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The Physical Aptitude and Stamina Test (PAST)

Updated on June 15, 2013

What is the PAST test?

The PAST test, or Physical Aptitude and Stamina Test, is a test implemented by the US Air Force to determine the eligibility of recruits (or current Airmen who are cross training) seeking a special operations career field.

As a new recruit, I have been training for the PAST test for about nine months. If you are in average shape, expect to spend anywhere up to a year preparing

Note: One must remember, PAST requirements are minimums, so be sure to aim for number above the minimums. I have used the minimums for pararescue which has the highest minimum requirements.

If you don't plan on exceeding the standards, you should find a different career path!


Getting Down to Business

So, you want to turn yourself into a mental and physical monster? Firstly, you must understand what you are tackling.

Here are the PAST events you will need to prepare for:

  • 2x 25 meter underwater swim
  • 500 meter surface swim (00:10:07 or faster)
  • 1.5 mile run (00:09:47 or faster)
  • pull-ups (max in 1 minute, 10+ reps)
  • sit-ups (max in 2 minutes, 54+ reps)
  • push-ups (max in 2 minutes, 52+ reps)

If you have never taken a PAST test before, run yourself through one and write down your results.

If you have completed the PAST with ease, congratulations! You have the physical part down, and should continue developing your endurance and strength. You are on the right path.

If you struggled, or were not able to complete the PAST, that is perfectly fine. Take your time and make yourself into the biggest BA you can.

How many hours do you spend on swimming and running per week?

See results


First and foremost, do not attempt pool workouts alone. Always have a lifeguard (or at least a buddy) present.

The Task

On the underwater portion, you will submerge yourself when the person administering the test says go, push off the wall and swim across the pool without breaking the surface. If you break the surface at all (leg, hands, back, head, any part of your body) you will have failed the underwater portion.

After you reach the other wall, you will orient yourself in the direction you just came from, swim to the surface at a forty-five degree angle and surface-swim back to where you started. You will then be required to say something along the lines of "I feel fine sergeant!" while gesturing that you are O.K.

You will then have about 3 minutes to rest before the next underwater.

The Tips

  • Don't panic when you feel like you need to take a breath. In actuality, when you start to feel the need to breathe, or "gup", you still have about 75% of your oxygen left. This usually happens around the halfway point. MSgt Lee passed this helpful information on to me.
  • Use the "keyhole stroke". You will need to ask around for instructions on this one. It is basically a breast stroke, but modified for underwater swimming. Instead of pulling to the sides, you will pull your hands in a semi-circular pattern from in front of you and down, directly below your torso in a keyhole-esque shape. After you pull, be sure to relax and glide for about two to three seconds. Kick as you move your hands back above your head, to counter the drag.
  • Your only limitations are mental limitations.


Surface Swim

The Task

After completing both underwaters, you will have a ten minute rest before you begin your 500 meter swim.

As you wait for the ten minutes, you may be briefed on the surface swim. You can only use freestyle, breast stroke, or sidestroke. Also, you must touch the wall with both hands before pushing off; flip turns are (unfortunately) not allowed. If you stand up, touch the bottom of the pool, or stop swimming at any time, you will fail your surface swim.

After ten minutes have passed, you will kick off the wall and begin your swim.

Most likely the pool will be 25 yards in length, meaning you will do just under 11 laps (a "lap" is to the wall and back). The person administering the test will stop your time as you make your way to the designated "just under 11" mark.

The Tips

  • Aim for efficiency. Be sure to glide after each kick off the wall and between strokes. You will find that you are just as fast with a lower amount of strokes (possibly even faster!)
  • Use freestyle. Freestyle is a more efficient stroke than the other two and will safe you energy in the long run.
  • Seek professional instruction. This is probably the most helpful solution to improving your swim technique. Many colleges and high schools have swim instructors that would be glad to help you achieve your goals. Lifeguards and military personnel are also very helpful resources.


