves) and a SWAT Team police officer as well and have never maxed out a PT test. I feel I am a damn good soldier and police officer but if you look at my history of PT scores on paper you might say I am average in shape. Just curious..."

These questions had me thinking for over a week about the reasons I think PT tests are important as well as understanding his point of view. I agree. There are many SEALs and other Special Operators I know in the past and present that have done mediocre on physical tests yet were invaluable to the team for their ability to think, shoot, lead, fix anything, or get anything done. There are definitely skills that the PFT does not test obviously. Additionally, there are many great athletes that can easily max any fitness test yet they cannot make it through SEAL training or other training programs.

However, understanding today's future pool of military and law enforcement talent, having a solid foundation of fitness under them will undeniably help them graduate training whether it is basic or advanced special ops training. Too many young people who seek military and law enforcement professions lack basic fitness skills due to a variety of societal and environmental reasons. As a result, we have an overweight population who need a good year of fitness training under their belt before even attempting any boot camp or police academy. Otherwise, they will be injured - no doubt.

More than 75% of my emails are from young men and women seeking to lose 20-40 lbs before the military or police departments will even look at them.

So, for the physically untrained individual without an athletic history throughout the adolescent years, a pre-training program is critical to their survival at any military and law enforcement training. I agree again, they do not have to max every score, but a higher score on a test indicates that person's fitness foundation and is a good indicator that he/she is ready for training. A higher fitness level not only insures a candidates can survive training but can handle training and thoroughly learn the job without being inundated with nagging remedial PT programs or physical therapy after injury.

Think of PT tests an important part of joining the ranks of the military, law enforcement, and fire fighters if used as a tool to gauge successful completion of training. The remaining training of the job will come with proper instruction and some natural ability of the candidate to aggressively handle the skills of being a warrior in the military, police force, or fire departments around our great country.

The fitness test can measure to a degree how successful a person will be throughout training, but there is no measure for someone's heart or determination.  Usually long days / nights in hot or cold environments practicing a mission will help determine one's internal fortitude and teamwork ability. Together, the PT testing and practical application of the profession will prepare a soldier, police officer, or fire fighter properly.

Thanks for your email. Please feel free to send me emails as they are fuel for my articles. I will never use name, unit, or divulge any information you do not wish to see again in an article. Email me at and check out the Fitness Store if thinking about joining the military, police force or fire department. We have the answer to getting into shape for training or just getting back into shape after too long at a desk.

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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. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at

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