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How to Ace the PFT?  Succeed by Failing?

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This week, I sent several emails to people seeking to ace their ARMY physical fitness tests for both bootcamp and OCS.  In my closing, I always remind people not to give up and that they will "succeed by failing." Some people get it and understand that to improve with pushups, pull-ups, situps, and other high-repetition calisthenics testing exercises, you have to push yourself until you can't do any more reps. Then, you can try a few more of the easier versions like knee pushups, assisted pull-ups or negatives, and crunches respectively.

Once you get to that burning sensation, you are reaching the peak of the muscle stamina in your body. In order to gain more stamina and muscular endurance, you have to "push the envelope" at least one workout a week. The remaining workouts of the week need to be foundation-building workouts that enable your body to do many repetitions in several sets. Such workouts are circuits, pyramids, or supersets as listed below:

Supersets for Pushups and Situps

Repeat this cycle of exercises non-stop 5-10 times

Regular pushups - 10
Regular situps - 10
Wide pushups - 10
Reverse Crunches - 10
Close or Tricep pushups - 10
Double crunches - 10

If you do this five times, you will have done 150 pushups and abdominal exercises in less than 15 minutes! Now that's a good foundation-building workout. You'll reach failure no matter who you are, only if you continue this workout for 10-15 times. When you reach failure and your goal is to reach five sets, go to your knees for pushups if you have to. That is what I mean when I say, "succeed by failing."

You have to be able to tell yourself that you can do these workouts even when you have never done over 100 pushups in your life. By breaking it up into little sets nearly anyone can do the above workout. Even if you can't, you still succeed and will be stronger the next time you try it.

There is a mental aspect to this type of "failure" training. Your mind will tell you that you are ready to quit before your body will usually. You have to be able to disengage that thinking process and push yourself until you truly fail. You want to not only fail at pushups, but fail at knee pushups too! The same goes for pullups and pull-downs and situps and crunches too.

I have trained many people who were unable to increase their PFT scores for years, and by adding the supersets and pyramid two times a week, and a testing workout once a week, they were able to gain in all areas. Testing workouts should be goal-oriented and pushed to maximum repetitions during a certain a period of time. For instance, the SEAL trainees I work with will do the following workout to test themselves and fail each set:

Pullups - 100
Pushups - 200
Situps - 300

The repetition goal above is to be done in as few sets as possible - alternating from one exercise to the next. The only rest you receive is when you workout the other muscle groups and moving from exercise to exercise. If you are not on that level of endurance, set your goals for half of that or even a tenth. Everyone fails at this workout -- even the most fit people I know. Try it -- you will get stronger by pushing yourself to failure once in a while.

Also see the pyramid workout article for other ideas on foundation-building exercise.

Here is the best methods to prepare for any Army PFT - Stew Smith eBooks

Have any fitness questions? Send them to me at

For immediate access to the Workout, click the link here:  The Army OCS and PFT Workout

Thanks for the e-mails. Keep them coming at


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. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Fitness eBook store and the
Stew Smith article archive at To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at

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Published Books / DVDs
Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness (Book / DVD)
Maximum Fitness

The Special Operations Workout

The SWAT Workout - From Recruit to SWAT Team Member
The Combat Swimmer Stroke DVD

The Pre-Habit Workout DVD
Clinic DVD for Navy SEAL PST
The FBI Special Agent Test Clinic DVD

The Complete List of Stew Smith's eBooks:

Fitness for All Levels of Fitness

The 90 Day Beginner Guide to Fitness
The Advanced Maintenance and Recovery Program

Reclaim Your Life - The Erin O'Neill Program

Veteran's Fitness - Baby Boomer and a Flat Stomach

The Busy Executive Workout Routine
The Advanced Weights / PT Workout (Fall / Winter Weight Gain Cycle)
The Perfect Pushup Workout

The TRX Workout
- Circuit Training 101 ebook

NEW Obstacle Course Race Ebook

The Special Forces Physical Fitness Workouts
 Combat Conditioning Workout

Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1  Beginner Weeks 1-9
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3 - Intermediate Weeks 1-12
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4  Grinder PT -  Four weeks before Hell Week

Navy SWCC Workout

The Army Special Forces / Ranger Workout 

The Army Air Assault School Workout

The Army Airborne Workout

Air Force PJ / CCT Workout

The Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Workout

The OCS, ROTC, Service Academy, & Bootcamp Workouts

New - Army PRT and CRT
Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard OCS Workout

The USMC IST and PFT Workout
USMC OCS / TBS Workout
The Service Academy Workout (West Point, Navy, Air Force Academy)
The Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp Bootcamp Workout

The Army OCS and PFT Workout
The PFT Bible - Military / Police Standard PFT


The Law Enforcement Physical Fitness Test Workouts

The FBI Academy / PFT Prep Workout

The DEA Prep Workout

The FLETC Prep Workout - Ace the PEB

The State / Local Police Academy Workout

The Fire Fighter Workout

Seal Multi Men's Multi-Vitamin Multi-Mineral

TRX Train Like the Pros


Some Titles Above available in Print Softcover Format