How to Master the Most Common Fitness Test in the World

Pfc. Llorr Robinson completes the push-up portion of the physical fitness event of the 2018 Georgia National Guard Best Warrior competition. (Sgt. Shye Wilborn/Georgia National Guard)

The most common fitness test is one you can find in a majority of the military branches and most law enforcement departments. The standard physical fitness test (PFT) includes push-ups, sit-ups, sit and reach, and a 1.5-mile run. Here is just a few of the groups who use this test as not only an entrance test to be hired but also a maintenance test performed every six months in order to remain employed:

  • Navy: Push-ups two minutes, sit-ups two minutes, 1.5-mile run
  • Air Force: Push-ups one minute, sit-ups one minute, 1.5-mile run
  • Army: Push-ups two minutes, sit-ups one minute, two-mile run (add a half-mile = same way to train)
  • Coast Guard: Push-ups one minute, sit-ups one minute, 1.5-mile run

Many law enforcement agencies use this test as well for a fitness assessment entrance exam.

The PFT Bible: Physical Fitness Test Exercises (Tips and Sample Workouts)

1.5-mile run

a) Pace, breathing, arm swing, stride: Learn to regulate your breathing by timing inhales for 2-3 steps and exhales for 2-3 steps in a regular breathing rhythm to keep your heart rate lower and running potentially faster in the last quarter-mile.

b) Arm swing and stride: Arms should be bent slightly but relaxed and swing in a straight line, not crossing your body. Your stride and foot strike should be efficient enough, so you are not running on your toes or too wide where you land on your heels. Your foot strike should be closer to the balls of the feet but not flat-footed.

c) Preventing injuries and stretching properly: Warm up well and stretch by jogging or doing jumping jacks and a few squats.

Learn how to pace your 1.5-mile run by breaking the run down into quarter- and half-mile interval workouts, such as this:

Repeat 6-8 times.

  • Run quarter-mile at goal pace (i.e., if your goal is to run a 10:30 1.5-mile run, then your quarter-mile should be at 1:45 for each lap).
  • Rest with a 100-meter walk.
  • Add in squats or lunges to build endurance in legs as well as jumping skills.

Check out  Take 2:00 Off Your PFT Mile

Sit and Reach

It basically is a toe-touch test. If you can sit on the floor with your knees straight in front of you and touch your toes, you pass. However, a few people do not pass this one. It requires adding a daily stretching routine to help pass this test. A good stretching plan can take only 5-10 minutes and be split evenly through the day. If your hamstrings and lower back are somewhat flexible, you can pass this test. See lower back plan for more ideas on properly stretching your legs, hips and lower back.


The push-up is the most commonly used exercise in military, law enforcement and firefighter training programs. Learning how to ace a fitness test is required for most groups, but doing multiple sets of countless push-ups usually is required in most indoctrination training programs (boot camps, basic training, and military, law enforcement and firefighting academies). Here are some tips:

a) Proper hand placement: Keep hands just greater than shoulder width apart and placed lower than your shoulders as if you were doing a bench press. This will place an equal amount of force on the chest, shoulders and triceps.

b) Up/down movement: Push-ups in this test is a one-minute sprint. Building your endurance to do nonstop push-ups for one minute is not as difficult as it may first appear. To score your best, you should focus on doing push-ups as fast as you can. Exert on the upward motion and relax your arms when coming down. Let gravity take you down.

A suggested workout for building a foundation for your push-up scores:

Sample Superset

Repeat 5-10 times.

  • Push-ups 10
  • Sit-ups 10-20 on pace with goal one-minute test
  • Push-ups pyramid: Do one push-up and build up to 25 push-ups and back down to one in as little time as possible. If needed, "rest" by doing a timed set of 15-30 sit-ups.


This exercise requires some stomach and lower-back strength as well as hip flexor/psoas strength and flexibility. For some ideas to stretch and build lower-back areas, check out the Lower Back Plan.

a) This is a pacing exercise, as with running. If your goal is 50-60 in one minute, you have to build up to withstand a pace of up to one sit-up per second for 60 seconds.

b) Touch elbows to knees/shoulders to floor: This is a full repetition for the sit-up, and the best way to master this is to exert on the upward movement and relax on the downward motion, just as with the push-up test.

c) Paced sets: Focus on learning the pace to reach your goal. If your goal is 50 sit-ups in one minute, then get 25 in 30 seconds, 12-13 in 15 seconds and develop your sit-up workouts with timed sets throughout your workout.

Swimming Tests

Once you are in the military, you will have an option either to run or swim the PFT in the Navy or Coast Guard. A 500-meter swim or a 12-minute swim is a tough event if you are not an efficient swimmer. This test may require special training from someone who knows how to swim well. Another way to learn is to watch a swim team practice the freestyle/crawl stroke. Otherwise, build your swimming endurance and speed by swimming for 12-minute intervals.

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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