How to Develop Strength When Preparing for a PT Test


This week I am posting in response to a request from a military candidate who needs to maintain high PT test scores while working on his ability to handle more weight bearing activities.

Many people can crush the gym and cardio events on a fitness test, but lack the strength to handle events such as rucking, fireman carry, stretcher carry, drags body, PT log, and other load-carrying and gripping events.

This system will maintain your calisthenics and endurance abilities, but will also rely on strength training events that are placed in a block periodization cycle. Here’s how it works:

Warm up with calisthenics

Your warm-ups will always be similar, whether it’s a leg day or an upper body day, although you’ll be swapping some interchangeable exercises. The three big warm-up exercises are push-ups, pull-ups, and squats placed in a ladder exercise with short jogs and dynamic stretches between sets.

stage day

  • Squats: 1
  • Race: 50 to 100 meters in easy jogging
  • Squats: 2
  • Race: 50 to 100 meters in easy jogging
  • Squats: 3
  • Run: 50-100 yards, but start mixing in 25 yards of dynamic stretching as you begin to warm up.
  • Keep going up the ladder until you get to 10 squats and stop.

This is also a great ACFT warm-up exercise. Other cardio-based leg day options should be considered during the week.

upper body day

Do the same as above but with pull-ups and/or push-ups. Go with a scale up to 10 of each.

After the upper or lower body ladder, run a warm-up mile.

This warm-up is a good way to ensure that you stay on top of your muscular endurance and endurance needs for gym and cardio fitness tests without exhausting yourself too much before focusing on strength training.

If this is a milestone day for you, consider this tactical profession milestone day option in your future.

Follow the warm-up above with this upper body strengthening and conditioning workout.

Repeat three times.

  • Bench press: 10
  • Dumbbell rows: 10 per arm

This push and pull combo can be performed with minimal rest, as each exercise allows for active rest of the opposing muscle group.

Death by the pumps

10-minute plank with 10 push-ups every minute per minute (EMOM).

It’s a great workout combo. Many service branches are now testing the plank pose instead of sit-ups or crunches. It’s fine to rest in a left or right side plank, but try to stay in the upward plank or push-up position for as long as possible and build up to 10 minutes.

Repeat three times.

  • Weight vest pull-ups: max (or heavy pull-downs: 5-10 reps)
  • Weight Vest Decreases: Max
  • Bicep curls with dumbbells and military: 10 (biceps curl that turns into a military or overhead press movement with dumbbells)
  • Abdominals: 1 minute

If sit-ups are part of your fitness test, add them as active rest. Otherwise, choose your own basic exercise for a minute.

PT Reset

The PT reset is a way to balance front body exercises with movements of opposing muscle groups to help with balance and better posture.

Training can go into a 3:1 block periodization pattern. This means you focus on strength training for three weeks, then take a week off (3:1 ratio). Make the strength release and recovery week a focus on calisthenics and cardio that resembles the PT test you’re also preparing for. You should also focus on maintaining your current high scores during a lifting phase.

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 [email protected]

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