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Never Fail or Underperform Again

Stew smith

Coaching Pace
And Mastering Your Goal Pace on Fitness Tests

Failing or not performing at your best can be seen when administering a fitness test to a large group. Most people do not consider the importance of learning, knowing, and practicing your pace to achieve your goal in just about any common military fitness test exercise. When you do this several times, you start to create a high-performance strategy and you know when to push your pace or even when to pull back. Let me explain: 

Often you will hear to go 100% when taking fitness tests. Yes that is true, but that does not mean 100% full intensity sprint effort for events that typically take 8-10 minutes (500m / 500yds swims or 1.5 mile runs).  If you want to score your best, you do not do your first 50m swim lap in 35 seconds nor your first 400m run lap in 75 seconds. If you do that, you will continue to get slower and slower each lap until you are no where near your optimal scores.

What is Goal Pace?

For running and swimming, take your current time and subtract a minute. That is your new goal pace to strive for during your training cycle. For instance, if you run a 1.5 mile in 10:30 that is a 7-minute mile pace. Your next goal is a 6-minute mile pace so your intervals will be 400m in 90 seconds, 800m in 3:00, and mile repeats at close to 6-minute mile as you can.  For swimming, the same time applies. If your current 500yd / 500m swim is a 9:30, your goal to shoot for is an 8:30 if you feel you need to improve upon that time. That drops your 50m/50yd lap times from 56-57 seconds per lap to 50-52 seconds per lap.


For sit-ups it is different, but pacing is just as important especially in the first 30 seconds. Where most people underperform is they start out in the first 30 seconds and get 30-35 sit-ups. Unless you are shooting for 120-140 sit-ups in two minutes, this pace is not only unsustainable, but it will also kill the rest of your 1:30 time remaining. Usually, most people cannot match the 30-35 reps of sit-ups in the next 1:30 of the test and score below 60 total reps. They simply burned themselves out. Try 20-25 reps in the first 30 seconds and you will be able to last longer in the two-minute test and perform better as quickly as the next time you take it.

Master these paces in smaller set intervals with small rest periods and soon you will be able to string together a full 1.5 miles, 500m, and 2 minutes of sit-ups. All of these require a level of conditioning too. Swimming shape is not the same as running shape. Getting better at pacing sit-ups requires practicing sit-ups at that pace. Sure, you can work your hip flexors too, but pacing requires practice.

If you don't pace, you will feel like this guy and underperform from what is truly your 100% effort. 


PS – this is my story and oldest coaching advice I was given on passing fitness tests. After I failed my first fitness test at the Naval Academy (63 sit-ups in 2 minutes – needed 65), my squad leader said I started out too fast. He gave me the test two days later and I scored 78 reps by dropping my pace to 20 reps in the first 30 seconds. I did not get stronger in 2 days, I got smarter. Soon, I was able to handle the pace of 25 every 30 seconds and reaching the 100-rep mark in 2 minutes. 

Here is how to make the best of your pacing for each testing event: 

First, practicing the test months in advance is an absolute must. Every week or two of your training, give yourself a test and focus on your pacing for many of the exercises such as running 1.5 miles, swimming 500m, and sit-ups for 2 minutes. Unless your test has cadence pullups or pushups, they are not necessary to pace like above, but you should still know your 30 second / 60 second / 90 second timed splits to make sure you are on pace for those events as well. These events are ALL about pacing as you can start off too fast and easily not score your best on these three events.

1.5 mile Running Pace – Check out this running plan that focuses on 6-minute mile pace and 7 minute mile pace.  Good for longer timed runs too. 

500m swim – Check out the 50-50 Workout as you need to also get into swimming shape once you master the technique with efficiency. 

2-minute sit-ups test – When you have a two-minute test of calisthenics, it is all about muscle stamina / endurance and mastering the pace that allows you to hit your goal. For many, a score between 80-100 sit-ups in 2 minutes is well above average and in the competitive zone.  Your goal is to break down the two-minute test into four 30 seconds segments and strive to get the pace at 20-25 in 30 seconds. Your first minute may be easy to do at that pace, but it takes time and practice to be able to build the stamina to do this pace for 2 minutes. Practice the pace regularly in your workouts with 30-second and 1-minute sit-ups sets. 

