Ask Stew: Suggestions on How to Improve on Your Fitness Test

Sailors gather for a beach run.
Sailors in the Fleet Transition Program (FTP) gather at sunrise to participate in a weekly beach run at Virginia Beach, Virginia, Jan. 20, 2015. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Abe McNatt/U.S. Navy photo)

There are not many fitness tests out there that exposes a weakness quite like the way PT tests for special-ops courses do. For instance, the BUD/S physical screening test (PST) is a classic mix of requirements: Upper-body strength, muscle stamina and an ability to swim well and run fast.

Times and scores have to be competitive with the maximum efforts of the best students, just in order to get the opportunity to attend SEAL training. Here is a very common question after someone takes the PST for the first time and realize the swim takes it out of them for both the PT and the run afterward (if you are not a great swimmer).

Stew, I am looking to improve all areas of the PST. After two months of training, my scores are:

  • 500yd Swim (CSS): 9:25
  • Push-ups: 48
  • Sit-ups: 83
  • Pull-ups: 13
  • 1.5-mile run: 10:26

I do all my run training in the sand. However, should I also be working on the track as well? For my swim, I notice that after I push off the wall, I immediately want to surface to grab air. Would you have a particular exercise or tip for improving my underwater time off the wall? In two months, I would like to improve all these scores. I have bought your books as well. They helped a lot. Thank you, sir.

You have a great foundation if your scores are this good after only a few months. Sometimes, it can take up to a year to crush this test and be competitive enough to get a billet to SEAL training.

Yes, you need to try to test at least on a track, just in case the sand is slowing your down. But it is great you have sand to run on, because once you master the 1.5-mile run of the PST to get to BUD/S, you need to start preparing for the weekly four-mile timed run, you will have to do to get through BUD/S.  You will do those runs on the sand at BUD/S -- usually the hard-packed sand. However, there are many soft sand runs, so get used to that, too.

It sounds like you are not in great swimming condition. Keep swimming more (4-5 days a week or more, if possible) to build up your lungs so you are less tired or winded when swimming. This takes time for non-competitive swimming athletic histories.

This alone could eat up the rest of this year until you are swimming consistently without issues. Once you ace the test to get to BUD/S, you will need to strap on the fins and prepare your legs for two-mile ocean swims that you will do every week to get through BUD/S.

For the PT scores, do upper-body PT every other day. See ideas at the PT Progression Workout Series, utilizing some of the best go-to workouts to build more repetitions in fitness tests. Keep doing the workouts. Usually, you will see your best results after you have completed the programs for a second time through, which typically takes about 25 weeks. Hang in there. That type of fitness is very achievable; it just takes time, consistency and discipline (daily).

Soon you will be in this zone for the PST:

  • 500-yard swim (CSS): near 8:00
  • Push-ups: 80-100+
  • Sit-ups: 80-100+
  • Pull-ups: 20+
  • 1.5-mile run: near 9:00

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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