Ask Stew: Should You Really Barf Before, During or After a PT Test?

Army PT Test (U.S. Army/Audrey Hayes)

For many people seeking to serve in the military, police and firefighter professions, a fitness test is going to be a part of their near future. Depending on your fitness level and your effort level during workouts or test day, you could make yourself sick. The saying "If you are not puking, you are not trying" can be experienced by any level of fitness especially during a PT Test when it matters the most.

Here is an email from a concerned candidate for ROTC about this kind of effort level:

Hello -- I have been preparing for my PFT test for ROTC, and I have some concerns. I saw on the website that if you are not throwing up at the end of the test, you are not trying. Personally, I don't usually let myself get to that point, and to be quite honest I have an extreme phobia of throwing up. I was wondering if you had any advice on this specific issue, and if it is a bad thing if I don't get sick after the test. Thank you, Sally.

The best plan is to get into a good level of fitness and practice taking the test several times. That way passing with a competitive score does not create anxiety, require more than 100% effort or that you throw-up before, during or after the test.

Before the PT Test

Many people are so nervous before a fitness test that the anxiety makes them nauseated before the first exercise has even started.

Physiologically speaking, anxiety causes a rush of adrenaline into the bloodstream and blood flows to the muscles and away from the stomach leaving you with "butterflies." If this is happening, you can alleviate it on the spot by breathing deeply for a minute and talking yourself down by calling it, "pre-game jitters." This Name It and Tame It skill works for many situations like this.

During the PT Test

Throwing up during a fitness test may not have anything to do with your effort. It could be simply an issue with what you ate or did not eat. Eating something that does not agree with you or drinking too much prior to the test can cause the same effect after doing a series of exercises like sit-ups and running fast.

Often, lower blood sugar makes people lower their ability to perform and very nauseated. Make sure you have some form of carbohydrate drink or easy to digest food that agrees with you to avoid that feeling especially if you test before breakfast when your blood sugar is naturally at its lowest in the day. Also, the motion of these exercises like push-ups and sit-ups can cause a person with sinus congestion to get motion sick and that can make you nauseated.

However, most people simply overwork themselves during fitness tests versus learning the strategies they need to pace themselves to be faster and do more repetitions. There is nothing wrong with putting out all you have especially if you are pushing the maximum level scores in a competitive test. But, if having to do that to avoid failing is the answer, you can prepare better and avoid that feeling altogether.

Look, if you are an intermediate level of fitness and not worried about highly competitive and challenging special ops level fitness testing, you will do fine with a high to moderate level of exertion that will keep your food down. But, you have to prepare properly by practicing the test, doing workouts that are similar to the test (time, effort, order of exercises) and be well rested, fed and hydrated. If you can do that you will avoid the need to put out so hard that it makes you puke.

A Few Personal Observations

I personally have used the phrase "If you are not puking, you are not trying" in the past and do see throwing up after the test is completed as a sign of 100% effort in some people. Bu I have also seen it as a sign that someone did not practice enough to create a testing strategy, learn a passing pace or train hard enough weeks before the test.

The good news is that no, you do not have to puke to show people you are giving 100% effort or perform above average. Just prepare yourself to a high standard and you will not have to over-exert and potentially throw up after testing. I prefer keeping my food down as well.

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