What Are Military Fitness Tests Like? This Workout Provides a Preview

Marine officer candidates complete their initial Physical Fitness Test (PFT) at Brown Field aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
Marine officer candidates from Charlie and Delta Company attending Officer Candidate Class-220 complete their initial Physical Fitness Test (PFT) at Brown Field aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Jan. 20, 2016. (Cpl. Patrick H. Ownes/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

In most U.S. military fitness tests, mixing calisthenics with running and/or swimming is a common practice to improve muscle stamina and cardio endurance quickly. If you are pressed for time to meet military fitness standards in pull-ups, push-ups and sit-ups, as well as running and swimming, try these upper-body workout options. If your military fitness test does not include sit-ups, you can replace them with plank poses.

Warm up with a mix of short jogs with a progressive pyramid style of pull-ups and push-ups. Stop when you fail to increase to the next level, but continue up the pyramid (or ladder) until doing 10 pull-ups and 10 push-ups. This totals 55 reps of each exercise.

Half pyramid warm-up: Pull-ups/push-ups (x1) pyramid 1-10 (stop at 10) -- with 100-meter jogs/dynamic stretches between each set. Stretch as needed. For example:

  • 1 pull-up, 1 push-up, jog 100 meters
  • 2 pull-ups, 2 push-ups, jog 100 meters
  • Keep going until you fail or reach Level 10.

If you need to limit your total running miles, continue the warm-up with a one-mile run or 10-minute bike ride.

Run fast on a turf field or grass (e.g., a football or soccer field inside a track). Doing this on a treadmill is difficult, so if you have no place to run this faster-paced event, do it on a bike. Try 20 seconds on a bike fast and 30 seconds easy to replace the 100 meters fast/100 meters slow running.

Repeat 10 times.

  • Run 100 meters fast.
  • Run 100 meters easy.
  • 1 minute abs of choice (mix in flutter kicks, leg levers, scissors, crunches, plank, etc.)

The next sections focus on run paces for your goal mile pace on your next timed run. For instance, if you want to run a seven-minute mile or a 10:30 1.5-mile run, run the next 400 meters at a 1:45 pace and the 800 meter at 3:30. The active rest between sets is the push-ups and sit-ups below. *If you do not have sit-ups to prepare for, replace them with plank pose."

Repeat four times.

  • Run 400 meters at goal pace
  • Push-ups 25
  • Sit-ups 1 minute*

Repeat twice.

  • Run 800 meters at goal mile pace
  • Push-ups 25
  • Sit-ups 1 minute*

Run one mile easy or bike for 10 minutes.

You can also try this workout style in the water if you want to limit your running mileage for the week or need to perform better for upcoming swimming tests. Here is how it looks in the water:

Swim PT with the 50-50 Workout

Swim a 500-meter warm-up -- any stroke for 500 meters or 10 minutes (whichever comes first).

Repeat 10 times.

  • Swim 50 meters freestyle
  • Swim 50 meters Combat Swimmer Stroke (CSS) or breaststroke easy.
  • Push-ups 10-20
  • Sit-ups, plank, flutter kicks or crunches 20 (mix it up each set)

If you are advanced, you can try both workouts in a single day, but normally, one or the other will suffice for those needing to push their repetitions and times to meet the required standards. It depends on your weaknesses and which one you must work on the most. It is advisable to do this workout every other day at a maximum per week, but twice a week will also yield improvements.

If you prepare for the Navy Physical Screening Test (PST) or the Air Force Initial Fitness Test (IFT), you must become proficient at running, swimming, pull-ups, push-ups and sit-ups. The types of jobs requiring this test are Navy SEALs, SWCC, Diver, EOD, SARC HM, Air Force PJ, CCT, Special Reconnaissance and many others.

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