How to train for the police academy physical test
The key to success is to start training early for each part of the test
By Matthew Loux, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University
Making it through the police academy is a must if you want to become a police officer. But while the academic components are certainly rigorous, many recruits find the physical fitness requirements to be especially challenging.
To pass the police academy fitness test, individuals need to prepare, both mentally and physically. While each police department runs its own version of the physical test, all tests are designed to test endurance, body strength and agility, as well as the mental determination of each candidate.
As an example of what candidates can expect to face, I have used the requirements from the Houston Police Department’s (HPD) physical fitness test. Many departments use the same or similar requirements, but it is recommended you verify the fitness requirements as some agencies differentiate the test instruments as well as requirements for gender and age. Below are some tips to help aspiring officers not only pass the fitness test, but exceed expectations.
[Download a copy of these tips to have with you while you put together a training plan.]
Running Segment of the Police Academy Test
One of the most significant challenges during the physical fitness test is to successfully complete a timed 1.5 mile run in 15:54 minutes or less. For men finishing in 10:30 to 12 minutes, that score is about average. To excel in this element of the test, candidates should aim for a time of 9:44 or faster, in order to be placed among the top candidates.
For women, an average to good time is around 13:30 to 16 minutes. A time under 12:30 minutes will typically put a candidate at the top of the class.
The Houston Police Department has the same requirements for both men and women, but some departments do differentiate the scoring for tests based on gender. I recommend that you check out your prospective department’s fit test requirements.
Recommended Running Regimen
To reach these goals, individuals must train well in advance of the test. Start with a short distance and work up to running more than 1.5 miles. By increasing distance, the cardiovascular system becomes stronger and candidates are able to run farther and faster without tiring.
I also find that wearing an elevation training mask helps me when I am training. The mask strengthens the diaphragm and allows more forceful breathing, which increases lung capacity. The purpose of the training mask is to increase your lung capacity by forcing you to take deep breaths to increase blood and oxygen flow.
Similarly, wearing a weighted training vest during practice runs also helps increase stamina. The added weight helps to increase resistance in cardiovascular activities, causing you to use more energy in your workouts.
Adding more weight to the vest each week builds leg strength. Removing the vest induces a feeling of lightness and increases running speed. I normally run sprints with the vest and alternate sprints with and then without the weighted vest.
Wearing a training vest is especially advantageous for aspiring officers. It mimics the feel of wearing a bulletproof vest and simulates the weight of wearing a duty belt.
The test also requires completing a 300-meter sprint in at least 78 seconds. This is also why it’s important to build interval and sprint runs into your running regimen. I prefer to do interval sprints focusing on posture, small strides and breathing.
Improving Body Strength though Push-Ups
Push-ups are another part of the police fitness test. The HPD test requires 25 continuous pushups. In order for a push-up to count during the test, the candidate must use proper form and the chest must briefly touch the floor.
To foster proper form for push-ups, arms should be held close to the body and core stomach muscles should be tightened. There are many different types of push-ups that increase arm and chest strength:
• Incline push-ups – performed by placing your hands on a stable platform higher than the ground. Start with leaning on a wall, bed, or sturdy table and work your way down to a surface about 6 inches off the ground.
- Wide inclined push-ups – performed by holding the hands in a wider position than shoulder width.
- Weighted push-ups – performed by wearing a weighted vest.
- Wide push-ups – performed by placing the hands outside shoulder width during each push-up.
- Diamond push-ups – performed by placing the hands on the floor to form a diamond between the index fingers and thumbs during each push-up.
All of these push-up exercises strengthen the upper and lower body, especially the chest area. They also strengthen core muscles.
Candidates should start by doing 100 push-ups a day. I recommend that you start with finding the maximum number of push-ups you can do at one time. Over time, start to increase the number each day until you can do 25-30 push-ups at one time and repeat the exercise over time until you have accomplished 100 push-ups a day.
Over time, the number of push-ups can be increased as the body adapts and becomes less fatigued. With training, it will become easier to complete the 25 of push-ups for the academy test.
Training for Sit-Ups
Sit-ups are the final portion of many police academy tests, which measure abdominal muscle strength and endurance. The test calls for as many sit-ups as possible in one minute.
The actual number varies by department as the Dallas Police Department only requires 14 sit-ups in a minute. In the San Antonio Police Department, for example, the requirement depends on your age and gender.
San Antonio scores applicants on a point basis for sit-ups, push-ups, vertical jump, 1.5 mile run and the 300-meter sprint with a minimum passing score of 190. HPD does not have sit-ups as a requirement, but training for sit-ups applies to more than one police department.
The test is performed by interlacing the fingers with hands behind the head, then bringing the torso upward from a lying position to a sitting position. For a sit-up to count, the elbows must touch the knees in the upright position and the back must touch the floor in the reclining position.
Strengthening the abdominal muscles over time is essential for improving sit-up technique and increasing the number of sit-ups. The strength of abdominal muscles can be improved through exercises focusing on the stomach or by including core stability work, such as reverse crunches, planks and Russian twists.
Other Academy Test Requirements
The Houston Police Department exam includes some additional tests such as making a vertical jump of 16.5 inches over your original height. To prepare for the vertical jump test and build elastic energy (which is the compression and stretching of the muscles), practice jump exercises such as:
- Jumping on and off a box
- Jump squats for explosive movements
- Hip flexor stretches
- Bulgarian bench split squats
Finally, the test involves pulling the trigger of a firearm with both hands. The trigger pull is considered one of the easier aspects of the test. To improve hand strength, use a handgrip device, squeeze a ball, or hold a dumbbell in each hand.
In policy academy physical fitness tests, all performance standards must be met to pass the test; there are no exceptions. The key is to start training early for each part of the test.
If it is hard to meet the requirement for one or more parts of the test, tailor workouts to gradually increase in difficulty until you can meet and exceed standards. Success at the police academy requires working out and eating a healthy diet to improve your overall physical fitness.
About the Author: Matthew Loux has been in law enforcement for more than 20 years and has a background in fraud and criminal investigation, as well as hospital, school and network security. Matt has researched and studied law enforcement and security best practices for the past 10 years. To contact him, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.