Ask Stew: How Should I Train the Week Before My AFSW Fitness Test?

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Airman works on pull-ups at Fort Riley.
A U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Control Party airman assigned to the 10th Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Riley, Kansas, performs pull-ups. (Staff Sgt. Zade Vadnais/U.S. Air Force photo)

How to train as the official fitness test nears is a question I often get from people who are a few weeks prior to their test date. Unfortunately, many take the test for the first time officially with their military training team instead of practicing the test so many times that it becomes "just another workout."

If you choose that kind of thorough preparation, you can create testing strategies, know which foods agree with you on the day of the test, and figure out how to hydrate and carb up for the energy-zapping events that make up a special ops fitness test.

Here is a great question from a young man who is ready for the Air Force Special Warfare fitness test, but wants to be "well-rested and well-tested" on game day.

Hi sir, I've been training for my Air Force Special Warfare Initial Fitness Test (IFT), formerly known as the PAST. My test is one week from now. I am prepared for it, but I don't want to overwork myself before the test. What should I be doing leading up to it? Samuel

Samuel, great job preparing yourself for this competitive test and follow-on selection program. Scoring your best is an absolute requirement if you want to get accepted into this type of special ops unit. Your career journey will feature much more than just the IFT testing day, but your first one is always a source of anxiety.

After all, you should consider this test part of the job interview process. Being competitive and not placed into the failure group will go a long way toward building some immediate credibility with the recruiting staff.

As far as a taper in the days prior to testing to be "well-rested, well-tested," try this one-week countdown:

7 Days Prior to the Test

Take a practice test and focus on the above details. Think strategy for food on the day off, hydration during the test and transition time between events. Keep moving and stretching.

6 Days Prior to the Test

Do your normal workout planned for the week. There's no need to let a fitness test ruin your normal training week. However, you should keep it light on the legs, so you have fresh legs for the test. Do less heavy lifting and high-rep calisthenics, but still do moderate levels of calisthenics, running, swimming and treading water.

5 Days Prior to the Test

Do your normal workout planned for the week.

4 Days Prior to the Test

Take a day off or do a mobility day. Eat well, sleep well and hydrate.

3 Days Prior to the Test

Do 50% of your normal workout. Include the cardio and calisthenics that will be on the test.

2 Days Prior to the Test

It's up to you. Take a rest day, mobility day or do 50% of your normal workout again just to keep the joints loose, muscles ready and lungs open with some decent cardio (run and swim). Limit training to 45-60 minutes at a moderate intensity.

1 Day Prior to the Test

Do a mobility day with five minutes of easy cardio (bike or swim), followed by a five-minute stretch, foam roll or massage tool. Repeat until you've done this for 45-60 minutes. Rest.

Test Day

After taking many practice tests prior to this day, this should be like "any other workout." You know what works best for you with eating, drinking and resting the day and night before the test so you are ready to roll.

Make sure you know what to eat and drink prior to the test, because you've worked it out in advance and know what combination will help you to perform your best and not get sick. This step alone takes time and several practices to determine.

The other option is to go into the test blindly, never having practiced the events in the proper testing sequence and just see how it goes. Unfortunately, many people make this decision and have not put in the training time necessary to perform well enough to get accepted into the program. Take this seriously. Chances are, you are not in as good shape as you think you are.

-- 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 stew@stewsmith.com.

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