Ask Stew: Methods to Improve PT Tests

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Desmond Burgess, a U.S. Army Reserve IT professional for the 200th Military Police Command's headquarters, completes a set of push-ups during the Army Physical Fitness Test. (U.S. Army photo by Michel Sauret)

Military, police, and fire fighter training programs require you to pass challenging physical standards. Often, law enforcement and fire fighter professions are highly competitive as the city, state, or county will have hundreds of candidates for a handful of openings. This requires a better than average score to standout in some fashion. Often the first time to put a good foot forward is a stellar fitness test. Here is a question from a future member of a tactical profession (applying to police and fire departments) who needs some assistance with PT programming.

Stew, I have been reading your articles for a while now and would like to ask you a few questions. I am mostly interested in increasing my pull-ups and push-ups. I watched Pullup Push and the Pushup Push video about for 10 days (with 3 days rest / day 14 test) to do four times your max set, and plan to do this with my push-ups and pull ups.  I have watched your 0-20 pull up video and have read your article. I am doing negatives and assisted pull-ups for the ten-day plan is that ok? And I was wondering since I can’t do an unassisted pull-up how long should I expect to do one unassisted.  Thanks again – Mark

Mark – Thanks for the note.  It is obvious you have done your research on this topic as all the links in your question above give great details on how to start working to get better at the standard PT exercises like pushups, pullups, even sit-ups. Typical PT tests will require pushups, situps, (sometimes pullups) and some type of run – usually a 1.5 mile timed run – I call this the Most Common PT Test in the World. In fact, the PFT Bible is an ideal place to start as it focuses on all of the above with various methods.

Methods of Improvement

The Pushup / Pullup Push Method is a two-week plan that requires you to do daily pushups or pullups for 10 days straight.  Then take 3 days to recover and avoid any pushing / pulling exercises and test on Day 14.  Typically,  people see a 50-100% increase in PT test performance depending on what their scores were when they started.

However, if you cannot do ANY pullups, this is not the best plan to do, but you can try it with negative and assisted pullups if you want.  It was not designed to get you to your first pullup but it may work if you try.  Still, it is considered the Overload Principle with a recover cycle and test day.

PT Pyramids, Super Sets, Max Rep Sets – These three are the classic trilogy of PT testing workouts and can all be done in the same week (every other day). Mixing in running every day is required too and this classic plan has this all rolled into it. Beginners will struggle with this one, but it is ideal for intermediate and advanced levels that want to push their max efforts on PT tests. When not just passing it is your goal and you want to crush it, this method is my favorite.

The First Pushup / Pullup Method – For true beginners who are struggling to do their first pushup or pullup, it is all about gaining strength.  Though in fitness tests, these strength testing exercises become muscle endurance exercises, still your first few real repetitions are pure strength. Mix in a variety of pullup alternatives and related weight exercises in a “pullup circuit."  

Try this:

  1. Each set, always TRY a pullup first, then resort to a negative pullup by getting up to the bar by jumping to stepping on a chair. See if you can control your descent to the down position for 4-5 seconds. If you can, try 2-3 repetitions. If you cannot, just hang there with shoulders flexed for as long as you can in the down position. The goal here is to get your arms used to supporting your body weight.  IF you are overweight, pullups will naturally be harder.  
  2. Immediately after the hang or negative set, try a few jumping pullups to get yourself up to the bar and hang in the UP position as long as you can.
  3. Resort to Weights – Now, after the steps above, do heavy lat. Pulldowns for 5 reps, followed by rows or bicep curls (5-10 reps) to top off the pullup / pulling set. 
  4. Spend the next 4-5 minutes recovering with other exercises like pushups, situps, or running – ACTIVE REST. Then repeat the above for a total of 3-4 sets. 

Eventually, the first pullup will arrive.  This is the hardest one to get typically so be patient and do this program above every OTHER day. After the first pullups 2,3,4 are right around the corner using the same method.  Once you build up to 5 or more, start implementing the PT pyramid workouts and advance to the super sets and max rep set challenges.

Show Full Article

Related Topics