Facebook Live Event: An Inside Look at Physical Fitness
Learn more about what physical fitness training is like at the FBI Academy and how applicants can prepare for the Physical Fitness Test in this video archive from a Facebook live session that occurred on August 27, 2018.
Stephanie Shark: Hello and welcome everyone. Thanks for joining. I'm Supervisory Special Agent Stephanie Shark and we're here today to talk about physical fitness and the training new agents receive while they're at the FBI Academy. We've invited a couple of guests from our Physical Training Unit down at Quantico and a Supervisory Special Agent from our Human Resources Division to share their insights as well as discuss how important physical fitness is to the job of a Special Agent. As we get into our conversation please feel free to ask questions during our broadcast by typing them into the comments field or by using the hashtag #AskFBI. We'll make sure to answer them as we move along today. Hello!
John Vanvorst, Kevin Chimento, Keisha Rutland: Hi!
Shark: So I'm gonna start here on my right. I have John Vanvorst. Will you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your experience and your current role in the FBI?
Vanvorst: Sure. Again, my name is John Vanvorst and for the last 15 years, and then some, I've been a health and fitness instructor at the FBI's Physical Training Unit at the Academy in Quantico. And prior to coming on board with the Bureau I actually taught at the collegiate university setting in the Health, Physical Education, and Recreation Department.
Shark: Wonderful, thank you. Next we have Kevin Chimento. Kevin please tell us about your experience and your role today in the FBI.
Chimento: Sure. Like you said, my name is Kevin Chimento and I've been in the FBI Physical Training Unit since 1996 as a health and fitness instructor, and just enjoy developing programs and helping people progress through the Academy and continue along with their physical training throughout their careers as special agents.
Shark: Wonderful. Thank you, Kevin. And then finally we have Keisha Rutland. Welcome, Keisha.
Rutland: Hi, thank you. My name is Keisha Rutland. I'm a supervisory special agent in the HRD Division and I work in the selection and testing of new agents.
Shark: So HRD, for our audience out there, is human resources.
Rutland: That’s correct.
Shark: So you're the ones who get the bodies in and make sure that they're good to go.
Rutland: That's right.
Shark: Wonderful. Well let's get started. We're here today to talk about physical fitness training at FBI, and you guys came up here from Quantico a little bit. Can you tell us, starting with you John, what the physical fitness training at the Academy is like?
Vanvorst: Yes. So once the bodies are in, our goal is to focus on what are the movements that a special agent needs to be able to do – baking down that the job task into. You know, what do you really need to be able to do from a movement perspective.
Shark: Like punches and kicking?
Vanvorst: Potentially. Potentially things that could save your life or protect the public for what you serve. So to be able to sprint and to fight and to control a subject. Rather than focusing on the muscles involved, let's focus on the movements that they need. And so from the beginning we try to watch the trainees move and identify maybe some weaknesses in their movement vocabulary and see if we can't provide some solutions so that they're better movers by the time that they've graduated into the field.
Shark: Movers. Now when I came in we had to do a lot of weights – that was how my training was. Can you tell us a little bit today, if we're not focusing on specific muscle groups, what other dynamic type of things are you looking for with that movement?
Chimento: Well sure. Basically we want you, the person, to come in and get used to their body. Right? They bring their body everywhere they go, so pushing, pulling, carrying, moving their body, and time and space, you know. Getting used to that, kind of what John just said. But also, we want to get that mind-muscle interaction – you know, upper/lower body coordination, interacting with the ground. You know, punching, kicking. You know, maybe that possible physical confrontation – you're against an unknown opponent, they're pushing, pulling, and you don't know what sort of way. So just get them prepared for that.
Shark: Okay. So in order to get into the FBI – and we'll go into that a little bit later – but also proceed through the Academy, there's a physical fitness test that people have to take. I know if you go on FBI.gov that there – if you say, “Becoming a Special Agent” series – we have an example of the video of becoming a special agent and what that physical fitness test requires. But since we don't have time today to show it to you, will you tell us a little bit, either of you, what does that mean? What is a physical fitness for FBI new agents?
Vanvorst: Sure. The physical fitness test consists of five events.
Vanvorst: It starts with, you know, a timed, 1 minute sit-up test, followed by a 300-meter sprint, a maximum number of push-up test, and a 1.5 mile run and finishing with pull-ups.
Shark: Now that sounds simple enough. Kevin?