Related articles:  Improve Situps Quickly

Three Favorite Workouts to Crush Calisthenics Fitness Tests

The Rest of the Test – Good technique #1 Concern. The pullups and pushups are different and do not really require pacing. These are meant to be done quickly but with perfect form so practice your repetitions all the way up and all the way down with arms straight on the down rep of the pullup and the up rep of the pushup. These are the exercises that cause the instructors to not count your repetitions if they are not done in proper form.  Focus on your form and technique. However, some tests out there are cadence pushups and pullups on the instructor pace. You may need to take the test a few times to master the instructor’s pace but typically it is 1 rep / 2 seconds – so each movement is a second in the pushup test. The pullups are a bit different – just make sure you can do 10 slow up and down pullups before you crank out big sets of 15-20 during your workouts. 

If the Air Force Special Warfare IFT - The 2 x 25m underwater swims done before the 500m swim also take practice but is more of a technique issue than anything else. Pacing yourself here too. Do not just constantly stroke to get across the pool – focus on good arm pulls / kicks and a tight recovery and streamline body position and GLIDE.
See energy saving technique video. 

Longer Runs and Plank Poses – There are some fitness tests in the military that have longer than 1.5 mile running and replaced sit-ups with plank poses. For this change, pacing stays the same with the 2 mile runs of the Army PFT / CFT and the 3-mile run of the USMC PFT. Weekly 4-mile timed runs at BUDS and the 5 mile run at the Army Ranger PFT still need pacing – even more so though you may find the 7 minute mile pace a good goal pace for these distances. Plank poses are not a pacing exercise obviously BUT you can build up and progress with time similarly with this isometric core strength / stability test.

Need Programming for Fitness Tests and Beyond?  We are all about getting your TO and THROUGH your future training program.  See how that works. 


If you want help, that’s what I do…. Check out these resources that have helped spec ops candidates succeed where others have failed for the last 20+ years!

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Who is Stew Smith CSCS? Coach, Trainer, Writer, PodcasterI'm the former Navy SEAL that tactical candidates go to for books, ebooks and online coaching to prepare themselves to get to and through intense tactical assessment and selection programs and qualify for service in their chosen tactical profession.  See More at

Where to Find More Information About Optimal Performance Training Programs

When you start training again, consider the seasonal tactical fitness model.  I call it A WAY to train and obviously not the only way to train. But it offers the opportunity to never neglect your weaknesses, helps with flexibility and mobility, but will also put you at a level of physical abilities where you are happy with your overall ability to do just about anything. We have a system where the seasons dictate our training. When it is nicer outside, we tend to run and do more calisthenics. When it is colder and not so nice, we lift more, run less, and still maintain our outdoor activities with shorter runs and rucks. Check it out: Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization System.  

These Seasonal Tactical Fitness BLOCK Periodization programs will walk you through 4 x 4 weeks cycles with 16 weeks of each season in two programs. (32 total weeks)

Increase Strength & Crush the PST / PAST
3 Weeks Strength - 1 Week PT / Cardio Focus 
(16 weeks)

These programs will walk you through 4 cycles with 12 weeks of each season in two programs. 

The Specific Military / Special Ops Physical Fitness Workouts 

Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4  Grinder PT
Navy SWCC Workout

Army / Air Force Advanced Fitness / Special Ops 

Army PFT Workout (Prep For Rucking, OPAT, ACFT)
Army Special Forces / Ranger Workout
Army Air Assault School Workout
Army Airborne Workout
Air Force Special Warfare IFT / OFT / Selection Prep


Advanced Running Program - Special Ops Supplement Plan
USMC OCS / TBS Workout


The Combat Conditioning Workout
Air Force PJ / CCT Workout  Battlefield Airman Prep Course
The UBRR Upper Body Round Robin Workout / Spec Ops version


The Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer / Navy SAR Workout
The Service Academy Workout (West Point, Navy, Air Force Academy)
The Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp Boot Camp Workout


The Law Enforcement Physical Fitness Workouts

The FBI Academy Workout  |   FBI Workout Vol 2  
The DEA Workout
The FLETC Workout - Ace the PEB
The PFT Bible: Pushups, Sit-ups, 1.5 Mile Run
The Fire Fighter Workout - Ace the CPAT


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The dashboard below has the links to all the information, archives, videos, and links to workouts, podcasts, live Q and A lessons. 

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