Careers That Require Physical Fitness

Portrait of firefighter carrying hose

Although many careers today allow sedentary lifestyles, others still require extreme physical fitness. Some jobs weed out unqualified candidates immediately with stringent physical qualification tests and medical exams. Even qualifying for training doesn't guarantee work in these occupations because by the end of training, candidates must demonstrate real increases in strength and skill.


Obviously infantrymen find the ability to carry heavy loads and travel long distances quickly on foot essential, but military training also requires hand-eye coordination and balance. By the end of basic training, soldiers must pass the first fitness test. Three events measure strength and endurance with a point system based on age and gender. The events consist of two minutes of sit-ups, two minutes of push-ups and a timed two-mile run. Advanced training, or AIT, raises those standards, and elite forces must demonstrate extreme physical ability. Army Ranger testing includes a 16-mile hike with a 65-lb. pack in under five hours. Throughout a military career, personnel must pass periodic fitness tests and maintain body weight within an accepted range. Qualifying for pilot training in any service branch adds vision requirements and specialized physical ability testing to an already rigorous physical fitness standard.


Firefighters drag heavy equipment up ladders and stairwells and carry out unconscious or injured people, all while wearing heavy protective clothing in extremes of smoke and heat. Candidates must pass physical tests to qualify for training and pass much more difficult tests for actual work. Tests focus on the ability to work with standard equipment as well as test the person's aerobic fitness. The Equipment Carry Selection Test, or ECST, requires trainees to drag heavy hoses and carry standard equipment over a 100-m course. Applicants walk back to the pickup station, lift another piece of gear and run the course again. The UK Fire and Rescue Services accepts applicants who complete the course in under 5 minutes 47 seconds. Those who complete training undergo a similar test that doubles the distance covered. Applicants to smoke-jumper training in the United States begin with a standardized pack test. Would-be smoke jumpers must carry a 45-lb. pack over a level three-mile course in less than 45 minutes to qualify. Trainees must pass a comprehensive physical test on the first training day. Individual fire departments set standards for the continuing physical fitness of career employees.

Law Enforcement

Local fitness standards vary for law enforcement officers, but those considering this career may encounter the Montana Physical Abilities Test, or MPAT. Based on a Canadian testing program, the exam covers nine abilities deemed essential to law enforcement. The MPAT places the officer on an obstacle course 1235 feet long, which measures the individual's ability to maneuver over and under barriers commonly found in an urban environment. Controlled falls and unassisted recoveries are included, and officers must complete six laps. The MPAT tests different physical strengths, the ability to drag an unresponsive person to safety and such fundamentals as balance and jumping. Periodic fitness testing for career law enforcement employees depends on local department policies. One study conducted by the Eastern Michigan University 14th School of Police Staff and Command revealed that out of the 37 police departments responding only three had continuing fitness standards. Continuing physical fitness programs not only contribute to job performance but also help officers deal with stress, according to the study's author, Brandon Williams of the Pittsfield Township Police Department.