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Using Special Ops Selection Methods to Test Athletes

stew smith gut check leadership skills pullups special ops training stew smith team building team player weight training

A recent training opportunity with a high school baseball team allowed me to develop a challenge week with their coach.  Not only was the Challenge Test a team building gut check, but it had a system built in that helped calculate overall winners.  This system is the very same method we have used for decades to determine a total score in a physical screening test within the Special Ops community.  This allows for the selection board to determine who has the overall best score as well as the winners in individual events.  

The screening test we use for Navy SEAL candidates seeking a chance to serve the country is the following:

Navy SEAL Physical Screening Test (PST)

500 yd swim
10 minute break to prepare for next portion of the test
pushups 2 minutes
- rest 2 minutes
situps 2 minutes
- rest 2 minutes
pullups max reps
10 minute break to prepare for next portion of the test
1.5 mile timed run

The test is graded the following way:

Add the Run and the Swim together in seconds.  For instance, say you get a 8:20 minute swim and a 9 minute run – that total 17:40 minutes or 1040 seconds.

Then you add the pushups, situps, and pullups (x5) together.  For instance say you get 80 on each on the situps and pushups and 15 pullups= 75 points.  This totals 235 points.  (Pullups get 5 points per rep)

Now you subtract the 235 points from 1040 to equal 805 total points.  The way this scoring system works is to rank as many people who take the test and this lowest number wins. 

Run / swim faster and get a lower cardio number.  Do more PT reps to get a higher PT number.  Lowest wins! 

Now – how do you do this for high school athletics and make it useful for coaches?

The baseball coach wanted to break the test into three different days where we would evaluate strength / muscle stamina of core, grip, and fullbody, speed and agility, and have a gut check endurance day on the last day.  Here are the exercises we came up with and the justifications for each and why they work for a baseball player:

Weight__________(take weight of players to determine weights to be used during lifts)

Day 1:  Strength / Power (sample scores)  


Reps / Distance




75                   (5pts / rep)

Bench Press (50%BW)


25                   (1pt / rep)

Hanging KneeUps

65                           (1 min)

65                   (1pt / rep)

Hang Cleans (50%BW)

35                           (1 min)

35                   (1pt / rep)

Farmer Walk (45lb plates – walk fast / no run)


150                (1pt / yard)  



350 points

Pullups – Pulling your own weight is a tough exercise for high school students.  It will test pulling strength, muscle stamina, and grip.  You get 5 points per rep.

Bench Press (50%BW) – We selected 50% of the bodyweight (BW) of players as many are not heavy weight lifters.  You could also use pushups as the test for 1 minute.  Or you could use 75 – 100% BW with more experienced lifters but give 5 points per rep like pullups.
Hanging KneeUps – From a pullup bar, hang and bring your knees up so your thighs are parallel from the floor.  Straighten the hips so your knees move through the 90 degree angle for as many reps as you can in 1 minute.  Tests grip, hip / ab strength / stamina.
Hang Cleans (50%BW) – We selected this movement and lighter weight to work the players fullbody mechanics, using the legs and quick movement of the shoulders, elbows, wrists.  Challenges grip as well.
Farmer Walk (two 45lb plates) – Carry plate in each hand but you can only pinch the top of the plate on the lip with your fingers, not the handle.  This tests shoulder girdle, posture, legs, core, and of course grip.  Walk until the plates fall out of your hands.

Add up your total repetitions (pullups x 5) and the winner of Day 1 will be the one with the HIGHEST Score.

* Note if you want pure strength, you can pick a few lifts like squats, dead lifts, bench press and take their one rep max and add the weight vs the reps.  This would work great for football and other power sports - not so well for baseball.
Day 2:  Speed / Agility  (sample scores)




60yd sprint


70                  (1pt / 1/10 sec)

Pro agility test


45                  (1pt / 1/10 sec)

6 x 50yd shuttle run


500                  (1pt / 1/10 sec)

Illinois Agility Test


155                  (1pt / 1/10 sec)



770 points

After a good team warmup, start the Speed / Agility Testing Day

60yd sprint – Classic baseball speed test.
Pro Agility Shuttle Run – Short 5-10-5 yard that lasts mere seconds but tests speed and change of direction agility.
Illinois Agility Test – (pictured) Another classic military and police / swat team agility test.  You could also do the 120 ft or 120yd (4 x 30ft / m) shuttle runs.

