PFT: Physical Fitness Test

For me, the pull ups were the hardest part of the USMC PFT. If they are giving you trouble, or you need help training for the PFT as a whole, I hope this page will give you some helpful advice and motivation to train! Mastering the PFT will be an essential part of becoming an officer in the Marine Corps.

PFT Composition

The PFT consists of three events, each worth 100 points for a maximum of 300 points. Score yourself here. Read the full rules here.

  1. Pullups for men (23 max for most), or (10 max for most) for women.
    1. Push ups are now authorized in place of Pullups. You can’t get a max score (100 points) doing push ups. A max set of push ups (87 for males, 50 for females) will receive 70 points. The time limit is two minutes.
  2. Crunches in two minutes (115 max for most)
  3. A three mile run

USMC Pull-ups: PFT Rules

USMC Crunches: PFT Rules

The Armstrong Pullup Program

Major Charles Lewis Armstrong, USMC, used this widely-disseminated program to boost his PFT score to world record levels. A favorite program, with proven results. Click for the official Armstrong Pull-up Program workout.

Have you plateaued on your pullup routine? Try the Armstrong Advanced Workout, which is designed to pick up where Armstrong original leaves off.

Click for the Armstrong Advanced Pullup Workout

Other Pull-up routines

5 Set Pull-Up Program.

You do 5 sets, where the last three sets cover the same number of pullups as the first two sets. #1 – Max #2 – Max 1 + 2 = X #3 – X/3 #4 – X/3 #5 – X/3 Example: Set 1: 12. Set 2: 10. Calculate X=22. Set 3: 8. Set 4: 7. Set 5: 7

U.S. Marine Corps Officers Candidate School candidate does pull ups on the Initial Physical Fitness Test (PFT) at Officers Candidate School, May 26, 2010.

Ladder Routine

This is the routine I used to prepare for the PFT and thought it gave steady growth in strength. It is a great way for any fitness fan to reach the point of true muscle failure/fatigue. Even if you don’t want to be a marine officer. Do 5 Sets or 75 pull-ups whatever comes first! #1 – Do 1 pull-up, rest, do 2 pull-ups, Rest, and so on until you can’t complete the next set. Your rest should be the same between each set, NO MORE THAN 20-30 SECONDS! Once you can’t complete the next set start over with a new set. Example: Set #1 – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 5 = 41 Set #2 – 1,2,3,4,5,6,6 = 27 Set #3 – 1,2,3,4,5,6,5 = 26 Total – = 94 Don’t quit in the middle of a set, because, you hit 75, finish the set!

50 Pull-up Routine

Simply do 50 pull-ups, however you get there is up to should take 5-8 sets to get there. Keep the rest periods at about 2 – 2 ½ minutes between sets! Example: Set #1 – 18, #2 – 12, #3 – 8, #4 – 6, #5 – 6 = 50

PFT: The Run! Preparation

This part of the PFT kills more applicants than anything. People are just intimidated to run. Running can be a lot of fun if people do it the right way. Here are a few steps to getting off on the right foot. 1. Consider running with a partner. Running can get very boring by yourself. 2. Start at a pace and distance you are comfortable with and build steadily. Having said that, don’t be afraid to push yourself outside of your comfort zone relatively soon. The key word is START at a comfortable pace and distance. 3. Every run does not have to be lightning fast. Run at a pace that you can comfortably converse with your running partner.

OCS PFT: 2009 Candidates
U.S. Marine Corps candidates from Delta Company carry out the Physical Fitness Test (PFT) at the Officer Candiate School (OCS) aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Nov. 30, 2009.

4. Run slower at the beginning of your run and work into a faster pace. Always finish a run strong instead of starting like fire and sputtering across the finish line. 5. Look where you are going to instead of at your shoelaces or the pavement. 6. Run at least 3 times per week every week. Work up to 4 or 5 days per week even if you only run a mile or two on some days. Remember that there are many ways to improve your run time. The key to a good run workout is not overall mileage or speed work but consistency. Plan your runs and run your plan. Believe it or not, ANYONE can run below 18:00 minutes if they put forth the effort. If you do put forth the effort now, you will be reaping the benefits at OCS. Here are some of the key elements that I have incorporated into my run workouts to help me. I have not done all of these at once but have done all of them at one time or another.

