The One Thing You Should Do Before Taking a Military Fitness Test

A sailor swims for the physical screening test held by Naval Special Warfare Assessment Command at Naval Air Station Sigonella.
A sailor swims for the physical screening test held by Naval Special Warfare Assessment Command at Naval Air Station Sigonella, May 17, 2023. (Machinery Repairman 3rd Class Max Rector/U.S. Navy photo)

One of the best ways to prepare for a military fitness test is to take it a few times before the actual test. This week, one of our group workouts was to assess our strengths and weaknesses by taking a fitness test. The two chosen were the Navy Physical Screening Test (PST) and the Air Force Special Warfare Initial Fitness Test (AFSW-IFT). These tests are required for recruits seeking to serve in the Navy SEALs; SWCC; diver/EOD; Navy rescue swimmer; and pararescue, combat controller and special recon within both Navy and Air Force Special Warfare programs, respectively. Both test identical events but in a different order.

The workout starts with the test:

Navy PST

  • 500-yard swim
  • Push-ups (two minutes)
  • Sit-ups (two minutes)
  • Pull-ups (max)
  • 1.5-mile timed run

Air Force IFT

  • Pull-ups (max)
  • Sit-ups (two minutes)
  • Push-ups (two minutes)
  • 1.5-mile timed run
  • 2 x 25-meter underwater swims (three-minute rest in between)
  • 500-meter swim

If You Are Not Assessing, You Are Only Guessing

It is important to take these tests if your future depends on getting accepted into these competitive programs. Besides, you learn more about test-taking strategies that work for you to score at your best. You will learn how to pace, fuel, hydrate and what to work on next when you take these tests regularly. Too many people's special operations dreams end with this test, because they were ill-prepared and never once tested themselves before taking the real test that determines your entry into these programs.

Work On Your Weakness After the Test

It may be difficult, but whatever you performed the worst in during the test, focus on those weaknesses, even when you're tired after the test. Here are your three options (pick one):

If the Run Is Your Weakness

Get to the track and focus on pacing your running intervals. Do an additional 1.5-3 miles of goal-pace intervals. For instance, if your goal is to complete a 1.5-mile timed run in nine minutes and you only did a 10:30, practice running at the six-minute mile pace for all of your intervals:

Repeat six times.

  • Run 400 meters in 1:30 (six-minute mile pace goal)
  • Walk 100 meters (rest)

If you have the fuel to do another section of running, try:

Repeat three times.

  • Run 800 meters in three minutes (six-minute mile pace goal)
  • Walk 200 meters

If Your Weakness Is Swimming

Get back to the pool and do the 50/50 swim workout:

Swim 500 meters to "warm up" again. The goal is to make the 500-meter swim distance "just a warm-up" as you prepare for the test.

Repeat 10 times.

  • Swim 50 meters freestyle fast
  • Swim 50 meters easy stroke (combat swimmer stroke or breaststroke)

Take no rest, if possible. Use the 50-meter easy swim as a "rest" or take 10 seconds to catch your breath, if necessary.

If Calisthenics Is Your Weakness

Keep track of your testing scores and finish off the 100 pull-ups/200 push-ups/300 sit-ups workout in as few sets as possible to push your max repetition stamina:

Say you scored 10 pull-ups, 50 push-ups and 60 sit-ups; subtract those numbers from their respective totals. Use assisted pull-ups with bands or gravity assist machines, if necessary, but finish as many reps as you can for each set to increase the total volume for the day. The goal is to build your muscle stamina to achieve this level of repetitions in 5-6 sets total.

Test and assess yourself, then top it off with a workout that will force you to do more of what you do worst. This is a "work on your weaknesses" workout, because if left undeveloped, your chances of succeeding past acceptance into the training program will be much less. Also, any undeveloped weakness once in the spec-ops pipeline will be exposed from the very beginning of training.

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