Top 12 Physical Fitness Test Exercises

The bench press is a common exercise in military physical fitness training.
Participants in the Tri-Command Bench Press Competition Series were judged based upon the competitor's strength compared to their weight. (Cpl. Rubin Tan/Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort)

More than 30 different fitness tests are used by our country's military and first responders. Amazingly, they all share roughly a dozen common exercises and events. Master these exercises, and you will master the fitness elements required to serve your country and communities in nearly any capacity.

A majority of all fitness tests will have the standard push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and a run of some sort. 

The first section is the most common section:


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 sets of countless push-ups usually is required in most indoctrination training programs. Here are some tips for the exercise that has been around for thousands of years.

  1. Proper hand placement: Just outside of shoulder width with fingers pointing forward at a slight outward angle.
  2. Elbows bend 90 degrees in the down position but should be at about 45-degree angles between the torso and shoulder
  3. Touch your chest to someone's fist on the ground to keep an accurate count of full push-ups.
  4. Up and down movement
    1. Sprint movement -- gravity aided
    2. Exert on the up, relax on down
  5. Rest in up position
  6. Keep your back straight and head up


There are a few groups who use regular sit-ups as a testing exercise. The difference between this exercise and the crunch is the hands are interlocked behind the head and you have to lift your entire back off the floor. This requires some lower-back strength as well as hip flexor and psoas strength and flexibility. For some ideas to stretch and build lower-back balance to support this exercise, check out the lower-back plan.

  1. 1-2 minute tests
  2. Used by Army, FBI and other law enforcement agencies
  3. Hands behind head and fingers interlocked
  4. Touch elbows to knees and shoulders to floor
  5. Exert on up, relax on down (use gravity)
  6. Rest in up position


  1. Used by Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, police, fire and others.
  2. Pacing exercise, 30 intervals
  3. 1-2 minute tests
  4. Arms and hands crossed over chest
  5. Elbows touch thighs or knees and shoulders to floor
  6. Exert on up, relax on down (use gravity)
  7. Rest in up position


  1. Advanced upper-body exercise
  2. Requires strength and practice
  3. Used by all special ops, Marines and others
  4. No time limit
  5. Exert on up, no kipping
  6. Look up and arch upper back
  7. Chin over bar and arms straight


  1. 1-mile run: Marine initial strength test, service academy
  2. 1.5-mile run: Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, police physical fitness test
  3. 2-mile run: Army PFT
  4. 3-mile run: USMC PFT
  5. 4-mile run: Navy SEAL (weekly)
  6. 5-mile run: Ranger School Day 1
  7. Pace, breathing, arm swing, stride
  8. Injury prevention and proper stretches

The fairly common section includes speed and agility tests, swimming, obstacle courses and ruck marches.

Running Speed and Agility Tests

  1. Shuttle runs: FBI, DEA, Navy, police
    1. 300-yard shuttle run (6 x 50yd)
    2. 120-yard shuttle run (4 x 30yd)
    3. 120-foot shuttle run (4 x 30ft)
  2. IL Agility Test
  3. Beep test (shuttle run with increasing speed over time)
  4. 300-meter sprint: FBI and Cooper Institute
  5. 400- to 800-meter sprint with gear: SWAT
  6. Build VO2 max with intervals, speed work, leg stamina through calisthenics, weights and plyometrics

Swimming Tests

  1. Combat swimmer stroke (CSS)/freestyle: special ops
    1. 500 yards: Navy SEAL/AF PJ/CCT PAST
  2. Full gear swims: RECON/Ranger/SEAL
  3. 12-minute swim: Coast Guard
  4. Underwater swims: Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force PJ
  5. Alternative to running for sailors in Navy
  6. Freestyle/breaststroke/sidestroke/CSS
  7. Weekly 2-mile ocean swim with fins at SEAL training
  8. 6-mile swim with fins at SEAL training

Obstacle Courses

  1. Spec ops/military/police/firefighter
  2. Crawling sections
    1. Low crawl/bear crawl/dragging body
  3. Climbing/balance sections
    1. Walls/fences/rope/ladder/stairs
  4. Sprinting sections
    1. Runs in sand/hills/pavement, etc.
    2. With full gear/injured man drill
  5. Ideas to train for obstacle courses:
    1. Sprint workouts mixed with pull-ups, push-ups, jumping
    2. Rope climbs or rope pull-ups (grip)
    3. Buddy/heavy bag carries
    4. Crawling exercises/bear crawls
    5. Hips/lower-back exercises

Obstacle Course Simulation Ideas

Ruck Marches

  1. Used by military, special ops, U.S. Forest Service
  2. Running/walking fast with back pack
  3. Weighs 40-80 pounds
  4. Long distance for 2-3 hours
  5. Minimum 4 mph = standard pace
    1. 15-minute mile (pack test/Army standard)
    2. Better to push 10-12 minutes/mile
    3. Requires slow shuffle and march from waist down
    4. Secure shoulder/waist straps/wear weight high

The less common section includes weight tests, basketball throws, and kettlebell snatches and swings.

Weight Training Tests: Bench Press, Deadlifts, Squats

Lifting weights is getting more popular in special ops and tactical athlete circles now that many of these agencies are adopting strength training to build stronger members. Some units even hire collegiate level and professional strength and conditioning coaches to create more longevity training for their members. The bench press is the most common lift tested in all agencies:

  1. Body weight -- max reps
  2. 225# max reps (same as the NFL Combine); some special ops units use this.
  3. 1-rep max weight (1RM)
  4. Used by SWAT/FLETC/spec ops
  5. Free weights or machine test
  6. Exert going up, controlled on down.
  7. Feet flat on floor/hips on bench/bar touches chest/arms straight on the end of repetition.

Other weight events that are being used in active-duty special ops programs are the squat and deadlift using the following body-weight levels: member's body-weight lift, 1.5 body-weight lift and 2.0 body-weight lift for max reps.

Odd but true: There are some exercises that make you ask, "Why do we do this?"

Basketball Throw

This is a rarely used exercise, but it is said to measure "athletic potential" of incoming candidates to the service academies. You only will see this one on the service academy candidate fitness assessment. Practice makes perfect on developing proper throwing strength, motion, angle and form.

  1. Used by service academies
  2. Physical aptitude tests -- Measures athletic potential
  3. Candidate fitness assessments
    1. USNA
    2. USMA
    3. USAFA
  4. Sit on knees/use hips/shoulders/arm
  5. 45-degree angle throw for max distance

Kettlebell Snatch and Swings

The U.S. Secret Service uses the kettlebell snatch as a fitness test while at the academy. 

  1. Used by Secret Service/other special ops groups
  2. Cardiovascular/muscle development
  3. Secret Service uses the 10-minute snatch test. How many snatches can you get in 10 minutes?
  4. An alternative to 10-minute run test but harder.
    1. Gut check

If you are not sure how and where you want to serve, find out what your groups do for testing to get into the training and make that a focus of your workout programming. Once you narrow down your selection options, start preparing to get through the training program of your choosing.

Or if you just want to challenge yourself and master the dozen plus exercises and events, you will find yourself busy for the next year programing all of the above elements into your training regimen.

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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