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Group PFT in the Military and Law Enforcement

This week, I had the opportunity to speak at a major Naval command with the command’s division Remedial PFT leaders.  From this I have developed a generic form of my answers to their issues as a part of my deliverables to the PFT Consulting Service I do for Military and Law Enforcement commands.  Many of the issues the Navy is having with the physical mission stretch across the board within all branches of the military and law enforcement.  The problems many group PT leaders are having are the following: 

                        Group PT Ideas

                        Motivation to reach above the minimum standards

                        Foundation Building for Remedial PT (flexibility / endurance)

                        Pre-PFT Meals for better performance

                        Upperbody strength in pushups and abdominal exercises

                        Running Speed for the 1.5 mile timed run

                        Body fat percentage – tape test

 The topics above are presented below in general terms with more detailed explanations in the previous written articles located in the Article Archive links provided. Motivation 

If I had the answer as to how to motivate people to become better fit and healthy, I would probably have a New York Times bestseller!  People are all different and some things will motivate one to exercise and not work for the rest of the group.  Usually the motivating factors include, but are not limited to the following:

             1 – Future Deployment to War Zone – Presently, the chances of deploying to a war zone are greater than ever and occur within many branches whether or not you are in a combat unit or at a permanent duty station within the United States.  Many people want to be smaller targets and seek to lose weight when traveling to Iraq or Afghanistan.  Others just want to be able to be fit to survive and build their abilities run or ruck over long distances.  Building upper body and lower body strength and endurance is the key to this goal.  Think of working out as a means to “gain fitness”, not as a means to “lose weight”.  Before you know it, you are fit and you have lost weight.

             2 – Career Options – To further your career, you need to score above average on your physical fitness tests.  And conversely, if you fail your PT / Run test or your body fat test, you can easily lose your military career altogether, not just miss a promotion.

             3 – Vanity – Wanting to look better in and out of your clothes always works.  It is a motivating factor for many of us, but should be a sub-goal of your overall plan.  Focusing on more tangible factors like timed runs, PT scores, and even inches lost tend to motivate the masses better than subjective goals. 

            4 – Teaching People is the Key – Many people just do not know HOW to workout. So they do not like to do it. As with anything that is new to use, exercise too can be fun and exciting IF the instructor can be informative by properly describing techniques, mental tips to pass with higher scores, proper nutrition prior to performing the PFT, and list of workout ideas for people to follow when not working out with the command.  All the above “tools of the trade” can be found in the Article Archive.  

Foundation Building

As mentioned above, with a majority of the group, you have to build a foundation of fitness, before expecting stellar results.  The way, I recommend the group focus on stretching and multiple sets of low to medium repetitions to build a solid core before advancing onto maximum sets of two minute testing.  By building a foundation on the pushups, situps, pullups, and running, the PT group will grow in a steady progression. 

Remember to work both sides of the muscles in order create strength balances near the major joints of the body as well as to prevent injury.  For instance, the opposing muscle groups of the chest / upper back, biceps / triceps, thighs / hamstrings, and stomach / lower back should considering is preparing a fitness plan.

 For instance:

 Pushups flex the triceps, chest, shoulders while stretching the upper back muscles.  Exercise the upper back should also be considered.  See the Lower Back Injury Prevention linked below for three great exercises to help with upper body balance.

 Back / Stomach – Situps, crunches, and other abs exercises engage the stomach muscles while the lower back muscles are stretched / strained.  See upper back and lower back Injury prevention article 

Lower back / Upper back Injury Prevention 

See the Super Set and PT Pyramid Articles listed below for more detail and sample workouts. 

Pyramid Training 

Superset workout – training philosophy and top ten questions / answers 

Group PT 

All Branches PFT Standards

Working out with a group of people with a similar fitness goal should not be as difficult as it is. But, with a variety of standards and fitness levels of large groups as well as personal motivation levels, group PT in the military is extremely difficult.  It seems that about half the group who are fit will receive a marginal workout at best, while unfit members of the group will border on injury and overexert themselves for their fitness level.  See the link below to a sample Group PT program that I developed for remedial PT groups.

Sample Group PT Workout 


For the PFT programs that require pushups, here is a way to build pushups in a short period of time.  Click the links below for details to add up to 50-100% to your pushup totals in as little as 14 days.

 Pushup – Push Workout:    


Running is by far the most challenging part for all branches of service.  However, improving running and preventing running injuries can be taught as simply as it is to perform a pushup.  Below there are running plans the Group PT leader can use to help increase endurance and decrease run times.  Take baby steps when it comes to running.  If you have never run, you should walk ¼ mile, run a ¼ mile and build up accordingly until 1.5 miles is doable in a fast walk or slow run.  Once you build that foundation, you can add to your speed.  

Decrease Your Run Times – Increase Your Pace

Prevent Running Injuries


For both men and women, situps or curl-ups are the easiest exercise to perform at above average levels.  It does not take but a few short weeks to improve your abdominal strength and endurance and for most it is a matter of learning proper pace.  Most people start off too fast and burn out in a two-minute period.  See the articles linked below for more information.

Increase Your Situps – Decrease Your Pace

Overall, the PFT can cause stress for those who are not properly prepared and can be an exceptional stress reliever for those you seek to maximize the scores.  The mindset of merely surviving by reaching the minimum standards in the PFT is completely different from those who use the PFT to complete with their shipmates to win the individual events.  Both mindsets can cause anxiety and no matter if you are in shape or marginal, if you have not properly fueled yourself prior to the PFT, you will not perform at your maximum levels.  See the article on PFT Anxiety for answers to alleviating this stress prior to testing.

 PFT Anxiety

 Lean Down but still have energy to PT / Run / Swim etc.. 

The last problem area is the Tape Test where the body circumference is measured.  The article below on the Tape Test will assist with ideas to lose the inches and gain the inches where needed to pass this test.

Tape Test

 This article should prove to be an all inclusive reference guide for you to prepare yourself as well as your command for accepting the challenge of scoring above average on the PFT, as well as preparing PFT failures and Tape Test failures to reach their goals and surpass them.  See the Fitness Store  for more workout programs.  Good luck with your endeavors and feel free to email me at should you have any questions concerning fitness in or outside of the military. 

Contact me concerning a personalized service I provide for military and law enforcement commands.

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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