Chimento: Yeah, it does sound simple, but when you actually put it all together it is very tiring. We call it “metabolically demanding.” So when they do their training or when you're gonna do training for becoming a special agent, you should probably integrate that. So making sure that it's total body and not just testing push-ups today, sit-ups tomorrow, because the test is very fatiguing in nature and you do a lot of those events in a short period of time.
Shark: So you guys deal with the employees while they're at the Academy. Keisha, you have a lot of insight and interaction with employees prior to coming to the Academy. Can you talk a little bit about what is expected of them related to the PFT – or the physical fitness test with the FBI – before they get to the Academy?
Rutland: Yes. So just in general I think that the fit test builds confidence with the new trainees and I think that it builds also a mindset that fitness is for life. Right? It helps them develop a way to handle stress and also it teaches you to move out of your physical fitness comfort zone. It teaches you that you can go longer and harder and more than what you thought you could do.
Shark: Now you and I are both special agents and we've both taken the physical fitness test and one of the things we were talking about earlier is I feel like it also pushes people beyond their physical limitations to see how much they really want this job or want to overcome obstacles to meet their goals. Do you have a similar experience?
Rutland: Yes. No, I agree with that. In order to train for the special agent position, it's not something that you can just do overnight. It takes a couple weeks and it takes discipline to be able to get to the level where you can pass the PFT.
Shark: Okay, great. Well thank you to everyone who has tuned in thus far. If you're just joining us, we're giving you an inside look into the physical fitness training at FBI Academy. We just talked about the physical fitness test, or PFT as we call an FBI-land, and what new agent trainees must do to pass it. Please feel free to submit questions by using the hashtag #AskFBI or by typing them into the comments. We'll be sure to try to get to them as soon as we can as we move along. Now, let's ask our first question from the audience; You want to take it? Daniel asked, “Is the PFT, or the physical fitness test, always conducted outdoors? Should applicants be prepared to complete the test under any weather conditions?” So right now it's summer and we're in Washington, D.C. and it's hot and muggy, but I'm from Chicago where it's really cold, and some people live in Alaska and other places.
Chimento: Yeah, they need to be prepared to take the test and in any environment. Of course, we pay attention to, you know, heat, humidity, and those considerations or, you know, thunderstorm, lightning, you know. We want to test but at the Academy it is an outdoor track, so if it's hot and humid and as long as it's a go, we get a go to do the test, we can do some of the running events outside and you would do some of the other – sit-ups, push-ups – sometimes inside to kind of alleviate any discomforts due to the heat. Yeah, they do need to be prepared. If it’s raining, we're going.
Vanvorst: So if someone were reporting in August in Quantico, it's critical, if they're able, to at least train and get as acclimated as they can before they arrive. And we certainly aren't going to do the test at the heat of the day, but even, as you know, at 7 or 8 a.m., it can be pretty nasty here. So getting as acclimated as possible before they arrive is very important.
Shark: So Daniel, I think that's a yes. Be prepared for any weather condition possible. So preparing for the fitness test and at the Academy, what recommendations do you have for people who are actually preparing? And Keisha, I’m gonna start off with you a little bit. So do you talk to the agents before they get to the Academy? What advice would you give to our audience to prepare?
Rutland: So I would say definitely go out and do a self PFT to monitor your progress. I like to tell agents to do cross training because I think that that's a really good option. For instance, you can run out, you can go outside and you can run one lap around the track and then do push-ups, do another lap, and then do sit-ups, and alternate those laps as you work your way up to one mile and then just continue adding on miles – 2 miles to 3 miles – then that will help them prepare. I also like interval training, and I think that that's a really good option too.
Shark: Kevin? John?
Chimento: Yeah definitely. For the mile-and-a-half to 300 meters one of the best kind of training routine that we would recommend would be intervals. So, you know, running fast a little bit, running slow a little bit, you know. Recovery and just repeats, like, in that nature would better prepare them for that mile-and-a-half and 300 meter, as opposed to the common thought of “let's run three miles” and then “let's run five miles,” where that's not really preparing them to run fast, where that 300 meter is a fast sprint, so they need to prepare for that.
Shark: So you say getting your heart rate up, getting it as fast as you can, and seeing if you can calm it down and keep pushing that time, that helps?
Chimento: Well yeah, just increasing, you know, your work rate and then recovering gives you…you're better able to sustain a higher level of training, as opposed to if I'm just gonna run hard for as long as I can. It's not going to be…I can't do that, you know. Just think of it – I'm gonna run two laps for as hard as I can…it just wouldn't happen. So run hard, recover, run hard, recover. So those bouts of the high intensity, those are good quality bouts, so you get the benefit from maximizing that hard part, fast part.
