Just Shut-up and Run

The FBI PFT for New Agents: I have to do what?

Congratulations! You’ve passed Phase 1 and 2 and are conditionally accepted into the FBI. Now get off your lazy desk-chair rear end and get into real shape. FBI shape. Or Else! Good Luck and Have a Nice Day!

Okay, so I greatly paraphrased my letter from the FBI notifying me that I was conditionally accepted pending a background check, polygraph and medical fit for duty exam. However, that was certainly how I took the letter. Why? I’d definitely known about the FBI’s physical requirements and the “infamous” Physical Fitness Test (PFT) since I first applied, but I’d tried not to think about it through the first two application phases. The PFT would require running. Lots of running. At that time, running was not part of my normal routine or something I considered, well, normal.

Hey, I tried!

But it wasn’t like I was a complete couch potato. Even with the sedentary job I had as an attorney, I’d tried to keep myself in decent shape. I belonged to a gym and went regularly to do circuit training, the cardio machines, and even exercise classes (ah, the era of high impact aerobics!).

However, I didn’t fool myself into thinking I was any type of “athlete”. I’d never really trained as one and never believed I could be one (I had a thousand excuses why). My confidence was always more in my intellectual abilities than my physical ones.

But then I got the conditional acceptance letter and I had to face it. There was no way to “think” myself through the PFT. If I wanted to be a Special Agent, I had to “do” the PFT.

I realized my elliptical and weight machine sessions weren’t cutting it alone when I took a practice PFT with the applicant coordinator and the other applicants. I failed. It wasn’t quite miserably, but close.

Back then you did not have to pass the PFT before you got to Quantico (now you do), you just had to pass one of the three PFT’s at Quantico. However, if you waited until you were in a New Agent Class (NAC) at Quantico to start your fitness program, you were in trouble. The applicant coordinator admonished us all to get in shape. New Agents had been kicked out for not passing any of the PFTs. I believed him. Bottom line, I had to start running. Alot. Ugh.

Getting into “FBI” Shape

Resigned and grumbling, I bought good running shoes and invested in good training clothing. I even paid a personal trainer, handing her the sheet from my applicant coordinator with the PFT requirements.

Unfortunately, there was no cool Fbijobs.gov website or App (See Below) in the late 90’s or even a training manual like now to help an applicant get into PFT shape (at least I never found anything helpful). There were only paper handouts from the applicant coordinator.

I would test myself occasionally (unofficially of course), and hoped I was meeting all requirements. And yes, I started running. Alot. Again, ugh.

The App has videos on correct form, current requirements and techniques ( as well as other resources). It’s available at the App Store and Google Play. (App Picture from here)

The Quantico PFT: What’s so hard about getting 12 points?

When I went through Quantico in 1999, there were five categories in the PFT: sit-ups (as many as possible in one minute); push-ups (no time limit-but continuous with one pause allowed); pull-ups (no time limit, but modified for women, like an upside-down push-up); shuttle run (120 yard sprint-start on back, pop-up run around cone and back); and a 1.5 mile run (self explanatory). A New Agent Trainee (NAT) had to get at least 12 points, with one point in each event, to pass the Quantico PFT. We had to pass the PFT at least once, and we had three chances to do it during the 16 week program.

How were we scored? Well, then, as now, there were Scoring Scales that gave points for the amount of repetitions (or times for the running events). More sit-ups and faster running times equaled more points.

Current New Agent Scoring Scale for Sit-ups (from the Booklet, Special Agent Selection Process: All You Need to Know to Apply , P.19)

It might sound easy to pass because it’s “only” 12 points . But unlike the practice tests taken at home monitored by friends or family members, FBI instructors monitor applicants at Quantico. Why does that matter? Because those FBI instructors are STICKLERS for FORM.

Think you just rattled off 30 “perfect” push-ups? Ha! Expect only half to three quarters to actually count. And, if you notice in the above table, applicants can even earn negative points for not reaching a minimum amount.

I can remember being stuck on 18 push-ups during my first Quantico PFT and everytime I went down and came up, the FBI proctor would still yell 18. I wasn’t sure what I was doing wrong. I don’t know how many didn’t count, but I finally got too tired to try any more. Sit-ups are the same thing. If you don’t keep to form, not all will be counted.

Today, applicants are advised, while training at home or performing their own self-PFT practice tests, to aim for at least 25% above their goal, even if the goal is to “max out” on points (oh I know you’re out there you overachievers!). It’s good advice. While the PFT itself has changed somewhat since I went through (see below), the adherence to form has definitely not!