6 x 50yd shuttle run – this is a challenging longer distance shuttle run that usually runs 50-60 seconds long.  Tests longer full speed ability.  Do it twice for more of a challenge with a 1 minute recovery time.

 * NOTE - It is best to give ten points per second or a point or TENTH of a second for the speed / agility to get more points to match up well with the endurance challenge. 

Day 3:  Endurance (Devil’s Mile)

This event can be a variety of longer events.  You want to test the ability to do something at a moderately high intensity for 20-30 minutes.  This can be a 3-4 mile timed run, a long suicide drill using every 5 yd line on a football field, and many other options to include swimming, biking, and elliptical machines for distance.  We decided to push the reigning Champions of their league a little more as well as teach them some skills to strategize, pace, and carry and crawl a fairly long distance.  Yes, this is called the Devil’s Mile.  A workout used by many Special Ops candidates preparing for these actual events in their selection programs.

The Devil’s Mile is measured by seconds.  This particular version takes roughly 30 minutes with the winner typically breaking 28 minutes and the last person maybe 33-35 minutes depending on the group’s condition.  These exercises must be taught properly to avoid improper form and injury.  If you take out the 1/4 mile runs in between events, you can make this event 8-10 minutes shorter in time. 


Total Time

¼ mile Fireman carry (switch partners as needed)

1 second = 1 pt

Total time in seconds
__30_min =
_1800 seconds
total seconds =

¼ mile run

¼ mile Bear crawl

¼ mile run

¼ mile Walking lunges

¼ mile run

¼ mile Burpee jump or Burpee forward roll (combo)

¼ mile run

1800 points


Fireman Carry – This is just a tough exercise that tests core and leg strength and ability to follow instructions of proper procedures.  Starting off with the fireman carry, teaching the players how to carry a partner of equal / near bodyweight, the players take turns carrying each other around a track.  Ideally each partner will get 200m each, but a stronger partner may carry more if desired. Teach partner being carried how to act like a good backpack and support the lower back and not be dead weight.

¼ mile runs – If you are a good runner, this is a place to make up time and run the ¼ miles as fast as you can or at a good solid pace so you can recover from the previous event.

Bear Crawls – This is a full body movement, challenges the legs, core, and shoulder girdle.  The goal is to just keep moving – even if you have to crawl on all fours like a baby.  Just keep moving.  This one is tough.  Keep most of the weight on your legs vs your shoulders / arms for obvious reasons.

Walking Lunges – Walk around the track using big steps and lunging so your hips are even with your front knee in the down position.  Stretch as needed but just keep moving.  Challenge leg stamina, but a good time to catch your breath.

Burpee jump or forward roll – Every movement should move in the forward direction.  Drop down into a pushup position with chest to the ground, hop up and jump or roll forward covering as much ground each time as you can.  This is full body exercise and very tiring for both the upper / lower body and lungs. 

Finish with the last ¼ mile run.  Gut Check Complete!


Add the points from Day 2 and Day 3 together.  This will be a big number

Grand finale score:  Day 2 + Day 3 = __2570_______ pts
                                     770 + 1800 =                
                                              - Day 1 =__350_______ pts

Subtract Day 1 from (Day 2 + Day 3) = _2220______ pts (lowest points win)

The winner was a senior who was top 25% in the strength day, but not the strongest of the group.  He did above average in the speed / agility and came close to winning the longer shuttle runs, but crushed the Devil’s Mile beating most of the Day 1 / Day 2 winners by 3-4 minutes.  This method of grading gives the coach a method of ranking total physical ability as well as individual event winners.  Also the test is a way to get the team together, compete with each other, and build some bonding over hard work and effort.  You can definitely tell who has been properly preparing for the upcoming season and help the players see their weaknesses that they can focus on prior to Spring Training.  Enjoy the test!


Stew Smith CSCS - Former Navy SEAL and Fitness Contributor to  See his catalog featuring more than 40 programs to specifically prepare for any military, police, and fire fighting program that requires a fitness test to enter.  Stew's Latest Book features the Dirty Dozen Tactical Fitness Test - The book titled - Tactical Fitness is on sale now!  

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