Train Like an FBI Agent

When most teens were picking out colleges and their potential future professions, my dad—a State Trooper at the time—was pitching me on joining the FBI. I had the brains for it, he said. And fresh off losing my baby fat, I could, with the right training, have the body for it, too. He conceded when I decided on a more lucrative career choice. I wanted to be an orthodontist, even for someone who had an aversion to sticking their fingers in someone else’s mouth.

Spoiler alert: My “dream” of becoming an orthodontist died my freshman year. So, when I announced my switch to majoring in English Writing, my dad’s fantasy of having a federal agent for a son came back. “They hire English majors,” I distinctly remember him joking. (Or not joking? Who’s to tell.) As one reading this piece might guess, I didn’t end up enrolling in the academy either. I didn’t even apply. Instead, I stuck with writing and, well, here I am: Writing about the FBI.

You see, the process of becoming a federal agent is as daunting as the duties that come once you get the badge. First, there’s a long list of non-negotiables. You must be a U.S. citizen; your public record must be in good standing with no felony convictions; you must adhere to the FBI’s drug policy (you’re disqualified if you used any illegal drug in the past 10 years); your student loans need to be in repayment; you need to have filed all required annual federal, state and local taxes for your entire employment history; not currently be ordered to pay child support payments; and, last but not least, have no prior history with organizations designed to overthrow the U.S. government.

Then, there’s the seven-step hiring process, which includes everything from background checks to polygraph tests and the Physical Fitness Test—an exhaustive, fast-paced relay of sorts designed to weed out the physically unfit to serve.

Luckily, though, the PFT is the only portion of the process you can really study or prepare for. And civilians can follow the FBI’s training program, too. It’s available both on an app—if you’re willing to literally hand over your personal data to the FBI—and in simple PDF form. The scored test is graded as pass or fail, but you earn points through each part, of which there are four: sit-ups, a 300-meter sprint, push-ups, and a 1.5-mile run, in this order, all with no more than five minutes of rest between each one.

Passing the test is a balancing act and it’s a good way to develop a healthy workout rhythm. Max out during the sprint and push-ups and you’re probably toast when it comes time for the long-distance run. Conserve energy for the run and you risk falling short of the goal on the sprint. You need to score a minimum of 12 total points with at least one point in three events and no less than a zero in any event. This means you could get a zero on the mile, a 10 on sit-ups and a one in both push-ups and the sprint and still pass.

Looking through the scoring system proves deceptive, though. I, for one, feel foolishly confident in my ability to run 1.5 miles in under 15 minutes, which would score me a zero. But given the mile comes after 30 pushups (to get a one), running 300 meters in 51.5 seconds (to get a one), and doing 59 sit-ups (to get a 10), I’m not so sure. And that’s all without more than a few minutes to catch my breath and let my muscles recuperate. Sheesh. I’d argue that unless you’re in damn good shape—eating right, doing regular, strenuous cardio, and lifting (or at least doing these bodyweight exercises) on the regular, you’re probably not passing. Especially if pick-up sports are all you’re doing to stay fit.

I go to the gym daily, at least during the week, but I realize I’m still a long way from passing. But, as I’ve learned, whether you plan to eventually take this test or not, you can (and should) still use it as an effective training guide for functional fitness. These are all exercises you can get better at the more you do them, and you can do them all from your home with little to no equipment. Try it for a few weeks and notice how quickly you see positive changes in your body, energy and recovery levels.

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