Shark: Any other recommendations you might have, John, for our audience?
Vanvorst: I would just echo what Keisha mentioned earlier, that this is a process, too. A lot of people want results and they want them now and it doesn't happen that fast sometimes. So gradually increase, you know, that workload. Gradually increase the intensity to avoid the injuries and other common problems that you might see. So train hard but be smart about it.
Shark: So what do we say to people who really in their heart of hearts wants to be a special agent? They really know they can contribute to the FBI, but, like, running isn't their thing. So they get out there, they run a few blocks, and they're done. Should they throw in the towel…before they get to that phase, before they start applying?
Vanvorst: No, I would encourage them to reframe the running, because I'd like to throw myself in that same boat in terms of…I don't know that I have a lot of enjoyment just simply going out and running for running’s sake. But you're not just running for running’s sake; you might be running to save the life of your partner, to protect the public at large. So always have a higher purpose ultimately with that run. This run and this test is simply, you know, again, one hurdle or obstacle to becoming that important special agent position, so maybe having that mental sort of reframe would be one of my other recommendations too.
Shark: And like you said, really put it into a purpose. I mean, we're talking about purpose earlier for our jobs and why we're applying, so wonderful. Well if you're just joining us now, I'm Supervisory Special Agent Stephanie Shark and we are here speaking with some experts from our Physical Training Unit and our Human Resources, giving you an inside look into the physical fitness training at FBI Academy. Feel free to submit questions by using the hashtag #AskFBI or by typing them into the comments. We'll be sure to look at them and try to get to as many as we can as we move along. We have another question from our audience, which we really like to hear what you have to say. So Keisha, this one is likely for you. Trifas asks, “Can you become a special agent after retiring from the military, and what is the age limit?”
Rutland: So currently, if you are outside of the military…
Shark: So you're already retired, outside?
Rutland: Well I have to kind of understand that a little bit better, because there are nuances for those that retire from the military. But just in general, agents have to come in by their 37th birthday.
Shark: Into the FBI Academy?
Rutland: Into the FBI Academy, yes. There are age waivers for the military and we can do that for you. It's a little bit, it's a little different process, but absolutely if you're from the military you can come in after age 37. But the caveat is that agents have to work 20 years before they retire. So yes, there are options for the military, and we love the military.
Shark: And we love having military people here, and you guys know how to work out, so you can teach us a lot as well, so. Wonderful.
Rutland: Good question.
Shark: So we have a new technology that we are here today to talk about that helps people interested in becoming an FBI agent use their cell phones to prepare. So we have a new physical fitness, PFT app from the FBI. It's the FBI’s first official fit test app and it's downloadable on Apple Store and Google Play. Now it's my understanding that you two helped develop this app.
Chimento: Yeah, correct.
Shark: Well tell us about it.
Vanvorst: So early on in the process, I guess, you know, we saw this gap that existed between, you know, an applicant who wants to take the test and then all of the information that somebody might need to actually administer the test properly. And so if you're out at a track attempting to take this self-assessment, it certainly would be easier if you could open up your phone, have all of the protocols listed right there for you, have video demonstrations to demonstrate the protocol, built-in timers – anything that would just make it easier for an applicant to actually take the test properly to get that self-assessment, and maybe include some other information, you know, along the way.
Shark: So they don’t have to show up with paper and a stopwatch and a buddy; They can just do it on their phone.
Vanvorst: Of course.
Chimento: Yeah, and it explains the protocol really well so they know how to do precisely.
Shark: Well give me an example. How does…it's my understanding that you have been doing some demos and are in some videos on our FBI website, so clearly you’re someone who knows what the protocol is. What does that mean: protocol?
Chimento: Well the protocol means, it's the specific way that we will count, say, a push-up or a sit-up. And we have protocols for the running events, but those are pretty straightforward with distance and time. But there are certain ways that people may think they do a push-up and it would count, but we have, like, lowering ourselves, the mid-center axis of the shoulder, and the elbow needs to be a straight line, parallel, you know, basically…parallel to the ground.
Shark: And there’s videos?
Chimento: Then there’s videos that explain that. The app is great because it has it right there. They have the words, and then maybe just involve someone else so that they can actually give you feedback that you're doing it correctly. And then once you get squared away there, then you have the app and yourself – you're good to go.
Shark: Great. So Keisha, since you see people before they get to the Academy, does everyone pass? Is this easy? What's kind of been your experience?
