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To become a Royal Marines Commando and earn the ‘coveted green beret,’ you must first survive the longest and hardest basic military training in the world. For eight months (32 weeks) at the Lympstone training centre in Devon, recruits endure a near-constant barrage of physical challenges.
Every day recruits are put through their paces in the gymnasium or on the top or bottom field. Exercise sessions (or ‘phis’) are conducted by a small team of Physical Training Instructors (PTI) – super-fit, special-trained Marines whose job it is to prepare recruiters for the four Commandos tests.
The sessions are intense and the workload is relentless. Recruits are ‘encouraged’ to push themselves to the point of exhaustion. Mental toughness is equally as important as physical fitness.
Though the sessions are comprised mostly of simple bodyweight exercises, running, and (a lot of) rope climbing, the intensity is high. PTIs are constantly on the lookout for those cutting corners or cheating reps. Such transgressions are rewarded with ‘beastings’ and horrible camp circuits. To get through these sessions recruits must ‘dig deep’ and push through the pain and suffering.
Royal Marines fitness test
Daily phis forms the preparatory phase for the four Commando tests. ‘Despite being the tests that will earn them the green beret, the Commando tests are just the last in a series of tests placed strategically throughout Royal Marines training,’ (Royal Marines Fitness).
That brings us to the purpose of this article.
Below I have listed and explained all the mandatory fitness tests that perspective Royal Marines must pass during the Potential Royal Marines Course (PRMC) and the initial stages of Commando training.
But before we progress any further, it’s worth reviewing the key factors for ensuring fitness test reliability. When conducting a fitness test, such as the 1.5-mile run or 2-minute press-ups, it is important that we follow a robust process that is replicable and ensures that the test data we collect is accurate. The last thing we want when testing is a false result.
The following ten tips for reliable fitness testing have been adapted from Watson’s Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance. If implemented, they can ensure that your fitness test results are accurate and reliable.
Essential reading: NSCA's Complete Guide To Testing >
10 Tips to ensure an accurate fitness test
Tip 1: Ensure the equipment and timing devices are calibrated.
Tip 2: Use the same measuring/timing methods that are used at the Royal Marines test centre.
Tip 3: Document your performance – score, times, reps – immediately on completion of the test.
Tip 4: Standardise everything – the location where the test was conducted, the warm-up process and even the clothes worn.
Tip 5: If possible, take two measurements. For example, when performing the 1.5-mile run, time yourself using two devices – such as a stopwatch and mobile phone.
Tip 6: Make a note of the environment – temperature, humidity, headwind, etc – on the day of the test.
Tip 7: Do not conduct a test directly after a meal or a training session. Both can adversely impact performance outcomes.
Tip 8: Follow the same process every time you test. Use the same facilities. Wear the same clothes. Conduct the test at the same time of day. Complete the same warm-up. Every test after the first one should be an (almost) exact replica.
Tip 10: Record everything you do on the build-up to the test. Take precise ‘details of the test protocol and measuring techniques for future use.’
Potential Royal Marines Course fitness test
The first major hurdle that all prospective Royal Marines must overcome is the Potential Royal Marines Course (PRMC). A three-day-long intensive training program, the PRMC consists of a series of team tasks, confidence-building activities, and fitness tests.
Recruits are put through their paces and their performances are meticulously monitored. To stand any chance of passing the PRMC, those in attendance will have to showcase a high level of aerobic fitness and muscle endurance.
Any recruit that fails to demonstrate adequate team cohesion and/or achieve the required testing scores, will likely fail the PRMC.
You can improve your chances of passing by maintaining a good all-round level of fitness and regularly practising the fitness tests.
Royal Marines fitness test #1: 2 minute push ups
Purpose of test: To assess a recruit’s upper body muscular strength and endurance.
Components of fitness: Strength and muscular endurance.