Medium Distance/Average Pace:

This is the backbone of any run program. These runs are anywhere from 3-5 miles at a comfortable pace. This type of run should be done at least 2 times per week in anyone’s workout.

Long Slow Distance:

These runs are a slow to comfortable pace for 5-10 miles. 10 miles intimidates most. Build 1 mile at a time. These runs are very effective at building endurance and should be done at least once every two weeks for any intermediate or better runner.

Use the 10-20-30 Training Concept to Run Faster by Running Less

Hate running? Want Less Train and More Gain? It sounds like a late-night commercial gimmick, but according to recent scientific studies, you can improve health and aerobic performance with less training.

Interval Training:

Interval training should be done once someone has advanced beyond the very beginner stages of running. There are two main types I have used. One method is where you go for a 3 mile run running at a sprint for a quarter mile and then jogging very slowly for a quarter mile. The variant method would be to run at a track and rest between each interval. The normal interval here would be 1/4 to 1/2 mile. The 1/4 mile sprints should be run at approximately 20% time of your current mile race pace. In other words, multiply your mile pace by .20 and that will give you your approximate pace for the 1/4 mile. Ensure you maintain a consistent pace during each interval and from interval to interval. You should do this once per week and start by doing 4-6 repetitions increasing 1-2 repetitions per week until you get to 12.

Hill Training:

Find a hill of medium grade that is anywhere from 20-100 yards long. Sprint to the top, jog slowly to the bottom. Start doing this for 10-15 minutes per training session. Increase five minutes per session until you get to 30 or 45 minutes.

Fartlek Training:

Find a good 2-5 mile course. Jog at your medium comfortable pace. Stop every 1/4 mile and do 10-30 repetitions of some exercise (i.e. push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, mountain climbers, lunges, dips, jumping jacks, 8 count body builders, flutter kicks, etc, etc.) If you want to emphasize upper body conditioning, cut the run down to 1-2 miles and stop every 50-100 yards.

PFT: Crunches

Check out the specific crunches post here

PFT Crunches at OCS
Officer Candidates School candidates perform crunches as part of their initial Physical Fitness Test (PFT)

26 thoughts on “PFT: Physical Fitness Test

    1. For the Marine Corps, pull ups mean hanging then pulling your chin over the bar. Definitionally you could do palms “inboard” or palms “outboard” and it’s still all a pull up. So what colloquially we call chin ups definitely count as pull ups. You can do palms in or out.

      1. what about the pull-ups where you have 2 parallel bars and your palms face each other

  1. I noticed everything on the PFT portion is kind of directed towards men. Is there any advice for women during the PFT?

    1. Thanks for the question, C,
      I think most everything really applies equally to women. For the pullups, just put your feet on a chair for partial support or substitute bent-arm hangs. The running and crunches are no different.

  2. Oh, ok thanks!! I have been training, trying to overcome the physical difference in my males counterparts (holding my standards to the males). So far, I have nailed the 100 crunches in 2 minutes and the 70 second-flex arm hang, but the running is not going so well. I am barely making the 27minute mark and I want to be at 21.Any suggestions?

    1. In Highschool Cross Country training, we ran up to 8 miles on long days, even though the races are only 5 kilometers (3.2 miles). Train with one 6 or more mile run each week to make the 3 mile test feel shorter and easier. When the run feels easier, you’ll see the times drop.

      1. I’m sure this method has worked for some, but I don’t agree with it completely. If we apply this logic to say a full marathon. I don’t think you would train in the same manner.

        Several Olympic athletes that I’ve researched train only a portion of their events. For example, a 100m sprinter might only sprint the first 70yrds. Simply to train acceleration to top speed. The sprinter that reaches the optimal top speed first usually wins.

        Most runners will reach a pace. If you can maintain it for 1 mile, your body should be able to handle the same pace for a long time. The aches and pains become mental obstacles.

        Training 1 mile vs 6 miles usually does not improve your pace speed, just your endurance. The speed comes from resistance training such as weights, or sprinting.

