We are all intimately familiar with standards. The military thrives on standards. Indeed, the old Task/Condition/Standard (TCS) method has served us well for many decades. But there is a very significant problem that must be brought to light. Most standards, especially in the physical fitness sphere, are terrible. The result is that these standards are not doing their job. To understand that, we need to back up a bit to see the full picture.

 Understanding Fitness & Standards

Fitness is the ability to perform a task or activity effectively and safely. Physical fitness is the ability to perform a physical task or activity effectively and safely.

Fitness is the reason we have standards. Standards are set to define the minimal and maximal limits of safe and effective performance. To understand this better, we need to understand the issues of effectiveness and safety.

When we say, “the ability to perform a task or activity effectively” the word effectively means “in such a manner as to achieve a desired result” (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary). A result is “a thing that is caused or produced by something else; a consequence or outcome” (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary). The specifically defined quality, value, grade, degree, or level of that outcome is called a “standard.”

According to the definition, the performance to effect or standard must also be performed safely. To perform “safely” means that no harm or detriment to health occurs. Health is the proper and optimal functioning of the twelve body systems, individually and collectively.

This issue of safety has profound consequences. One may do a great many things, but at what cost to the body? For example, there are many general fitness fads today that involve highly intensive exercise to near collapse. Regardless of the standards written on the wall, this is not fitness because the negative health impacts are profound, often sending participants to the hospital. The lesson here is that a standard is not sufficient for fitness. That standard must be met without negative health impacts and this is an area of expertise that personal trainers and most so-called coaches do not have.

The lesson here is that standards must be designed in a manner that assure that both performance AND health are in the equation. For example, below are two ways to craft a running standard. The first is a measure only of performance, and not the impact on the human body. The second measures performance but uses additional controls to more precisely measure performance and assure greater safety.

  1. Run 2-miles in 12 minutes.
  2. Run 2 miles in 12 minutes with a heart rate below 150bpm.

The first test standard doesn’t really tell us much except that the soldier is technically capable of running a six-minute mile. That’s not particularly useful. However, knowing that the soldier can run a six-minute mile while strictly in an aerobic heart rate zone gives us a massive amount of very specific information while preventing from over-exertion. The second standard is superior from the perspective of effectiveness, safety, and overall performance, which is significantly higher than the soldier who meets the first standard. As such, the higher quality of the second standard delivers superior results.

Testing, Screening & Assessments

Tests, screens, and assessments are collections of performance standards. The higher the quality of these standards, the better the training to meet them must be to be successful.

A test is a measurement or evaluation of one’s skill, knowledge, and/or ability. It can be a single measure or a battery of tests. The intent of this test or test battery is important. A screening is a test battery that looks simplistic but is highly complex. A screen chooses test activities that require the combination of many factors for success. If one fails a screen task, they are not just failing one task, they are failing many tasks. This is the point of screening because it acts as a spot check. If the soldier can pass the screen, then the many factors and components are in good order. If they fail the screen, then many things are going wrong below the surface that require deeper examination.

If a screen is failed, it is time for an assessment. An assessment is a very long and drawn out test battery that tests all aspects of performance in order to troubleshoot problems. In American Defence and Morrison Athletic, our physical fitness tests are screens and failure, or poor performance indicates the immediate need for a detailed assessment. Our assessments take a full week to complete and at the end of that week we know everything about your physical abilities and stamina. This allows us to begin improving your performance where the deficiencies lay and as such, the soldier’s performance on the screening improves, finally meeting the standards set for the screen, thus indicating that the underlying problems are resolved, and proper training has occurred.

It is also important to note that screens can be administered by anyone with as little as 30minutes of training. All the screener needs to do is observe the soldier’s performance and record it. However, assessments require specialists with hundreds or thousands of hours of training and experience. This is required because the assessment specialist must be able to evaluate and diagnose hundreds of factors from strength deficits to energy system deficits to mechanical restrictions, neurological dysfunctions and much more. One does not attain that level of ability over a weekend or even a year of practice. Therefore, screenings are the appropriate test type for military organizations.

Now we can get into the deeper details of the SOF PFT. The SOF PFT is a high-performance screen designed to test fitness for combat. It does so by mimicking a realistic sequence of events and defining a standard of performance for each event. Soldiers who meet this standard of performance will have demonstrated optimal physical readiness for combat. The test is designed I a manner that sets the minimum level of performance whereby a soldier could deploy, engage in combat operations, but will be at a significant risk of injury. The three levels are “At Risk,” “Combat Enhanced,” and “Combat Optimized.” This allows the soldier and commanders to understand the level of preparedness the soldier is at.

The events and standards selected for the SOF PFT are very much intentional. The events are fairly benign, but 100% specific to job performance. The standards are high for a variety of reasons. First, that level of performance is required to engage in combat operations effectively and safely. Of particular concern is the ability to repeat operations for weeks on end. As such, the performance standard must reflect a level of preparedness that makes this possible without caveats. Second, it just so happens that these optimal combat fitness standards are also high enough that one must devote considerable time, effort, and ingenuity to attain them. The events and standards force the use of proper multi-dimensional training programs. This prevents soldiers from just ‘training the test’ though in this instance that would hardly be detrimental as one would be practicing the exact skills required of the job. In this way, the SOF PFT uses actual core combat skills as the testing criteria and in such a format the screen will reveal training program deficiencies. This was the original intent of the DOD physical fitness tests However, they set the events and standards so poorly and so low that it can never be what they wanted it to be. The SOF PFT solves this problem entirely.

The other element that the SOF PFT alleviates is the need for special equipment. The SOF PFT requires only individually issued equipment and pull-up and dip bars, which every unit should possess, especially the portable variety made by companies like Sorinex and Rep Fitness.


In conclusion, the SOF PFT is a screen designed to evaluate combat fitness preparedness. It solves all of the problems of previous tests while delivering results superior to any test previously used in the DOD. It has the added benefit of being scalable and can be modified by changing the environment (such as using mountain trails). While it will absolutely evolve in the minor details, it’s here to stay and we feel it should become the standard for all SOF units.

It should also be mentioned that as a test the SOF PFT should be run once, no more than twice per year. We also understand that there are some other activities that SOF units might wish to evaluate. As a former SOF director of training I understand this better than most. The core issue is that the other items a unit may wish to evaluate (and they should), require significant investments in equipment and facilities. We have already designed such test batteries for the time when SOF is ready to make those investments. For now, the SOF PFT stands as the single best screening of combat fitness and preparedness for special operations.

*The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original authors and contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Spotter Up Magazine, the administrative staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

This was originally posted on Nate’s page here

Brought to you by the dudes at Spotter Up


By Nate Morrison

Nate Morrison is a former USAF Pararescue team leader and US Army Special Operations Combat Medic. He is the founder of the Pararescue Combatives program and cofounder of the AFSOC Human Performance program. He was a military freefall, mountain warfare and special operations medical instructor. He is recognized world wide as the leading expert on military fitness training and combative human performance. He has vast experience in teaching a wide variety of special operations skill sets in the private sector to military, law enforcement and other government agencies. He is the founder ofhttps://americandefence.us; specializing in full spectrum soldier and operator development to include human performance optimized equipment and TTPs. Visit his website at: https://www.americandefence.us

One thought on “SOF PFT – On Testing & Standards”
  1. Has anyone had any luck contacting Mr. Morrison or his company? I’m interested in his training material but can’t find anything beyond one Kindle book.

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