Rutland: No, it's not easy to pass the PFT, but with preparation, and you can do that. The app is great because it will time the…it'll give you time in between the events, which is really important. It keeps you on that 5-minute schedule between doing, like, your push-ups and the run and that's crucial, because people will come to us and they have to do their PFT and they say “well I really didn't know that I had only 5 minutes between the events.” So the PFT explains everything that's expected of the candidate when they show up.
Shark: Which hopefully increases their ability to pass and first time around.
Rutland: Absolutely, absolutely.
Shark: Wonderful. So I know we're getting a little bit close to our finish line here, and if you want to take the new challenge and train like an agent, please download the FBI fit test app now on the App Store and Google Play. I downloaded it today and, of course, in true government fashion there were disclaimers and then you say if you're male or female and then it seemed pretty easy. Let's just go…let's see if I want to train and all this time to move forward. So, in terms of any words of advice for somebody who wants to be an FBI agent as it relates to the physical fitness and their health, if you could give our audience anything to help them say “Is the FBI for me? Like, can I do this?” what would you say?
Rutland: So I always tell applicants, one: if you are really serious about this, come up with a plan to work out, and then follow through to that plan, and then prepare and you can do it. It is not an impossible hurdle.
Chimento: Yeah it's definitely a process, alright. And the physical training is something that is laid out there, they know. Again, it doesn't have to be we meet those minimums or those standards, like John said, in a week or a day. It's a process, so if you know you're interested, start now, start off slowly, and progress it and you should be good to go.
Vanvorst: But don't let the test deter you from accomplishing this mission. And we have high standards and we think that you can meet them.
Shark: And just to follow all that, it's all in your head. I know with me, because I'm not the fastest runner, when I'm next to somebody who's taken off sprinting I feel defeated but I know that when I keep going I pass the test because I've got everything in me that wants it so bad. So if you want this so bad I encourage you to not let yourself be your worst enemy and just keep going. So I think we have time for one more question from the audience. Janelle asks, “How many times can you take the PFT if you don't pass the first time?” So are we ruthless – one and done and you're out?
Rutland: No, no, and thank you so much for asking that question. So before you go to the Academy, applicants must take their PFT. If you don't pass the first time, you have two more times to take it within a year, so we give you the opportunity to work out.
Shark: And that's before the Academy?
Rutland: Yes, that's before the Academy.
Shark: And, gentlemen, once you get to the Academy, what are the expectations?
Vanvorst: So once they arrive at the Academy, they take a physical fitness test very early on, and if they do not pass that test they get one more shot about eight weeks later. So getting there with some margin is a good idea just because it's a little bit more stressful at the Academy, but they…they'll have a second chance at it if necessary.
Chimento: Yeah, it's definitely a high-stress environment. You have defensive tactics, that's physical as well; firearms, physical. But there's also the mental aspect of pressure, you know. It's a competitive environment, so if you can just get that physical fitness test under your belt you'll, you know…maybe it'll just relieve that other stress just a little bit and you’d be better prepared.
Shark: And speaking about the wiggle room, you stated a fact earlier – about 45 seconds – as it relates to giving yourself wiggle room. What does that mean?
Chimento: So, yes. So when, if you have your mile-and-a-half time – most people know what they can run a mile-and-a-half in – well pretty much what we've seen is that when you do those other events before the mile-and-a-half, it adds about 45 seconds to a minute. So if you say, “Oh, I normally run, whatever, a 12-minute mile-and-a-half,” you're probably gonna have to add another 45 seconds to a minute if you do those other events prior to that, so.
Vanvorst: So if you're a runner and you use the app in demo mode and you go to what you're good at, which is the 1.5 mile run, make sure that you flip it to testing mode where you have to do the other events first, and see how that might impact your running ability.
Shark: Okay. That’s great.
Rutland: You're talking to me on that – doing the push-ups, yes, and stuff.
Shark: Well I think this is a good opportunity to sign off for this session. I want to thank our panelists for joining us today. Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom with not only me but the audience. And if you, our audience, have any questions or need more information about the special agent careers, openings, how to apply, any FBI jobs, please visit us on the web at FBIJobs.gov. We were talking earlier today that your job isn't a normal job and you wouldn't have even known that we had physical fitness…what is your exact title?
Vanvorst: Health and fitness instructors.
Shark: Health and fitness instructors in the FBI. So even if maybe you're not going to be an agent, there may be a job for you, so please go to FBIJobs.gov, put in your resume, and we have everybody here and we hopefully will have you too. Thank you.
Chimento: Thank you.
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