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Build a PFT

stew smith

Even though you may be working out several times per week, many get into a rut of doing the same old routine. It is true that this “rut” is better than the alternative of not exercising at all, but it can lead to plateaus in progress whether your ultimate goal is performance or aesthetics based. This can be somewhat de-motivating. A recent email prompted me to create a method for people to develop goals by using a standard PFT style program for testing.

Do you have any previous research on making physical fitness tests to give my workout group some goals to shoot for? We have used Army, USMC tests in the past but need some ideas on making our own.

I have always done better if I had a goal and worked out with groups. In fact, that is one of the reasons why I created the non-profit Heroes of Tomorrow, so young men and women seeking military, law enforcement, fire fighting professions could get some pre-training before they start their basic training schools in a group / goal oriented format for FREE!

The quick answer is that “it depends”. It depends on your group’s fitness levels, your group’s profession, or if you just want to lose weight. The methods will vary greatly depending if this is just a boot camp class at a gym or a SWAT Team or military group seeking new job performance challenges. Here is the way I have created fitness tests in the past:

All tests should have a few components used to measure upper body and core strength and/or muscle stamina, cardiovascular health / fitness and endurance. If you really want to pump up the test, add some speed, agility, and lower body strength / stamina exercises. The combination of all makes for great job performance fitness requirements and may motivate the group no matter what the goals are:

Upper Body Exercise Section – The most common upper body exercise used in fitness testing is the pushup for a 1-2 minute time period. Logistically, all you need is some floor space and you can give large groups this test quickly and inexpensively. But here are some other ideas as I like to place in 2-3 upper body exercises when making fitness tests:

Minimal Logistics – Max reps of the following exercises per 1-2 minutes:

Dips, Pull-ups, 8 Count Bodybuilder Pushups, and Burpees are some easy ideas

More Logistics – Bench Press Varieties: Will require free weights or universal bench.

Bench Press of your bodyweight for max reps, Bench Press of 1 rep max, Bench Press of pre-determined weight for max reps (ie 135# or 225#)

TRX additions: Atomic Pushups, Low Rows (see 40/40 challenge video) – this option also tests the entire core as well.

I usually like to mix a push and a pull exercise in a test. So you would do pull-ups and pushups for instance as part of the upper body section.

Abdominal Core Exercise Section – Usually one of the exercises below will suffice for a fitness test, but the most common and simplest to offer is the sit-up or the crunch for 1-2 minutes as it requires no equipment other than a stop watch. Others include:

Plank pose for time – how long can you stay in the plank pose – max time 5 minutes for 100%

Max flutter-kicks for 1-2 minutes

Sit-ups followed by a timed plank pose exercises are a tough mix and makes a great combo for core evaluation.

Lower Body Exercise Section - Usually one of these exercises below work nicely in a fitness test, but the most common is the body weight squat for time of 1-2 minutes.

Vertical jump – This is a simple vertical jump. How high do you get?

Long jump – From standing position, how far can you jump?

Box jumps per time – I am not a fan of making plyometrics an endurance exercise so I would limit your time for 30 – 60 seconds for a 1-2 ft box jump for max reps.

¼ mile lunges – Can you do walking lunges around a track non-stop? A quarter mile gives you a 100% score – no time limit, you just cannot stop, but the real test is how this affects the running section of the test.

Stair climbs – Using a stair stepper or actual steps, time yourself as you run up and down 5-10 flights of stairs.

Wood-chopper squats or kettlebell swings timed (1-2 minutes) is a great weighted addition to this section.

Cardiovascular Endurance Section

Distance Runs – These vary from 1-4 miles and make great indicators of cardiovascular health and endurance. But not everyone can run so you should consider some non-impact options as well.

Non -impact options:

Swim – 500m, 1000m swims are fairly standard swim tests. Try adding 1500m with fins for a tougher timed swimming workout as well.

Row – 5000m-10000m rows are very challenging workouts for time.

Bike – 10 mile bike rides are longer timed events but make for a good option to running longer distances if you cannot run or looking at more of an aesthetic goal for fat loss.

Run, Swim, Run: Run 2 miles, swim 1 mile, Run 2 miles

Speed / Agility Section

Cone drills like Box drills, M drills, T drills, the Illinois Agility Test are quick and easy ways to test agility. See drawings:

Box Drill (set cones 20-30 yds apart)


M Drill (10-20yds apart)




T Drill – Set cones in the form of a “T” 5-10 yds apart and run for time.

300m sprint – Used by many police agencies as an intermediate distance sprint.

40m-100m sprint from prone position – Lie on your stomach, get up and sprint 40-100m for time.

Shuttle Runs – Many groups including service academies use shuttle runs that vary in distances of 120 – 300 yds. Basically, you run back and forth as fast as you can six times a distance of 20 – 50 yds for time.

Hybrid Mixes of All of the Above - Here is a good way to mix in several skills into one test:

Stair climbs with gear / back packs – Run 10 flights of stairs with full gear or 30-40 lb back pack while carrying a 5-10 lb object.

Beep test – This is a combination of shuttle runs and endurance / speed as you gradually pick up your speed over stages of the test. See Video of Beep Test

Pull-up / Pushups with weight vests – Test strength and endurance with additional weight which mimics gear worn during missions if military / police / fire departments

Ruck Sack March – Great for building strong back and legs as well as cardiovascular endurance. At a minimum of 4 mph, ruck a variety of distances - from 4 – 12 miles depending on the group fitness level / mission.

100,200,300 – Do 100 pull-ups, 200 pushups, 300 sit-ups in as few sets as possible for time. After each cycle of pullup, pushup, situps max sets – run a ¼ mile. When you are done with the required reps / runs per set then time is complete.

8 Count Pushup / Pullup Pyramid Test – Increase each set until you fail at pull-ups. Here is how the Pullup / 8 count body builder pyramid workout works:

Do ONE 8 count bodybuilder pushup - run 30m to a pullup bar - do 1 pullup. Run back to 8 count area and do TWO 8 counts - run back to pullup bar - do 2 pullups. Continue up the pyramid to 20 if you really want to challenge yourself. Another option is go to 10 and repeat in reverse order for time.

The Military Triathlon – Run 3 miles – swim 1 mile with fins – ruck with 50lbs for 10 miles for time.

The above challenges are ideas of how to mix in several different events and make a test. For a challenging fitness / performance test, I would recommend select the following:

2-3 Upper body exercises – for example pull-ups, pushups, dips test for max reps per time.flutterkick.jpg - 49476 Bytes

1-2 abdominal / core exercise – for example situps followed by a 5 min plank pose test.

1-2 leg strength endurance tests – for example vertical jump and ¼ mile lunge test

1 speed / agility test – for example 300m shuttle run or an IL agility test

1-2 cardio / endurance tests – 3 mile run and a 500m swim are great tasks to test.

Put all of those together and you have yourself one tough fitness test that you can do as a workout a few times a month to monitor progress as well as break up any monotony of your daily workout.

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