Are You Fit Enough to Be in the FBI?
This track on the Temple University campus might be the safest place in Philadelphia right now, but a group of people are about to go through a painful process.
It’s physical fitness test day for 16 Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent recruits, who applied through the FBI’s Philadelphia office. An equal amount of current FBI special agents—all armed, as is required for the job—look on at the recruits, who huddle together at the corner of the tartan track.
Soon, each recruit will be put through a formidable fitness exam. It will be painful, but a good score makes you a more desirable candidate, while failure ups your chances of being scrapped from the FBI special agent recruiting process.
The special agents chat about a few current cases—a corrupt politician, a white-collar crime scheme—until a blacked-out GMC SUV pulls up alongside the track. Three men in slacks, starched shirts, and jackets exit the vehicle and walk purposefully to the track.
“Gather round,” one of them yells. He’s Special Agent Gregory Branch, a seasoned agent and the Philly division’s special agent recruiter.
Branch explains that the test is comprised of five events in the following order: max situps in one minute, a 300-meter sprint for time, max rep pushups, a 1.5-mile run for time, and max rep pullups.
Each event is scored on specific repetition or time criteria. For example, for a male recruit, doing 30 to 32 perfect reps in the pushups event scores you one point. Performing 50 to 53 scores you five points. Anything below 30 is worth zero points, while anything over 71 nets you 10 out of 10 points. (Learn musclemorphosis.com.)
To make the cut, a special agent recruit must score at least one point in each event, and 12 points total. Only the first four events are counted, though. So you might score a three in situps, a four on the 300-meter run, a two on pushups, and a four on the 1.5-mile run for a passing score of 13 points. (Only recruits who want to join tactical teams are judge on the pullups, although all recruits must do them.)
“Don’t aim for a passing score. Try to stand out,” says Branch as the recruits team up for the situp even. One recruit prepares to work while the other holds down the exerciser’s feet and waits to counts his reps. Soon, torsos launch off the ground then slam back to earth, immediately rebounding skyward for another rep.
Now onto the 300-meter sprint. Most candidates cover the three-quarters of track in the required 55 seconds. One recruit, a former Marine, scores a perfect 10 by logging a sub 40.9-second sprint.
After five-minutes of rest, half the candidates are in pushup position. Their partner from the situp test counts their reps while a special agent watches each rep to ensure that it’s done up to FBI standards: Hold a perfect plank position throughout the pushup, lock your elbows out at the top, and descend low enough that your shoulder blades line up with your elbows.
The candidates fire off rep after rep, slowing as they begin to feel the burn.
“No rep,” an agent yells over the crowd as a recruit fails to lock out his arms at the top of the movement. The reps need to be perfect and sequential—no bad form or resting at the top.
The second group goes. More calls of “no rep!” fly above the exercisers.
“We find that most guys fail on the pushups,” says Special Agent James Krieger, fitness coordinator in the Philadelphia office. “Most of the failure comes down to the fact that the candidate didn’t train correctly. Either they didn’t become strong enough, they didn’t practice pushups up to FBI standards, or they didn’t practice pushups under fatigue, which is how you take them in the test.”
When it’s time to begin the 1.5-mile run, the candidates stand at the starting line, their faces looking tired but tenacious. “Ok, go!” yells Branch, clicking a stopwatch.
Each candidate takes off, commencing six laps around the track. In just over nine minutes, the Marine staggers over the finish line, scoring nine points. More candidates file in, then they rest and head to the pullup bar.
As the final candidate pulls out his final rep, Branch begins to calculate scores. He yells out names and then either “pass” or “no pass.”
In all, about one third of the class fails. Some bomb. Others fail because they fell just a rep or two short of completing 30 pushups, which would have given them the required one point on the pushup event.
“Passing each event by itself is pretty doable for someone who works out,” says one special agent who was one point shy of a perfect score of 50 on his recruitment test. “But it’s the cumulative effect of the events that makes the test difficult.”
Another agent agrees. “It’s the only test that I knew the answers to beforehand,” she says. “That’s why I practiced it all the time, to get really good at taking it.”
Think you’re up to FBI fitness standards? Take the FBI physical fitness test and see how you score. It’s also a good gauge of how generally in shape you are.
Perform each event in the order listed below, marking down your score for each.
Rest five minutes between each event. Perform the situps, pushups, and pullups to standard—imperfect reps don’t count.
When you finish, add the numbers to determine your final score. Special agents pass with 12 points, while tactical team members must achieve 20.
Directions: Set a timer for one minute. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground, knees bent. Have a person stand on your feet (or wedge them under a sturdy object, such as a couch) and place your hands behind your head, your fingers interlocked.
Start the timer. Raise your torso vertical, your shoulders under your hips. Immediately lower your torso back down so your shoulder blades touch the ground. That’s one rep. Do as many reps as you can in the minute.
Directions: Start a stopwatch and run ¾ of a 400-meter long track (the standard size at schools) as fast as you can.
Directions: Get into pushup position, your hands slightly wider than shoulder width and your body in a straight line from your head to your ankles.
Lower your torso until your shoulder blades are in line with your elbows. Press back up, locking out your arms. That’s one rep. Do as many reps as you can while maintaining good form and not pausing.
Directions: Time yourself as you run 1.5-miles—that’s six laps around a 400-meter long track—as fast as you can.
Directions: Hang at arm’s length from a pullup bar, using an overhand grip that’s slightly wider than your shoulders. Pull yourself up until your neck is in line with the bar. Lower your body to the starting position, your arms straight, and repeat.