The Task

After you complete your swim, you will have 30 minutes to change and relocate for your run. The run is usually conducted on a track. Be sure to hydrate and stretch at the beginning of the 30 minute break. Drink slowly.

The person administering the test will brief you on the run before your 30 minutes are up. You may not stop or walk at any time.

After the 30 minutes have gone by, you will then commence the 1.5 mile run.

The Tips

  • Keep your jaw loose. This will help keep your body loose, and it will help you breathe.
  • Establish a breathing pattern. This will help you relax further. Remember the more relaxed your body is, the less muscles you are using to run.
  • Do not cross your arms in front of your body. They should be parallel to one another on either side of your body at about a 90 degree angle. Your hands should form a loose fist, with your thumb placed lightly on top side of your pointer finger.


Calisthenics (pull-up, sit-up, push-up)

The Tasks

After the run, you will have a 10 minute break before the calisthenics portion begins. There is a 3 minute rest between each set of calisthenics. Note: calisthenics done with bad form will not be counted at all.

  • Pull-ups

You will have 1 minute to do as many pull-ups as you can. You will be directed to grab onto the bar. When you start, your time will start.

A pull-up begins at a dead-hang, without any bend in your elbows whatsoever. You will then pull your chin above the bar (if you are looking up, you will have to pull until your Adam's apple is above the bar). Then you will allow yourself to drop into the starting position. Repeat until muscle failure.

  • Sit-ups

You will have 2 minutes to do as many sit-ups as you can. Another candidate will hold your feet (be sure that they are not leaning their head forward, they will be headbutted).

Your legs will be bent at a 90 degree angle at the knee. This ensures that both your lower and upper abdominal muscles are being activated. Your fingers must remain laced behind your head. Your elbows may be pointed out to the sides, or straight forward, although you may not "flap" your arms to assist. You also must not rock your hips, or lift your butt off the ground. There is no rest position for this exercise.

To do one sit-up: You will begin with your back flat on the ground (position one), and lift your torso until it is at a 90 degree angle, perpendicular to the ground (position two), then you will return to position one. Let yourself fall into position one from position two. Do not lower yourself.

  • Push-ups

After your 3 minute rest, you will get into the "up" position. This consists of your arms shoulder-width apart, hands flat on the ground, back straight, feet together, and head looking straight ahead (this helps engage back muscles). This is position one.

You will then drop into position two. Your elbows will be bent at 90 degrees or more, back straight, feet together, looking straight ahead. You will then push into position 1.

You may rest in the up position, but you may not take your hands or feet off the ground, lower your stomach, or lift your butt. Also, your knees may not touch the ground at any time.

The Tips

  • Be sure to breathe. This enables you to pump out more reps before becoming tired.
  • "Drop", don't lower yourself. Gravity is on your side, if you are moving toward the Earth, don't make your muscles fight with gravity unnecessarily!
  • Practice good form. It is pointless to do calisthenics with bad form; it will only set you up for failure. When you work out, make ever pull-up, sit-up, or push-up your best. It will show!

Example Workout Week

Pull-up variation
Pull-up variation
Upper body exercise of choice
Sit-up variation
Sit-up variation
Abdominal exercise of choice
Push-up variation
Push-up variation
Leg exercise of choice

Developing Your Improvement Plan

Now is the time to develop your improvement plan, or workout routine.

You will want to work out frequently. The model I've had the most success with is a 6 day per week workout.

I also recommend doing variations of each exercise. Variations will help build secondary and tertiary muscles to increase your reps of the base exercise.

If you lift weights, you should focus on endurance muscles rather than bulking. Think of a triathlete's training plan--most of the bulky guys I've trained with ended up having to cut some mass in order to get faster times on their swim and run. Their calisthenic numbers also increased!

I aim for 100 pull-up reps, 500 sit-up reps, 500 push-up reps per day. This can be adjusted as needed. Work up to spending 3 or more hours per day working out, and plan "hell-weeks" in which you work out in bad conditions such as minimal sleep, hunger, cold, etc (do this at your own risk). This will help prepare you for the future.


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