Supplemental Task-Specific Exercise Training for the Candidate Physical Ability Test

The supplementary exercise program presented in the following sections not only makes use of the overload principal of training but also applies the all-important principal of training specificity.  Exercise training specificity means that performance improvements occur most readily when training closely resembles the specific physical activity for which improved performance is desired.

When training for specific activities requiring high levels of muscular strength, power and endurance (e.g. hose drag and pull from kneeling position, ladder raise and extension, sledge hammer swing, dummy drag, and ceiling breach and pull) task-specific muscular overload should accompany a general strength training program.

Practice and training in the specific activity becomes crucial because much of the improvement in muscular strength/power performance depends upon skill learning and new muscular adaptations (i.e., coordination of specific muscle actions) required for the physical task.  In most instances, training in the actual task proves most effective. Repetition is the key to your success in the CPAT.

The following program provides examples for applying your general training program to actually performing the eight CPAT tasks.  As with your other preparation training, you must progressively upgrade the duration, frequency, and intensity of exercise to continually improve your performance.  This will maximize your improvement in performing the CPAT. In the beginning phase of this training, progress slowly so that you can safely learn the skill and coordination required for the movements.

As you become confident in your ability to successfully complete a specific exercise task with relative ease, redirect your training energies to those activities that pose the greatest difficulty.  For many people, the stair climb with full weights, forcible entry, and rescue prove the most difficult.


The entire 8-event CPAT course is performed wearing a 50-pound weighted vest, safety helmet and leather gloves. It is recommended you purchase, borrow or simulate these items for optimal training.


Event 1. Stair Climb

You can readily modify aerobic training to more closely resemble the 3-minute stair climb in the CPAT by performing actual stair-stepping exercise on any conveniently located first step of a staircase, preferably at least 8 inches in height.  Step at a rate that permits completion of 24 complete stepping cycles within a one-minute period.  A stepping cycle consists of stepping up with one foot, then the other and down with one foot, then the other in a rhythm “up-up, down-down.” Strive to complete two stepping cycles within a 5-second period. This event is also performed wearing a 50-pound weighted vest with 25 additional pounds added to the shoulders.


Begin training by stepping continuously (unweighted) for 5 minutes.  As your fitness improves, complete a second and then third 5-minute exercise bout interspersed with several minutes of recovery.  Once you can complete three intervals of 5-minutes of stepping you should add weight. If you do not have a weighted vest you can add weight to your torso in the form of a knapsack to which weights, sand, dirt or rocks has been added.  Continue to perform three 5-minute intervals of stepping; progressively add weight to the knapsack as your fitness improves so that you can step with 50 pounds of additional weight.  (This 50-pound knapsack and work gloves should be worn in training for all subsequent events of the CPAT.) In addition, carry 10-15 pounds (dumbbell, sand filled plastic container) in each hand while stepping.  The total weight carried (knapsack plus hand-held weights) should equal approximately 75 pounds. At this stage, reduce the duration of the exercise interval to 3 minutes.  This task-specific training not only improves aerobic fitness for continuous stepping but it also improves your leg power for stepping in the weighted condition, which represents a unique component of this CPAT item.

Event 2. Hose Drag Exercise

Attach 50 feet of rope to a duffel bag to which weight has been added.  Tires or cement blocks can also be used for resistance.  Choose an initial resistance that enables you to perform 8 to 10 repetitions (2-minute recovery between repetitions) of the exercise sequence.  This generally represents an effort that you would rate as feeling “somewhat hard”.


Progressively increase the resistance to 60 to 80 pounds as fitness improves.  Place the rope over your shoulder and drag the resistance a distance of 75 feet.  (You should run during this phase of the event.) Immediately drop to one knee and steadily and briskly pull the rope hand-over-hand to bring the resistance into your body.  A parking lot, school yard, driveway, or sidewalk can be used for training on this event.

Event 3. Equipment Carry Exercise

Use two dumbbells or plastic containers filled with sand so that each weighs approximately 30 pounds.  Place the weights on a shelf four feet above ground level.  Remove the weights, one at a time, and place them on the ground.  Then pick up the weights and carry them a distance of 40 feet out and 40 feet back and replace them on the shelf.


If the initial weight feels too heavy, choose a lighter weight for your initial practice.  Continue to practice this test item until it can be performed with 30 pounds with relative ease.