  3. Awesome. Very motivating. The run will be benefited by any intense cardio, especially short bursts less than 20-30 minutes, which is only a jog. Boxing, jump rope, circuits, fartleks, sprint workouts, heavy rowing, HITT lifting; the more you can get your cardio up the better that run will be. My fittest Lt buddy never runs more than 2 miles in any workout yet runs an 18:00 three mile.
    Just because of the hard sprints and boxing he does work out his heart like crazy.

  4. Hi, I have a question about the PFT crunches. When I am working out and trying to do my max set in little time, I end up with a lot of strain on my lower back. Is this normal, or should I change my form somehow?

  5. I have seen two forms of crunches. One is where your arms are extended in front of you with elbows locked and you sit up until your fists touch your knees. The other is where your arms are folded across your chest in an ‘X’ formation and you sit all the way up until the tops of your forearms touch the tops of my thighs. What should I be practicing?

  6. I have a question- I am a poolee trying to get into OCC. I have always really enjoyed doing pullups and have been proud of the amount that I can do.. however, every time I do a PFT at our Saturday meets, I fall short by 1 or 2, and this past Saturday I only mustered 15. The problem is my form; the Sargent in charge tells me to dead hang which I always do, and to touch my chin to the bar. Well, I did about 25 pullups on Saturday, most of which I was bringing the bar all the way to my chest (my head and chin were way above the bar) and yet these weren’t counted.

    So I was out of energy by the time I realized how he wanted them done. Are the DI’s at OCS really strict on where your chin meets the bar on a pullup? I feel like I should have gotten a 100 on the pullups but I got a 75 instead, which is the worst I have ever done. I guess I’m a little frustrated with myself.

    1. Ben, you are probably not fully extending your arms. Bringing the bar all the way to your chest is a waste of energy. Just get your chin over the bar, then drop until your elbows are completely extended.

      The SIs (Sergeant Instructors) at OCS are extremely strict, yes.

      If you still have problems, video tape yourself doing pullups. You are most likely not letting your elbows completely straighten out when you drop down between reps.

  7. Hi, I am asking this for my husband… Well, I guess it’s my question really. My husband is in Law school and applied to become a Marine JAG (it’s his ultimate career dream and has been for a long time). Apparently the recruiters need to find 11 guys in our region for JAG and there really aren’t very many good candidates in the area so only 2 people are up for it at the moment, including my husband. The Captain basically told him “You will be getting selected no matter what” and had him take a spur-of-the-moment PFT in which my husband got a 256 (100 crunches, 15 pull ups, and 21:00 3-mile). Now that we know he will likely be accepted, we really just want to prepare him for OCS… that is our biggest concern right now. He’d be going at the end of May.

    I know he can improve his run time and cardiovascular/endurance. I was a collegiate runner and my personal best in the 5k is 17:00. (that was a couple of years ago but needless to say, I know how to help get him in good running shape). Our (my) question is, what is a good PFT score to aim for so that one can be confident that they are in good enough shape to make it through OCS? Thanks!! We are enjoying reading the helpful tips on this site.


    1. Chelsey, realistically a large percentage of candidates will be at 295+, so he needs to get as close to 300 as possible. Once he’s about 19:00 on the 3-mile, some more focus on squats and deadlifts is wise even if the run time plateaus. Hiking with very heavy weights, running fireman’s carry and overall muscle loss would indicate strength training as a key focus along with the PFT preparation.

      1. Great, thank you for the helpful tips! I have confidence he can do much better. Especially since he took that PFT very spur-of-the-moment and without any training. I will be passing this on to him. Thanks!

      2. Another quick question:
        How much do you run at OCS?
        For training, how much do you recommend running per week?
        I’m asking because, we don’t want him getting injured or overtrained… and we would rather not have him run 40mpw when they aren’t even running that much at OCS. Thanks!

  8. I’m a female preparing for OCS and just had a quick question:
    I’m more than capable of doing pull ups, with my max being 18 consecutive. I can do the flex arm hang, no problem, but would I be able to swap the flex arm hang for pull ups/would this help distinguish me?

  9. You should update this. Women are now required to do pull ups (flexed arm hang is gone). Also, if either men or women fail pull ups or opt out, they can instead perform push ups (but at maximum can only earn 70 points for the section).

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