Score to pass: 56 reps
As Royal Marines fitness tests go, the 2-minute push up test is arguably the easiest. To pass recruits must achieve a score of 56 press-ups in 2 minutes. The reps are performed to exacting standards. During the PRMC, recruits are put in pairs. Lying flat on the floor, one partner extends their arm and forms a fist. The other partner adopts the press-ups position and, when given the command by the PTI, must touch their chest to the fist 56 times.
Tips to get a good push ups score
Spend 5 minutes warming up your core temperature – light jogging, rowing or skipping are good activities.
Loosen up the shoulder joint with a couple of minutes of mobility exercise – arm rotations (or perhaps a few rounds of shadowboxing).
Ask a friend or training partner to act as your second. Alternatively, use a soft fist-sized object as your point of contact.
Try to maintain a methodical rep pacing.
You are permitted to pause throughout the 2 minutes. However, under PRMC test conditions, recruits are required to maintain strict form: ‘The press-up position must be maintained at all times, the knees cannot be rested or the hips raised,’ (Royal Marines Fitness). Those who break these rules may be disqualified.
Royal Marines fitness test #2: Sit up test
Purpose of test: To assess a recruit’s upper body muscular endurance.
Components of fitness: Muscular endurance.
Score to pass: Complete in time with the beep
As with press-ups, the sit up test aims to provide the Royal Marine training team with an insight into the relative core strength and muscle endurance of recruits. Such factors indicate whether a recruit possesses the physical robustness to endure the rigours of Commando training. This test involves performing a sit-up every time a bleep sounds.
Recruits must stay in time with the bleep until they achieve the minimum repetition requirement of 56.
‘The exerciser’s feet are held in place by a fellow Recruit who is the ‘counter,’ and his elbows must touch the top of his knees on each repetition, and his elbows, shoulders and head return to the mat after each sit-up performed,’ (Royal Marines Fitness).
Tips to get a good sit up score
You will always perform better at bodyweight tests after a good aerobic warm-up. Before starting the 2-minute sit-up test, jog 1.5 miles at a steady pace.
As Lerwill makes clear in his overview of the PRMC tests, ‘All exercises must be completed to a perfect standard.’ But how do you know if you’re performing sit-ups perfectly when you don’t have a PTI present? The best way to ensure ‘quality control’ is to ask a friend or family member to act as your ‘counter.’ Tell them not to count reps that are anything less than perfect. Alternatively, you could video yourself and, after the test, scrutinise your technique.
Your fingertips must remain pinned to your temples throughout the test. Though this makes the exercise harder, it can be used to your advantage. With the hands in this position, the elbows fan out like a pair of Dumbo ears. To help generate momentum during the initial phase of the exercise, throw or flick your elbows forward.
Apply the method: fast up, fast down. Don’t dally during the sit-up. Lowering down slowly eats up energy and hastens fatigue. Perform the reps short and snappy.
Royal Marines fitness test #3: Pull up test
Purpose of test: To assess a recruit’s upper body strength.
Components of fitness: Muscular strength.
Score to pass: 5 repetitions.
Having spent the past 15 years helping people prepare for military training, I’ve observed that the pull up test presents by far the greatest challenge. This is especially true of young individuals. Though the repetition score for the pull up test is low, just 5 reps, it takes a great deal of upper body strength to execute the exercise. Making it harder still, the reps must be performed in time with a beep. (Actually, this standardised method is an improvement from days of old when a PTI used to call out the timings. If you were on the bar with a recruit that struggled to pull-up, you had to hold a stress position until they eventually got their chin over the bar – or dropped off.)
Tips to get a good pull up test score
You know what I’m going to say – warm up before doing the test! That’s correct. Typically, when the tests are conducted during the PRMC, recruits are put through the 1.5-mile run before the muscular endurance tests – press-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. To more closely simulate the PRMC, you could perform the 1.5-mile run (at a steady pace) as your standardised pre-test warm-up.
The bar that you perform pull-ups on should be high enough so that your feet clear the floor.
Practice pulling up in time to a bleep. There are apps that can provide this function.
Ask a friend or family member to monitor your technique. They should only count clean reps.
