Many people will start running and doing physical training, or PT, a month or so before their scheduled fitness test. Whether that is a 1.5-, 2- or 3-mile run, your preparation requirements will vary based on your branch of service, personal conditioning, body weight and how much running you've been doing each week.
It's a mistake to just go for a 2- to 3-mile run after a PT session to prepare for the upcoming timed running and PT events. If you run a few miles several times a week at an 8- to 9-minute mile pace, you're not going to achieve a sub 7-minute pace at test time (assuming that is your goal).
Here are mistakes you may want to avoid during the training window:
1. Time and Pace. If you do not run much (or at all) other than for your biannual fitness assessment, that can be fine if you do some form of cardio instead. However, you will need to mix in some running if you must take a running test in the next few months.
Notice that the recommendation in the previous sentence is a "few months," not a "few weeks."
You will need to give yourself that much time to progress with distance and speed to prevent typical overuse injuries such as shin, knee and foot pain. My advice is to run 1 mile every other day with non-impact cardio options on the days in between.
You must run with a goal purpose and progress about 10% to 15% in total distance each week. You can break up the mile into ¼-mile or ½-mile goal pace intervals to work on both your pace and your conditioning.
2. Getting Back into Running Shape. You may not not have been able to run due to injury, illness or other circumstances or maybe you need to lose a few pounds. If so, start off with daily non-impact cardio for a few weeks. This will get you back into the habit of training and build up your lungs without adding impact injuries to your lower body.
As you start to feel like your old self again, start with a beginner run program for another three to four weeks. See beginner running program ideas. This will take you on a logical progression so you can build a base. You can then work on the speed and pace of the run to reach your goals. Try goal pace running.
3. Running After Lift or PT. Running by itself will not prepare you for a PT test that also requires you to lift or do upper body calisthenics. You will feel different after the upper body or lower body PT and lifts, and that will affect your running pace and overall energy levels.
You need to prepare for the run portion by doing some form of the PT test you will be required to take before you start your running workout. Once you do this a few times, you will realize the energy required to help you maintain your goal pace. This will include being well-hydrated and fueled with good foods the day before the test. Maybe even sip on some sugar or juice drink (avoid caffeine) during the test to avoid that exhausted feeling that comes from low blood sugar and glycogen when exerting yourself at a high level.
4. Don't Make Big Changes Close to Testing Time. Remember that less is more as you get closer to your test. Doubling up the miles per week, changing your foot strike technique, or trying a new workout routine designed for a world-class athlete may not be the best option for you as your fitness test date nears.
Keep it simple by focusing on how the events are organized. If your workouts look similar to that structure and you are getting in a few test runs, that approach is going to be more beneficial to your test scores than anything else. When in doubt, your workouts should look more and more like your test as you near the exam.
Do not make any drastic changes to your fueling habits before the event. Eat what you normally eat prior to a workout, although I would avoid caffeine before a fitness test that requires a high heart rate.
A few months of training prior to taking your test will yield the best results and help you avoid the typical aches and pains that come with being new to exercise. You can prevent that kind of muscle soreness and joint pain by progressing into better scores instead of relying on your personal grit to pull you through the tests.
In the end, you want to be able to score well enough to meet your goals even if you have a bad day. If your conditioning and abilities are borderline, a bad day could be the difference between passing and failing.
-- 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 email@example.com.
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