The Old Quantico PFT: Hey Shuttle Run, Take Your Cone and Twisted Ankles and Leave

As mentioned, the PFT has changed in certain areas over the years including technique (sit-ups with arms crossed, then behind the head, then back to arms crossed) as well as the elimination of the pull-up requirement for general applicants (only those seeking a tactical assignment on a specialized team need to do them now). The other major change, thankfully in my opinion, is in the sprint. The sprint requirement is now a straight 300 meter run. Sure, it can still be a hamstring buster (usually prevented by stretching and NOT overdoing), but it’s way better than the old “Shuttle Run”.

Not the official FBI shuttle run, But you get the idea!

With the 120 yard Shuttle Run, a runner started on their back, twisted or popped-up in some manner to their feet and then ran around a cone (twice I think) as fast as they could. Why did we start on our backs? I don’t know.

This was the event that caused me to fail my first Quantico PFT. I wasn’t alone, but it still hurt. I didn’t even get one point! I knew it was THE “iffy” event going into the Quantico PFT because it was really hard to practice effectively at home. In addition, I wasn’t a great sprinter at the best of times starting on my feet, let alone starting on my back. I mean geez. But I shrugged it off, knowing I had two more chances.

I discovered in Remedial PT (required extra Physical Training for those of use PFT “failures” ☺️) that the key to mastering the Shuttle Run was not the sprint itself. Rather, it was the technique. PT instructors taught two “get-ups” as well as “cone circling” methods. We were told to pick our favorite and master it. Now, this event was particularly injury prone. Twisted ankles, sprained wrists, and broken toes were all injuries I’d seen or heard about from doing the “get-up” and/or cone circling. You had to be careful as such an injury could send you home for rehab or kick you completely out of the program.

Still, there was no way around it. So, for one of the very few times in my life, I just shut-up and mastered my chosen “get-up” and “circle” technique as best as possible. It paid off as I passed (without injury or issue) the second and third PFTs. I was ecstatic knowing I’d never have to do that dreaded shuttle run again (Field PFTs didn’t use it, see below). Years later, the Shuttle Run itself was finally shown the door. Thank goodness.

The Final Quantico “PFT”: The Yellow Brick Road

The FBI Academy also plays host to the FBI National Academy, a 10 week training for Senior Law Enforcement executives from around the US and the world. At the end of the 10 weeks, National Academy attendees can challenge themselves with the “Yellow Brick Road” (YBR), a rugged 6.1 Obstacle Course.

NATs were only allowed to do the YBR after passing all other requirements including the PFT, classroom curriculum, shooting challenges, and defensive tactics. For me, being allowed to complete it was an honor. It meant I’d actually done it. I’d overcome my own self-doubts, particularly about my physical capabilities, and made it.

I savored my time on the YBR. There was no time limit and we all had fun helping each other through. The YBR pictures of me below are from a documentary that was filmed about new agent training at Quantico. My class (unbeknown to us at the time) was one of the classes featured. Note the outfit. Definitely not the attractive PT clothing shown on TV shows! Oh those blue nylon short-shorts and gray “undershorts”. Yuck!

A much younger version of me completing the YBR

The Field PFT: Annual Active Agent Challenge

Once out of Quantico, the PFT becomes annual and the scoring changes too. There are still four categories: sit-ups, push-ups, the 300 meter sprint, and the 1.5 mile run. However, the scoring is based on percentiles ( 95+/Superior, 80+/Excellent, 60+/Good, 40+/Fair, 20+/Poor, 1+Very Poor) and divided by age groups and gender. Anything above the 40th percentile passes. Compare the table below for the Field PFT for sit-ups with the Scoring Table for the Quantico PFT above to see the difference.

Example of a Field PFT scoring table

The PFT itself has been both mandatory and voluntary over the years (based on policies and legal challenges). Whether mandatory or not, I most always did the annual PFT. It provided a good indicator of my overall fitness even though I usually had to “cram” a few faster runs in several weeks before. I never settled for 40%, instead aiming for 90% or better, I was most always successful in three of the four categories. That fourth one? Yep, the 300 meter sprint. Darn it. I usually had to settle for the 80%. Even standing-up it was still tough, but at least it wasn’t the shuttle run!

Lasting Effects

I never liked the PFT, but I came to respect and appreciate it.

First, as I mentioned, it forced me to overcome self-doubts about my physical capabilities (“I’m not an athlete, I can’t run, I can’t fight, I can’t….”) in order to become an Agent. The process also taught me that I could do things out of my comfort zone and not only survive, but prosper!

Second, the underlying mantra of maintaining fitness has stayed with me. Although I still don’t “like” running, it’s now a habit as long as my knees and hips will allow (then I’ll walk or bike). I belong to a local running/walking group and enjoy the challenges, exertion, and fellowship during our six day a week outings (the after run coffee is great too!!). I attribute this now habitual fitness commitment to my FBI days and those darn PFTs!

Funny how something that started as a “fear” turned into a “friend” in the end. Happy Trails!

We’re done! Now where’s the Coffee….



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