How to Prepare for a PT Test When Recovering from Injury and Weight Gain

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Marines compete in a rowing competition.
U.S. Marine Corps athletes from Wounded Warrior Battalion West compete in the rowing finals during the 2021 Regional Marine Corps Trials at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., April 21. (Lance Cpl. Kenny Nunez Bigay/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

How many of you have had this cycle happen to yourself or someone in your military unit? Here is the typical sequence of events: Someone gets injured, misses PT testing cycles during recovery, stops training regularly, gains weight and finds themselves no longer in condition to pass when they are finally cleared to take the next PT test.

Do not feel bad if you find yourself in this situation. This happens to more people than you realize, and depending on the illness or injury, it is not necessarily your fault that you find yourself in this dilemma.

These recommendations may be general, but any mix of these options will be helpful by first preventing the situation or helping to deal with it once you finally resume normal training.

1. Keep Your Training Habit Going

Even if you're injured, you can train and work around your injuries. Upper-body workouts may be out if you hurt your shoulder, but non-impact cardio (maybe even running), leg and core days are still on the table. The same is true for knee or running injuries. You may not be able to run or work the legs, but you still can work the upper body. This is the one case where the "Don't Skip Leg Day" rule does not apply.

2. Mobility Days with System Checks

Another way to keep the training habit going is to do the mobility day with a systems check option. Do non-impact cardio, followed by stretching and foam rolling for the entire workout. See an explanation of Mobility Day below. If the lower body is injured, the term Don't Skip Mobility Days now applies.

3. Watch What You Eat

It is easy to gain weight when you take out all physical training activity but still eat normally. When you cut your workouts to near zero, you need to eat less than you normally do. You may have to stop eating the extra calories that your workouts were burning.

Smaller portions and drinking more water are the first recommended goals when in this situation.You can try a diet if you want, but the goal is always to eat fewer calories than you were before the injury. Try some of these options.

3. Starting to Train Again Once Cleared

Be smart and do not try to start training where you left off prior to the injury. Consider running every other day as you build your weekly running volume each week by 10% to 15%.

The week 1 column below is a good place to start assessing yourself on the first day. Can you finish the PT test while passing some events but not others? Can you run the entire distance without having to walk, even if you failed to meet a specific time?

These are the things you need to know so you can focus on what you need to get to passing scores. Then the secondary goal is to get well beyond the minimum standards so the next PT cycle will not be an issue.

This is an odd/even run day split routine where you run every other day. You still should do your normal upper-body PT in addition to this routine to maintain or increase scores on push-ups and planks.

I've worked out this plan for a hypothetical Navy person who was injured, gained weight, recovered and now needs a training program.

Week 1, Day 1: PFT

Take your Navy fitness test to assess where you are:

Push-ups: 2 minutes

Plank pose: 3-4 minutes

Timed run: 1.5 miles

Assess yourself. What are your weaknesses? Let's focus on them by creating a weekly training plan.

Typical issues: 20 pounds overweight, pass push-ups, fail plank and fail run by 1-2 minutes.

Later in the day, do more non-impact cardio:

Bike pyramid: 20 minutes

Elliptical pyramid: 20 minutes

Between each cardio session, do two minutes of plank pose

Days 2, 4 and 6: Non-impact Cardio Day

Every other day is a non-running day, but that does not mean you have the day off. The cardio and plank training is still hard.

The impact of running can be painful if you have added weight. Work the heart and lungs without the impact of running.

Bike warmup: 10 minutes

Plank: 2 minutes

Tabata intervals 20 seconds sprint 10 seconds easy

Do this interval on three different cardio machines for 15 minutes each. Options are bike, elliptical, rowing machine or stair stepper.

Between each cardio session of 15 minutes, do two minutes of plank pose.

Day 3: Run intervals

Learn the pace you need to run to pass the test you are currently failing.

Warm up with squat pyramids with 100-meter runs in between: 1 squat, run 100 meters; 2 squats, run 100 meters up to 10. Stop and stretch as needed. Do warmup jogs and not sprints.

Repeat 6-8 times for 1.5 to 2 miles total.

Run 400 meters at goal mile pace for two minutes Walk 100 meters

Walk, bike or elliptical cooldown: 10-15 minutes

Day 5: Run intervals

Warm up with a squat pyramid with 100 meters runs between each set: 1 squat, run 100 meters; 2 squats, run 100 meters up to 10. Stop and stretch as needed. Do warmup jogs and not sprints.

Repeat 3-4 times for 1.5 to 2 miles total.

Run 800 meters at goal mile pace for 4-4:15. Walk 200 meters.

Walk, bike or elliptical cooldown: 10-15 minutes

Total running miles for week 1 are 5.5 to six miles. If you feel good and have no pain, you can increase the running times and distances and non-impact cardio workouts by 10% to 15% for upcoming weeks. You also can maintain this for a few weeks until it is easy to reach your goal pace each run during each interval.

The goal of this workout plan is to reestablish training habits with something challenging but not too difficult. A recovering injured person who is overweight needs to take care or they will reinjure themselves.

Add in a mobility day any day you are feeling the aches or pains of running or calisthenics. A mobility day makes for a good habit placeholder as it maintains the habit of training (getting up and going to the gym) instead of taking a day off.

This easy day is very effective for both increasing the flexibility and mobility of aching muscles and joints. You can work the cardio session as hard as you prefer. Consider the mobility day a combination of a spin class and a yoga session.

Repeat 5 times Bike or elliptical: 5 minutes (Notice that these are non-impact options.) Stretch, foam roll or massage tool: 5 minutes

And that's it. The workout takes 50-60 minutes, depending on the transition times between sets and offers the person doing this a pain-free, effective workout that helps the physiology of the muscles and joints and the psychology of maintaining habits.

If you are having issues with the push-ups, try these options as well as the push-up push and see how you improve in as little as two weeks.

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. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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