Why you keep failing the POPAT, even though you are fit enough.

Periodically I get a client who has trained their butt off and is ready to smash the POPAT. Their numbers are good. They're strong enough and fit enough. Then they go to take the POPAT.... and they fall short. Time, after time.

So what's the deal?

Generally, I find 3 main reasons why someone will fail the POPAT, even if they are fit enough.

These reasons are: 1. Pacing, 2. Timidness, 3. No warm-up

Let's start with the primary reason candidates fail...

1. Pacing

Pacing. Pacing. Pacing. It is so important. 4 minutes and 15 seconds doesn't seem like that long, does it? Well, it is well above the limits of your anaerobic system (see more about the anaerobic system here), when you are going all out, which makes pacing essential if you want to pass witha  competitive time.

Candidates make two mistakes when choosing their pace: going too FAST or going too SLOW. How quickly you will go will depend on your strengths.

If your conditioning is on point, you can afford to run faster lap times and avoid being burnt out for the Pull/Push. Weaker candidates often need more time to complete the Pull/Push, making this a valid strategy. However, if you burn yourself out during the Agility section and you're sucking wind you will struggle and drop the weight. For fit candidates aim for a lap time of 19-22 seconds per lap. This will give you some extra time for the Pull/Push.

If you are a physically strong candidate, then taking your time during the Agility section of the POPAT will be a good strategy, as long as you can make up for that time by smashing the Pull/Push. The problem is candidates often run TOO slowly. A 30 second lap time isn't going to help you post and impressive numbers. You still need to be quick and consistent on your feet. Fro strong candidates, aim for a lap time of less than 27 seconds per lap. Be conscious that you will need to make up some time on the Pull/Push, which brings us to our second point.


2. Timidness: don't be nice to the machine

This happens most often with new candidates, who have never run the test before. They are too nice to the machine, and try to 'guide' the weight up, rather than giving it a solid push.

SMASH THE WEIGHT INTO THE MACHINE. Don't be nice to it. Aim to send the handle THROUGH the other side, rather than just trying to hide the red and yellow line markers. Once you've started pulling or pushing, don't let up. This is where proper strength training becomes so important. You have to train for both raw strength and strength endurance if you want to breeze through the Pull/Push section.

The machines are durable and heavy. Don't be afraid to put everything into it.


3. No Warm Up

Ever heard of Second-Wind? I call that First Warm-Up. Every single time you run the test without a proper warm-up you are setting yourself up for failure. Warming up primes your body for performance. Without one, you will be 2 minutes into the test before your body has even woken up and is ready to go. 

It is essential that you warm up before you run your test.

If you are not sure how to warm up, or what constitutes and effective warm up then download my Dynamic Warm Up below. You can use it before any strength or conditioning session.


Anyone can pass the POPAT. It just takes some training, commitment and occasionally some strategy. If you are struggling with any individual part of the POPAT, don't hesitate to send me an email at mark@leofitness.ca and I will be more than happy to help you out.

Take care, and remember: Train with Pride.

-Mark Murdoch

B.Kin, Candian Society of Exercise Physiology CPT

Author: Mark Murdoch, Kinesiologist, Chiropractic Student. Have questions? Email me. I want to help! mark@leofitness.ca