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How to prepare for a Military Fitness Test

Six years ago at the age of 18 I applied to join the Royal Navy. I passed the initial exams and interviews but what I was most concerned about was the navy’s basic fitness test. The test consisted of a 1.5m run (to be completed in 13 min 10 sec or less), 20 push-ups and 20 sits-up and a swim test that included a 50 meter swim and treading water for 2 minutes while wearing a set of baggy overalls. I felt that the swim test was not an issue as I was a strong swimmer at that point. However the run, push-ups and sit-ups were far beyond my ability.

The Navy’s Basic Fitness Test consisted of a 1.5m run (to be completed in 13 min 10 sec or less), 20 push-ups and 20 sits-up and a swim test that included a 50 meter swim and treading water for 2 minutes while wearing a set of baggy overalls.


In my school and college years I didn’t consider myself to be a particularly sporty person and physical education classes had not interested me. So when it came to preparing for the Royal Navy tests I had no knowledge of how and where to start. My first concern was that my weight might be an issue for the Navy as I was slightly overweight back then. I had a medical a couple of days later and I was given the all clear and told my weight would not be a problem. I then set out to figure out the task of passing the fitness test.

With no general idea of fitness methodology and how to train I asked a friend who at the time was a chef in the army to help me. Taking his advice we started by mapping a 1.5mile street route something away from crossings and busy roads so nothing could stop me during the run meaning we could get an accurate reading of my progress as the practice runs went by. This was done 5 days a week (Monday to Friday) with my friend running alongside me and timing my run. Weekends were rest days and no training was done on Saturdays and Sundays.

As for the push ups and sit ups I gave myself 2 minutes for each exercise to do as many as I possibly could, technique was not a concern for me and if I’m honest didn’t think it mattered. I also did this 5 times a week (Monday to Friday) straight after my 1.5 mile run. This is how the fitness test was carried out, run first then push-ups and sit-ups so I made it as realistic as possible.

I did this every week for 4 months before phase 1 training with the navy started which was 9 weeks away from home in basic accommodation up at 5 in the morning and bed by usually 1 in the morning after an endless amount of day classes ranging from seamanship and drill marching to weapons training. On top of that clothes worn the previous day needed hand washing, drying and folding into an A4 size before being placed neatly into what looked like an old filing cabinet made into a locker. Every morning, the bed needed making and pressing with hospital corners created ready for a daily inspection. The kit we were wearing had to be clean and pressed (creases in the right place), boots buffed so they have a good shine and finally we had to be clean shaven, all before the day proper started! Obviously I didn’t fully know what lay ahead of me or how my life would be for that 9-week period.

The good news was that on the second day of phase-1 training, I passed the fitness test that I had been working diligently toward. I set a personal best on the 1.5 mile run with a time of 11minutes 23 seconds. Additionally I was able to blast through the sets of press-ups and sit-ups too. Success!

There was a big challenge looming ahead though… I had trained hard and with dedication for four months straight preparing for that test and I was physically fatigued, I found it extremely hard to continue giving it my all throughout all the fitness classes remaining in the remainder of phase-1 training. I had expected to be tired mentally and partly on a physical level too, but I found I was exhausted for most of that 9 weeks. Looking back now it was probably due to the amount of hard exercise I had been doing for 4 months leading up to phase-1 training.

It has now been 6 years since my initial training and about 18 months ago I left the Royal Navy and returned to the civilian world. I am now a H.I.T. qualified personal trainer and have worked in the fitness industry for just over seven months.

It’s interesting looking back now as to just how differently I would train a client for the same test that I did 6 years ago. I would drop the amount of practice 1.5 mile runs performed from 5x per week to 2x per week: one at a moderate pace and one at a fast pace. After the fast paced run I would have them perform press-ups and sit-ups as per the test standards.

I would also have the client perform a handful of press-ups and sit-ups on 2 other days per week- these would be performed well short of muscular failure. These sets are not primarily aimed at strengthening the muscle tissue but rather at refining the skill of performing these movements.

Following an exercise protocol of skills practice and High Intensity Training, I could take someone who struggles with the military fitness test to being able to pass it successfully with 8-12 weeks of training.


With the specifics of the test addressed I would then also add 1 H.I.T. strength workout per week. This will be a whole body workout, consisting of:

  • Compound Row
  • Chest Press
  • Pulldown
  • Overhead Press
  • Calf Raise
  • Leg Press

In total the weekly program would look like this:

Monday HIT Strength Training
Tuesday Off
Wednesday Moderate Run and Push-Up/Sit-Up skill practice
Thursday Push-Up/Sit-Up skill practice
Friday Off
Saturday Hard Run and push-up/sit-up test conditions
Sunday Off


Following this protocol, I could take someone who struggles with the test to being able to pass successfully with 8-12 weeks of training.


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