Event 4. Ladder Rise and Extension

Ladder Rise:

The ideal training for this task requires an actual 12-foot aluminum extension ladder.  If this size ladder is unavailable, you can use a single ladder or smaller extension ladder to practice the skill required raising the ladder.  Practice of the ladder raise sequence requires the assistance of two adults to “foot” the ladder at its base to prevent it from sliding forward and/or falling during the raise.  In practicing this component (as described in the test directions) it is important to initially move slowly so as to develop the skill and confidence to safely complete the required movements. Be sure to use each rung when raising the ladder to develop the coordination and timing necessary on the CPAT

Ladder Extension: 

Task-specific training of the muscles required in the ladder extension can be provided by attaching a rope to a weighted duffel bag or knapsack.  Place the rope over a tree branch (or horizontal bar support above a row of playground swings) eight to ten feet above the ground.  With hand-over-hand movements steadily raise the bag to the top of the branch or bar and then slowly lower it to the ground.


Start with a weight that you would rate as feeling “somewhat hard,” and perform eight to ten repetitions of the movement.  Rest two minutes and repeat the exercise-rest sequence two more times.  As your strength improves progressively add more resistance until you can exercise with 40 to 50 pounds of weight.

Event 5. Forcible Entry

Borrow or purchase a ten-pound sledgehammer.  Wrap padding around a large tree or vertical pole at a level of 39 inches above the ground with a circular target in the center.  Stand sideways and swing the sledgehammer in a level manner so the head strikes the center of the target area.  Focus on using your legs and hips to initiate the swinging motion and carry the momentum generated all the way through the swing.


The initial phase of this task-specific training should focus on learning the coordinated movement of your arms and legs to accurately hit the target.  Repeat the swing 15 times and rest for two minutes.  Repeat this exercise-rest sequence twice again.  Strive to increase the momentum and velocity (power) of each swing without sacrificing accuracy as your comfort level and skill on this test item improve.

Event 6. Search Exercise

Practice crawling on hands and knees (wearing sweat pants and/or kneepads) at least 70 feet while making several right-angle turns during the crawl.  For the major portion of the crawl keep low enough so as not to contact an object three feet above the ground.  Periodically, drop to your stomach and crawl ten feet along the ground.


Once you are comfortable crawling as above repeat the sequence with a knapsack on.  Gradually increase the weight within the knapsack until it equals 50 pounds.

Event 7. Rescue Exercise:

Attach a short handle to a duffel bag to which rocks, sand, or other appropriate weight can be progressively added.  Start with a weight that feels “somewhat heavy.” You can grasp the handle with (a) one hand and drag the “victim” in a cross-over, side-stepping manner, or (b) two hands while facing the “victim” and moving directly backwards while taking short, rapid stagger steps.  Drag the weight 35 to 50 feet in one direction turn around and drag it back to the starting point.  Complete eight to ten repetitions of this task with a two-minute rest interval between each trial.


Gradually increase the resistance until you can successfully complete 4 repetitions (with rest interval) with 165 pounds.

Event 8. Ceiling Breach and Pull:

Ceiling Breach:

Tie a rope to a dumbbell or weighted knapsack placed between your legs, shoulder width apart. Grasp the rope, arms slightly away from the body with one hand at upper-thigh level and the other hand at chest level.  Lift upwards and out from the body in an action that simulates thrusting a pole through an overhead ceiling. Use a resistance that feels “somewhat hard,” yet enables you to complete three sets of eight repetitions with two minutes of rest between sets.


Continually add weight as strength improves.  Practice coordinating upward arm movements with an upward extension of the legs to provide a more powerful thrusting action.

Ceiling Pull:

The training set-up for this simulation is the same as that used in training for the ladder extension. However, unlike the hand-over-hand movement that is required for the ladder extension the ceiling pull requires exerting power in single, repeated downward thrusts.  Grasp the rope attached to the weighted knapsack or duffel bag with hands spaced about one-foot apart and the bottom hand at chin level.  In a powerful movement simultaneously pull arms down and lower your body to raise weight several feet above the ground.  Repeat eight to ten consecutive repetitions of the movement with a resistance that feels “somewhat hard.” Complete three sets with a two-minute recovery interval interspersed.


Progressively add resistance as fitness improves.


As your fitness improves you should begin to link all eight test components.  For example, immediately upon finishing the stair climb move directly to the hose drag and then to the equipment carry.  Eventually you will be able to simulate all of the task components in the CPAT in a continuous exercise sequence.