Clean reps involve pulling up from a dead hang; that is, arms and legs are perfectly straight. Also, you are not permitted to ‘kip’ or swing the legs to generate momentum. Your chin must clear the bar and your hands are in the over-grasp position (palms facing away).
Royal Marines fitness test #4: Bleep test
Purpose of test: To assess a recruit’s aerobic fitness and lower body muscular endurance.
Components of fitness: Cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance (the bleep test also involves elements of speed, power, agility, coordination, and reaction time).
Level to pass: 9.6.
The bleep test (also called the multi-stage fitness test or MSFT for short) is probably the one recruits dislike the most. That’s understandable because, though it takes around half the time to complete than the 1.5-mile run, it hurts twice as much.
Unlike the 1.5-mile, you can’t establish a running rhythm during the bleep test. The time separating each bleep shortens thus you must run progressively faster as you progress through the levels.
In addition, as soon as you build up speed and forward momentum, you must stop and about turn for the next 20-metre dash. To develop the physical attributes essential for a good bleep test score, integrate Fartlek, HIIT (high-intensity interval training), and sprint training into your regime.
Tips to get a good bleep test score
Warm up well first. Begin with a gentle jog and, as your core temperature rises, work through a series of short progressive intensity dashes.
Ensure that your trainers are fastened tightly before starting the test!
Remain disciplined and stay in time with the bleep. Tempting though it is, avoid racing ahead of the bleep through the early stages. As well as the fact that you would be reprimanded during the PRMC for this, accruing distance is counterproductive and can impair performance by hastening fatigue.
Royal Marines fitness test #5: 1.5 mile run
Purpose of test: To assess a recruit’s aerobic stamina and muscular endurance over short distances.
Components of fitness: Cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance.
Time to pass: 9:19
The 1.5 mile (2.4k) run is a tough short-distance aerobic test. Achieving a good time requires equal measures of the following three ingredients: aerobic fitness, self-determination, and a strategy or ‘game plan.’ Those who haven’t trained never get a good time. Those who take their foot off the gas when their legs and lungs begin burning run the risk of missing the mark. And those that start too fast fatigue early and quickly fall off the pace. A successful test is more than just running fast. Here are some tips to help you get a good time.
Tips to get a good 1.5 mile run time
Warm up well before starting the run. Many new exercisers believe that warming up depletes your energy stores and impairs performance. Actually, it’s the complete opposite. A 5 to 10-minute warm-up of an appropriate nature can help you sustain a faster pace for longer while also reducing injury risk. Royal Marine PTI Lerwill tells us that a ‘simple, basic, planned and constructive warm-up conducted prior to exercise is worth its weight in gold.’ (Use this running warm-up >)
Consistency is key. Once you’ve reached your race pace, try to sustain it for 80 to 90% of the distance. Over the final 400 metres, you can begin incrementally picking up the pace until the final 100-metre sprint.
Decide on your game plan before tackling the test. The method outlined in the previous point is a solid strategy to start with. When you develop your 1.5 mile run experience and confidence, you can experiment with different strategies until you find the one that works best for you.
The final test
The aim of this article was to provide you with a comprehensive outline of the PRMC fitness tests. Not satisfied with just a list of the tests, we’ve also covered the attainment scores, the main components of fitness, and a selection of tips that can help improve your performance.
But why is this additional information important?
Of course, an understanding of the times and scores provides you with a benchmark against which to assess your performance. In addition, you can use the benchmarks to monitor fitness progression.
Knowing the appropriate component of fitness for a test is crucial. An absence of this knowledge makes it all the more challenging to develop a tailored training programme.
Essential reading: NSCA's Guide to Program Design >
While the tips aren’t exhaustive, I’ve attempted to outline the most useful methods of improving your test scores. For beginners or those undertaking a fitness test for the first time, simple tips can be quite helpful.
However, all this theory is useless unless you put it into practice. This is the final test: to have a go. Good luck!
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About Adam Priest –
A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and wellbeing practitioner. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam via LinkedIn or firstname.lastname@example.org.