Pretty much any veteran or active-duty soldier will be intimately familiar with the Army PT Test. On the surface, the PT test is designed to ensure that your overall fitness is at a satisfactory level for the function you service. It is designed to test muscular strength in key areas, as well as general cardio fitness levels,
The PT test has also started to make its way into endurance events, and very specifically is a primary component now of GORUCK Heavy and GORUCK Selection.
For GORUCK, the PT test will manifest itself as follows
- 2 minute push-up test (Selection and Heavy)
- 2 minute sit-up test (Selection and Heavy)
- 5 mile run (Selection only)
- 12 mile weighted ruck march (Selection and Heavy)
This post will focus on the first component of the test, the push-up. I will first outline the test, as described by cadre during the event. Then I will provide a list of my own training tips, followed by a list of “game day” tips.
Push-up Test, defined
At the start of the PT test portion of a GORUCK event, cadre will read out the instructions for that portion of the test. Here we are focusing on the first aspect, the push-up
“THE PUSH-UP EVENT MEASURES THE ENDURANCE OF THE CHEST, SHOULDER, AND TRICEPS MUSCLES.”
There are specific metrics that need to be maintained for the duration of the 2 minute pushup test.
“ON THE COMMAND ‘GET SET,’ ASSUME THE FRONT-LEANING REST POSITION BY PLACING YOUR HANDS WHERE THEY ARE COMFORTABLE FOR YOU. YOUR FEET MAY BE TOGETHER OR UP TO 12 INCHES APART. WHEN VIEWED FROM THE SIDE, YOUR BODY SHOULD FORM A GENERALLY STRAIGHT LINE FROM YOUR SHOULDERS TO YOUR ANKLES. ON THE COMMAND ‘GO,’ BEGIN THE PUSH-UP BY BENDING YOUR ELBOWS AND LOWERING YOUR ENTIRE BODY AS A SINGLE UNIT UNTIL YOUR UPPER ARMS ARE AT LEAST PARALLEL TO THE GROUND. THEN, RETURN TO THE STARTING POSITION BY RAISING YOUR ENTIRE BODY UNTIL YOUR ARMS ARE FULLY EXTENDED. YOUR BODY MUST REMAIN RIGID IN A GENERALLY STRAIGHT LINE AND MOVE AS A UNIT WHILE PERFORMING EACH REPETITION. AT THE END OF EACH REPETITION, THE SCORER WILL STATE THE NUMBER OF REPETITIONS YOU HAVE COMPLETED CORRECTLY.”
The test is TERMINATED (you completely failed) if you do the following
- Hands or feet leave the ground for the duration of the test
- Feet exceed 12” apart
- Any part of your body, except toes or hands, touches the ground (knees for example).
There are some cases where a repetition will not be counted, In addition, if all first 10 repetitions fail to meet the standards you will be told to stop altogether. At this point your mistakes will be described to you and you will be given an opportunity to retake. I have never seen this in practice.
“IF YOU FAIL TO KEEP YOUR BODY GENERALLY STRAIGHT, TO LOWER YOUR WHOLE BODY UNTIL YOUR UPPER ARMS ARE AT LEAST PARALLEL TO THE GROUND, OR TO EXTEND YOUR ARMS COMPLETELY, THAT REPETITION WILL NOT COUNT, AND THE SCORER WILL REPEAT THE NUMBER OF THE LAST CORRECTLY PERFORMED REPETITION. IF YOU FAIL TO PERFORM THE FIRST TEN PUSH-UPS CORRECTLY, THE SCORER WILL TELL YOU TO GO TO YOUR KNEES AND WILL EXPLAIN TO YOU WHAT YOUR MISTAKES ARE. YOU WILL THEN BE SENT TO THE END OF THE LINE TO BE RETESTED. AFTER THE FIRST 10 PUSH-UPS HAVE BEEN PERFORMED AND COUNTED, HOWEVER, NO RESTARTS ARE ALLOWED. THE TEST WILL CONTINUE, AND ANY INCORRECTLY PERFORMED PUSH-UPS WILL NOT BE COUNTED.”
A “no count” repetition occurs when
- Hips either sag or raise too far off a straight line during the movement
- Body is not lowered enough such that upper-arms reach or break parallel
- Body is not raised enough such that arms extend completely to lock-out
“AN ALTERED, FRONT-LEANING REST POSITION IS THE ONLY AUTHORIZED REST POSITION. THAT IS, YOU MAY SAG IN THE MIDDLE OR FLEX YOUR BACK. WHEN FLEXING YOUR BACK, YOU MAY BEND YOUR KNEES, BUT NOT TO SUCH AN EXTENT THAT YOU ARE SUPPORTING MOST OF YOUR BODY WEIGHT WITH YOUR LEGS. IF THIS OCCURS, YOUR PERFORMANCE WILL BE TERMINATED. YOU MUST RETURN TO, AND PAUSE IN, THE CORRECT STARTING POSITION BEFORE CONTINUING. IF YOU REST ON THE GROUND OR RAISE EITHER HAND OR FOOT FROM THE GROUND, YOUR PERFORMANCE WILL BE TERMINATED. YOU MAY REPOSITION YOUR HANDS AND/OR FEET DURING THE EVENT AS LONG AS THEY REMAIN IN CONTACT WITH THE GROUND AT ALL TIMES. CORRECT PERFORMANCE IS IMPORTANT. YOU WILL HAVE TWO MINUTES IN WHICH TO DO AS MANY PUSH-UPS AS YOU CAN. WATCH THIS DEMONSTRATION.”
