Ask Stew: How to Prepare for the Run That Comes After the PT Test

Is your running time in the fitness test much worse than your normal pace? Many people struggle with this problem, finding that they’re better at running when they do not have to do calisthenics or strength exercises first.

The good news is that the solutions are easy to add to your training and testing day. See our question of the week from a reader of the Military.com Fitness Column:

Stew, I’m hoping that you can offer me some advice on running faster. When I do the PT test, I complete a 1.5-mile run at 12:30. However, I can run a 10:40 independent of the other events. I was a cross country, track and wrestling athlete in high school; however, I neglected short distance and speed work during college. Should I be more focused in improving the run by itself with more running events each week? Should I maintain the other events as well or are the PT events holding me running back at this time? Thanks! — Joe

Joe, my advice is to run with a purpose and maintain all the other events as well. The high-repetition calisthenics you are testing go well with timed runs. The problem is that you are not quite in PT test shape and cannot continue your pace after exerting yourself on the calisthenics portions (push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups). This is mostly a fueling issue, but you can alleviate that pumped-up feeling on the first half mile of your timed run by simply learning how to transition from the PT session to the run.

After you perform the PT test portion and are preparing to start the run, use the transition time (usually about 10 minutes) wisely to get blood back to your legs by doing a short jog for 3 to 4 minutes. Shake out your upper body, and stretch your arms, chest, shoulders, stomach and lower back.

Finally, take about 3 to 5 minutes to stretch your legs. Keep shaking your arms to loosen up throughout the time between the PT and run. Arrange your training workouts so that you get used to this feeling. That is why you will see a 400-meter run mixed with push-ups and pull-ups in many of the workouts I write about for Military.com.

This preparation will help you feel better at the start of your timed run, and you will avoid feelings of breathlessness at your target pace. Typically, it takes about 3 to 4 minutes of running to get that pumped-up feeling back to normal. Where most people go wrong is not doing this preparation during the 10-minute transition time, so instead the transition occurs during the first half mile of the timed run. That is why many people say, “Man, I felt like crap on the first 2 laps (half mile) of the run, then I was in a groove.”

Run with a purpose: Avoid adding miles at a slow pace just to add more running. Adjust your training to focus on your goal pace for the distance of your PT test. Keep your current miles per week but run at a set pace.

Right now, it looks like you can run a 7-minute mile pace when you are fresh. You have to get used to doing your running sessions after the calisthenics session in your daily workouts. Do upper body day calisthenics, followed by running three days a week — as well as leg days (run and leg PT with squats and lunges) on the days between upper body days.

This program will help you continue to build both cardiovascular endurance at a steady pace, as well as muscle stamina in your legs. Working both your lungs and legs will allow you to learn to maintain your pace. Eventually, you will be able to push your 400-meter and 800-meter distances at a 6-minute mile pace and be able to maintain it with or without other exercises.

Fueling Before and During Testing: You have to go into the PT test with the right fuel. Being fully hydrated and having sufficient carbohydrates stored from the days before you test is a big factor in your success or failure. Have some form of liquid carbohydrate drink with no caffeine to sip during the test, as well. I personally prefer some form of apple juice or Gatorade with real sugar.

You have to train the way you test. If your PFT requires you to lift weights or perform PT exercises before you run, your workouts should mimic the order of the test as best you can. Most tests are organized so that the run comes last. Most runners are not in PT test shape, so your progression as you get into more upper body workouts will continue to get better, as long as you commit to doing them. Consider the Classic Military PT Test Week workout plan for ideas on training.

When you arrange workouts this way, you will get used to running when your upper body is pumped up with blood. In a nutshell, if you can loosen up your upper body by stretching your arms, chest, shoulders and back muscles before running, that will help get you to your more natural running state. Loosen up your legs by doing a short run so you can get the blood from your upper body down to them. This transition takes about 4 to 5 minutes. Since you usually get about 10 minutes to prepare for the last event of the PFT, you’ll have plenty of time to make the transition.

— 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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