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Spec Ops Articles

Navy SEAL Info   |   Army & SF Info    |  USMC Info   |  FBI Training Info

The Proper Technique for Curl Ups

This week’s article deals with a portion of the physical fitness test found in every branch of service. This is one element of the test that many people either barely pass or just fail. The sit-up or curl-up is also the easiest exercise to score maximum points for, but you must practice this exercise several times a week to reach that achievement. Here is a question from an Army Recruit getting ready for Basic.

I have a question about situps. Can you explain the proper technique that will produce the most efficient results?

The answer to this one is simply work SMARTER - not HARDER!

In the Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard you have to cross your arms over your chest and touch your elbows to your knees when in the “up” position, and drop your shoulders blades to the floor in the “down” position. You can only rest while in the “up” position.  BUT, in the ARMY, place your legs at 45 degree angle, fingers interlocked behind the head, all the way up until the neck surpasses base of the spine (beyond vertical torso).  To get good at Army Situps - you have to do Army Situps...but the workouts and pace still apply.

Place your feet flat on the floor and raise your knees. It is best to start out with the heels of your feet about 12-18 inches from your rump.

situpssitupsSitups or curlups - Lie on your back with your arms crossed over your chest, keeping your knees slightly bent. Raise your upper body off the floor by flexing your abdominal muscles. Touch your elbows to your thighs and repeat. During the PFT, someone will be counting and holding your feet for you.

The most important thing is to pace your situps. Too many times people start out too fast and do about 30-40 in the first 30 seconds and not being able to get 30-40 in the next 1:30 in a 2:00 test. That tells me that you started out too fast.  If your goal is 80-100 in a 2:00 period, you should pace yourself at 20-25 in 30 seconds and 40-50 in 1:00.

The way I do this is train with the clock when doing abs in my workout.

Try 2-3 sets of timed situps at 1:00 - find the pace that matches your goal score.

Then try 4-5 sets of 30 seconds timed situps.  Try to maintain pace each time.

Here is a method similar to the Pullup-Push and the Pushup-Push to help you increase your situps FAST.  Here is an email I received that prompted me to finish the trial faster:

“Stew, I have used your pullup and pushup push plans and actually increased my pushups from 50 to 88 and my pullups from 12 to 20 in just two weeks.  Thanks!  I have neglected my sit-​​ups however (62 in 2 min); and need some ideas on the quickest way to increase my reps for the AF PJ two minute PAST test for situps.  Do you have a “Situp Push Plan” like your pull /​ push plans? I am trying to get my situps to 85–100 for the PAST”

I have been working on a Situp Overload Plan to help create a better foundation to increase situps by 50–75% in just 14 days.  It is a little different than the Pullup / Pushup Push plan where you take your current maximum and multiply by five for 10 straight days – add in three rest days and test on day 14.  See differences in the steps below:

The NEW Situp Push Program is designed like this:

 Mark your current maximum score for your test (62 in 2 minutes).  Do the type of exercise you will be tested:  Situps — hands behind head with elbows toughing knees, curl ups — hands crossed on chest with elbows touching knees, or crunches — hands crossed on chest with elbow toughing lower thighs.

NOTE – If your situp test is only 1 minute, the process is the same BUT your pace can be faster than in the 2 minutes test.

 Take your max score and multiply by three (62 x 3 = 186) and do this number (or rounded up to nearest 10) for 10 straight days.

– Day 1–4:  Do 186 situps in thirty-second sets BUT shoot for 20–25 situps in 30 seconds so for days 1–4 you will do 186 situps in timed sets of 30 seconds for four days straight.  Your goal is to get 20–25 situps in that time so for this workout, you will do roughly 8–9 sets of 20–25 situps in 30 seconds.   Spread these 30 seconds sets throughout your existing workout however you desire.  I personally like to “rest with abs” in between sets of pullups or weighted exercises or even running /​ swimming intervals.

* Note if you are having trouble keeping the goal pace for 30 seconds, try it for 15 seconds and shoot for quick timed sets of 10–12 repetitions for 15 seconds.  The first 15–20 seconds of a 2 minute situp test is where people start off too fast, so it is a good idea to practice the start of the test regularly.

– Day 5–8: You change the timed sets and shoot for 40–50 situps in 1 minute sets.  Do 186 situps in 1 minute sets with a goal of 40–50 situps per minute.  This should take you 4–5 sets done through your workout for four days straight.

– Days 9–10:  You change the timed sets to 2 minutes focused on the same pace as above.  186 situps should be completed in 2–3 sets for two days straight.

– Lower BACK Strength – Just working the front side of the body is where many go wrong.  For every situp repetition you do in your daily workout, you have to get in the plank pose for the same number of seconds (186 seconds or three minutes).  Somewhere in your daily workouts for Day 1–10 you have to get a total of three minutes in the plank pose.  Also see Lower back Plan

– Stretch the hip flexors, thighs, lower back, and stomach after each day of the 10 day situps program.

— Days 11–13:  Time to recoverTake 3 days off from any abdominal exercises.  You can still run, swim, lift, and/​or PT but skip the ab exercises for this period of 3 days.

– Day 14:  TEST Day – Give yourself a 1–2 minute test (whichever your test requires) and focus on the goal pace you mastered.  When you do your situps, practice exerting on the UP movement of the situp and letting gravity take you back to the ground.  No need to waste your stomach muscles on letting yourself down softly on the floor.  Just fall back – relaxing the abs for a second.

Where most people go wrong on two minute timed situps tests is that they start off too fast in the first 30 seconds and usually cannot match their reps in the next 1:30.  So, if your goal is 80–100 situps in 2 minutes, you need a pace of 20–25 in 30 seconds, 40–50 situps in 1 minute and 60–75 situps in 1:30, and 80–100 in 2 minutes.  This takes practice at not just mastering the goal pace, but building up your endurance in order to maintain the pace for longer than you previously could.