It is important to note that there ARE authorized rest positions. These are the standard front leaning rest position, or a modified front leaning rest position. If you know yoga, think plank, downward facing dog and upward facing dog. Remember though do NOT let the knees touch the ground
For example, the following are authorized rest positions:
The following video demonstrates adjustment of hand position, as well as some no-reps scenarios. The video is in slow-mo with captions and shows some good repetitions followed by some no-rep scenarios.
In the following video example, the aim was to get to 55 push-ups only.
- I intentionally adjusted my hands early on without them leaving the ground. This is allowed, and recommended to switch the muscle group focus if you fatigue while progressing through the test.
- Additionally I purposely paused well before fatigue set in, went to an allowed rest position, and then continued with sets of 5 until hitting the required 55 push-ups. If this were an actual PT test I’d have continued this technique until time was up.
- Total time was 1m02s.
- 10 minutes before this video I did 10 quick push-ups as a warm up.
Watching this back I noticed that some of the later reps in the first group didn’t quite go down to parallel so I’d have gotten a few possible no-reps here, highlighting again the importance of aiming to exceed the standard. If I were being judged directly, I’d have gotten direct feedback in the form of a no-rep and been able to fix my form sooner. Camera angle may also be a factor here, and I will reshoot from a 3/4 angle and repost.
Pass or Fail?
For GORUCK Selection, this is easy to quantify. You MUST complete 55 perfect push-ups within a 2 minute time frame. For some, this might be tricky. For others, less so. I typically have all 55 completed within the first minute at which point I take a break and then push out 5 at a time until time is up. I usually get around 80 total. You definitely want to aim to complete a number well above 55 – on game day things can go wrong – so aim to hit 65 at a minimum on a regular basis.
For GORUCK Heavy the requirement is 49 in 2 minutes. Failure might require a repeat unless cadre determine you are exerting maximum effort.
Its also worth nothing that the PT test is pretty much the easiest part of Selection so passing this should only be a small part of your focus.
The best way to train for push-ups is to do push-ups – there is really no other substitute. That said, other exercises that hit the chest, shoulders, and triceps will help improve your push-up ability. Getting used to one of the modified rest positions is also useful, and for me regular yoga classes help there (lots of time in the “rest” position of down dog). Yoga also strengthens the core, which helps reduce the fatigue when keeping the body straight as well as protects the back from going into extension.
As far as doing push-ups during training, take every opportunity to make life more difficult. Training under adverse conditions will make the controlled conditions of the PT test seem like a cakewalk.
As an example, try
- Weighted push-ups – add a 25lb or 45lb plate on your back and build up to 50 pushups in one go, or do the same with a small child – they love the ride!
- Decline push-ups – prop your feet on a bench or stack of plates
- Explosive push-ups – have your hands leave the ground into a clap
- Drape chains or use resistance bands
Additionally you will want to get good at doing pushups in different hand positions to hit the chest or triceps differently. That way if fatigue sets in on the chest (for example) during the test, you can adjust your hand placement (as long as they don’t leave the ground) to be more narrow in order to engage the triceps more.
It is important to note that if you are just starting out, you will want to ease into your rep count. In other words don’t go from 0-100 in days. Slowly build up. Daily consistency with small increases will get you surprisingly far in a relatively short period of time, and will help keep you from injury.
Finally, make sure you are doing your push-ups with good form. If your arms are too wide you can put too much strain on the shoulder, so ensure that your elbows are tucked.
PT Test Prep
A few tips to ensure maximum performance.
- Don’t sugar bomb.
- Its tempting before the test or event starts to take a high-calorie, high-sugar snack for energy. The problem here is that you will typically crash before the test is complete, which will cost you some reps. Instead eat something low-glycemic before the event starts.
- Be hydrated.
- Proper hydration allows your body to operate at peak performance. Being dehydrated will cost you reps.
- Warm up.
- Do some light weight calisthenics to get the heart rate up and the muscles warmed up. Do 5-10 pushups 5-10 minutes before your test starts.
PT Test Execution
A few tips to ensure maximum performance
- Don’t hit failure before pausing to rest.
- Its tempting to keep knocking out push-ups until you reach failure. The problem is that the rest period needed will be greater in this case. Learn the cues that you are coming to failure and rest at that point. For example, if you go to failure at 60 push-ups, take a short break at 50 instead and then start pushing out 5 or 10 reps at a time.
- Don’t go slow.
- Allow gravity to help you drop, rather than lowering yourself down. Explode up quickly as soon as you are low enough. Going quickly will use less energy per rep.
- Use the easiest form possible.
- Place your hands optimally for you. Move your feet apart. By utilizing the full 12” distance for your feet your core will be doing less work to stay rigid.
- Trick your mind.
- For example, if I switch my focus to pushing the ground away from me rather than me away from the ground I can get more reps before failure. I use this trick as fatigue kicks in.
The push-up test is pretty easy to get a handle on, but there are a few tips in terms of training, prep and execution that can increase your rep count significantly.
I’m not really sure how I stumbled across your blog, but I am really glad I did. I am doing my first GRC this summer and hope to progress to a Heavy and maybe a Selection in the future. I started from your first post and am slowly working through them all, lots of excellent info!
Great blog, keep up the good work.