How to Prepare for Your Most Important Fitness Test During the Three Days Before Selection

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Captain Jeremy Caskey, 911th Airlift Wing chaplain, gets a drink of water after completing the Murph Challenge at the Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, May 18, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Joshua J. Seybert)

As you prepare for your military journey, you will face challenges from basic fitness tests to a wide variety of tactical proficiency tests, depending on the job you seek. However, there is one particular moment in this journey that can be the most important fitness test you ever take.

The fitness test required to enter a special program or special operations selection course is typically a make-or-break event that can end your spec ops training dreams before they ever start. How should you approach the final few days before the test and the day of this very challenging event?

Here is a list of advice for those of you coming up on your "start date."

This advice could also be geared for anyone who has physically prepared for acceptance into a military program. The keys to that gate can only be obtained by meeting and exceeding the standards of that community. Your future rides on how you perform.

The goals can be different, depending on the situation, but joining the military, remaining in the military, advancing in the military and changing careers within the military could be dependent on how you perform on a fitness test or whether you meet the height and weight standards.

Recover

After preparing for this important fitness test and follow-on selection event, focus on your recovery, but do not sit back and do nothing. There is not much you can do to improve upon strength or overall conditioning, but you can always practice techniques, work on flexibility and mobility, and keep the lungs open with some moderate level of cardio activity.

How you eat, hydrate and sleep are by far the most important things you need to focus on this week (and every other week, for that matter), but this is the week to actively pursue recovery.

Research

Do your research on the activities that will be tested and expected of you during the event. Understand the location, weather, elevation and time zone changes as well. If you must travel to a new location, be aware of hot and humid summer days or frigid and arid winter nights and everything in between. Make sure you prepare and stay on top of any water and electrolytes lost, as it only takes a few hours to reduce your performance to subpar when dehydrated and a heat casualty.

Mobility, Flexibility and Technique

In many of these fitness tests and the following selection programs, you will be graded on skills such as treading, swimming, obstacle courses, running (hills, sand, trails), rucking and many tactical skills. If you choose to practice any event, focus on the technique and mobility required to perform efficiently. If you had to travel to a new location, stretch and get some basic cardio (either running or non-impact cardio) under your belt to acclimate to the location.

Cardio, Calisthenics and Stretching

My advice is to stretch and get some cardio in the form of jogging, swimming or biking, mixed with some lower repetitions of the events you will be tested on soon. You will find your joints only need to work for short segments. Do five minutes of easy calisthenics and stretching, followed by five minutes of the cardio of your choice. Repeat that sequence for 30 minutes, and you are good to go.

You will be nervous, which is natural, but you must work on getting a good night's sleep each night. Read about some sleep protocols and rituals that can help you get the restorative sleep you need each night prior during this event and all other nights. Sleep is our number one recovery tool, and it is important to get good at it. Some anxiety-busting tips are a good thing to learn as well.

The final days before a big event should be calm and focused. There is no workout that you can do in the three days prior that will make you stronger, faster or more physically capable in any timed or max rep event. Time to get your mind right and use these moments to relax, mentally prepare yourself, and be well-rested and well-tested.

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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