So in a nutshell, you will get better at situp tests by taking more situp tests and increasing your endurance by increasing your situp volume BUT at your goal pace for situps.  In the future, once you master the 100 reps in 2 minute pace, you can do more situp sets every OTHER day but focus on 1 situp per second to help you maintain a pace of 100–120 situps in 2 minutes.

  • Note if your situp test is the 1 minute test.  Start off at a goal pace of 40–50 in 1 minute and build up to 1 per second or faster to get the above average scores of 60+ in 1 minute score.  Remember – do not forget to work the lower back to balance out all the extra abdominal work you are doing.  If you neglect the back of your torso, you will likely suffer a lower back injury regardless of how many situps you are doing daily.

As you start to fatigue and think you cannot do any more situps, slide your rump about 4-6 inches away from your feet. This will create a different angle between your stomach muscles and legs and you should be able to crank out a 5-10 more situps in your last 20-30 seconds.

To conserve abdominal stamina in the situps test, only exert yourself on the “up” portion of the exercise and let gravity take you down so your shoulder blades touch the floor. Many times people keep their abs flexed while descending and waste too much energy. This error and lack of pace are the two biggest culprits from performing well on the curl-ups or sit-ups test. Of course, lack a proper training 4-5 times a week will prevent you from doing as well as you could in the physical fitness test as well.

For more information on programs that will help you pass any physical fitness test, check out the Fitness eBook store and of course email Stew Smith at for more info or answers to any questions.


For more information about acing fitness tests, see the Amazon EBOOK or
Store Book if softcover print if you prefer the book version. 

You can use the tips, techniques, and tools I have developed over the past 25 years of personally training for, testing, and coaching others to ace fitness tests but to also gain fitness and job performance credibility, and even get in the best shape of your life and lose weight!

In this NEW breakthrough Military, Police, Fire Fighter PT Test Survival Guide, I will teach you how to build a physically stronger, fitter, and leaner body that can ace a fitness test any day of the week.  Situps INCLUDED!

Avoid the training mistakes that developing your own workout program can yield. While, at the same time, learn Twelve PT Secrets that prevent sub-standard results most candidates and active duty veterans make during fitness tests.

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, just e-mail him 

Complete List of Books, eBooks, DVDs

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Published Books / DVDs / APPs

The Navy SEAL Weight Training Workout   |  More info   |  Book only
Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness
     |    More Info     | 
Book / DVD
Maximum Fitness - CrossTraining     |    More Info     |  Book only
The Special Operations Workout     |   More Info     |     Book only
The SWAT Workout - From Recruit to SWAT      |  More Info    |  Book only
The Combat Swimmer Stroke Video     |  More Info   |  Download MP4
The Pre-Habit Workout     |  More Info  |  DVD only

New Fitness APPs Navy SEAL, FBI, Pushup. Pullups   |  More Info    |  APPS

The Complete List of Stew Smith's eBooks / Books:


Fitness for All Levels of Fitness

The 90 Day Beginner Guide to Fitness    |  More Info  |  eBook, Book

Reclaim Your Life - The Erin O'Neill Program     |  More Info   eBook only

Veteran's Fitness - Baby Boomer and a Flat Stomach     |  More Info   eBook only

The Diabetic Prevention Workout   |  More Info   |   eBook only 

The Busy Executive Workout Routine    |  eBook only

Advanced Maintenance and Recovery Program   |  More Info   |  eBook only

The TRX Workout eBook     |  More Info   eBook only

NEW - Circuit Training 101 eBook      |  More Info   eBook only

NEW Obstacle Course Race eBook      |  More Info   eBook only

The Special Forces Physical Fitness Workouts


Combat Conditioning Workout       |  More Info  |  eBook, Book

Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1:  Beginner       |  More Info  |    eBook, Book

Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3:  Intermediate     |  More Info   eBook, Book


Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4  Grinder PT      |  More Info   eBook, Book

Navy SWCC Workout       |  More Info    |    eBook, Book


Army Special Forces / Ranger Workout  | More Info SF /  Ranger  eBook, Book


USMC RECON Workout       |  More Info  |  eBook, Book


Air Force PJ / CCT Workout      |  More Info  |  eBook, Book


The Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Workout      |  More Info   eBook, Book


The Army Air Assault School Workout     More Info   eBook only


The Army Airborne Workout     More Info   eBook only


NEW - Upper Body Round Robin (UBRR)    More Info   eBook only

NEW - Tactical Fitness Test - Dirty Dozen    |  More Info   |  eBook only


The OCS, ROTC, Service Academy, & Bootcamp Workouts

The USMC IST and PFT Workout      More Info   eBook only


USMC OCS / TBS Workout       |  More Info   eBook, Book


The Service Academy Workout     More Info   eBook, Book


Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp Bootcamp Workout   More Info   eBook, Book


The Army OCS and PFT Workout    More Info   eBook, Book


NEW Army PRT and Combat Readiness Test Workout    More Info   eBook only


The PFT Bible - Military / Police Standard PFT    |  More Info   eBook, Book


The Law Enforcement Physical Fitness Test Workouts


The FBI Academy / PFT Prep Workout (Vol 1 and 2)      |  More Info   eBook, Book


The DEA Prep Workout      More Info   eBook only


The FLETC Prep Workout - Ace the PEB      More Info   eBook, Book


The PFT Bible - Military / Police Standard PFT      |  More Info   eBook, Book


The Fire Fighter Workout       |  More Info   eBook, Book





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