5 Big Mistakes Troops Make During PT Test Training

One big difference between military service and civilian life is the fitness test requirements. And to stay healthy enough to meet them means you have to be careful. Being underprepared or over-prepared relative to your abilities can cause all too common injuries on active-duty fitness tests.

Getting the skills that allow you to meet or exceed standards takes some investment in additional fitness routines and building strategies that work for each individual. Though taking a fitness test is not necessarily going to make you a better airman, soldier, Marine or sailor, the objective grading points they carry can be used in career advancement boards or even retention boards.

Being kicked out of the military for failing a fitness test requires a history of failure that is often preceded by injury.

Here are some of the mistakes people make in this bi-annual testing process:

1. Trying to delay the inevitable

Start a cycle of reasonable length and make today Day One of your PT test training. You may need more than a few workouts to fully prepare or even a few months to be competitive with higher-than-average scores. Sure, you may be able to get by with minimal effort and still pass the test depending on your branch of service and age group, but there is no need to risk hurting yourself in the process by being underprepared.

We all have a natural weakness when it comes to physical fitness, a weakness usually defined by the activity that we do not do or do not like to do. Getting better at those weaknesses while maintaining your strengths requires you to do workouts that you might not be good at doing at first. As with any activity, you will start to see progress if you get started practicing some of the events you may have skipped over during your athletic competition days.

2. Not training specifically for fitness tests

Recent times have introduced a wide variety of new events and PT test changes. Active duty members can no longer neglect training they avoided in previous years. The creation of tactical fitness tests that include power lifts, weighted movements and even harder “core” tests make the push-up and crunches-based easy events largely a thing of the past.

For instance:

The Army CFT

Finding creative ways to add CFT events to training days is a fun new challenge for many Army soldiers. Now, the added deadlift, leg tucks (like a hanging knee-ups on steroids), medicine ball throw and sprint-drag-carry events are not events you can skip until two weeks prior to the test and still pass like many could with the old Army PFT (push-ups, sit-ups, 2-mile run). You still have to do the 2-mile timed run after all the above events.

You can easily place many of these exercises into your training. Of course, end your workout with a run or some form of cardio, as with The Two Mile Run Is Here to Stay.


Though the Marine Corps PT test is one of those you cannot neglect due to its pull-ups and 3-mile run, the addition of the USMC CFT requires the Marine to put in specific training time to score well on these additional events. If your job in the USMC is not one of the ground fighting MOS, you especially need to put in the extra effort during daily PT time so you can still be competitive with this test.

The USMC CFT also requires some specific focus on atypical exercises in the gym or PT ground:

Run 880 yards (two laps quickly around a track), simulated movement to contact in battle dress uniform.

Lift a 30-pound ammunition can overhead from shoulder height for max reps for two minutes.

Perform a maneuver-under-fire simulated event, a timed 300-yard shuttle run in which Marines are paired up by size and perform the following tasks: sprints, agility course, high crawl, low crawl, body drag, fireman carry, ammo can carry, push-ups and grenade throw.

Even if you are in a warfighting MOS, you will still need to practice these movements if you want to perform well on the Combat Fitness Test (CFT).

Navy Human Performance Test

Though this is used by the EOD and Diving and Special Warfare communities, it requires some work in the weight room and added sprints and agility training, along with weighted pull-ups, longer runs and swims.

The regular Navy test is now push-ups, plank pose and 1.5-mile run. Though crunches were relatively easy to max, they needed to go as the plank is definitely a better core strength test. Do not neglect time in the plank pose as you will be surprised by the difficulty if you wait too late to begin preparation.

3. Daily Calisthenics

Many people make a mistake and focus on doing the typical graded PT test events (pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups) every day with no rest in between. Though the initial improvements are possible in the new week or so, prolonged daily higher-volume calisthenics are not the answer to performing better on the PT test.

This approach does not work well for those seeking to max the test and it definitely does not work well for those struggling to make a passing grade to stay in the military or make the next promotion. Do these types of exercises every other day at a maximum for best results.

4. Running Too Much

If running is a weakness, it is natural to want to start running more often to improve. Many people who are not prepared for increased running volume will soon start to see overuse injuries, especially if you jumped into a few high mileage weeks after months or longer of not running.

You have to progress and give yourself time to build a base of running geared toward the distance of your timed run, but also the goal pace speed to reach your passing or maxing time. My advice is run your timed-run distance every other day at first, but mix in some hard non-impact cardio activity on the days in between.

5. Sitting Too Much

Many jobs in the military don’t require hard physical labor. In fact, many jobs have active duty members sitting and not exerting themselves at all during the day. The only physical activity is the time you actively put into the gym, cardio machine or running. This sitting posture requires members to stand up and stretch more often and move, but placing physical fitness on your daily desk schedule is one of the best ways to help increase your physical activity. It has to be done this way because, as they say, “if it is not on the schedule, it does not exist.”

These are the most common errors active duty members make with their physical fitness and meeting the standards set for them by the military branches they serve. You never know: One day your life, a buddy’s or family member’s life may be saved because you had the ability to help and be an asset in a potentially deadly situation.

Take fitness this seriously, and we are all better for it.

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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