This is the second of a series of Autopsies which outline and detail a plan to score perfect on each of the US military branch's fitness tests. The last one we covered was the Army Physical Fitness Test; this one is on the US Air Force Fitness Test. The reason for this series is simple: we believe if there is a guideline, you should strive for perfection every time.
Overview of the Air Force Fitness Test
The Air Force Fitness Test [PFT, or Physical Fitness Test] consists of four components: aerobics, body composition, pushups, and crunches. Each airman can potentially earn a score of 100 points; passing score is anything above 75. The point system is as follows:
Each component of the PFT contributes towards the cumulative score. The max points for each component are:
*This Autopsy does not take into account Airmen on medical profiles.
Just as with the APFT [Army Physical Fitness Test], the scoring charts are divided into age groups and gender. For our purposes, we will list the most stringent require for each of the components; if you can achieve that level, you will be able to max the PFT out for any age group. The requirements are:
The test sequence is body composition, pushups, crunches, run. Now that we know the requirements, let's get started preparing for it.
The Air Force is the only branch that currently incorporates a body composition assessment into their PFT. It consists of a standard waist measurement, and to get max points you need less than 32.5 inches for males, and less than 29.5 inches for females. This is the single component that keeps people from getting perfect scores [100 points]. The reason the Air Force included this is because it is a known fact that excess abdominal circumference is a precursor to a smorgasbord of health problems. Research has shown conclusively that abdominal size reflects a person's level of whole health. Fun fact: we all know that smoking tobacco is an obvious risk to your health, but did you know your amount of abdominal fat is a good predictor of your risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some types of cancer? How 'bout that?
What is the best way to lose abdominal circumference, you ask? Only through a combination of diet and exercise. You have to decrease your body fat percentage. No matter how large your midsection is, it's important to remember that we ALL have a set of 6-pack abs underneath everything. You can burn all of that off by increasing the calories you burn, decreasing the calories you take in [try taking in cleaning foods, too--and BALANCE your diet. Don't focus too much on only one component like protein, and don't omit any one food group] or both. Don't just work out, don't just do cardio. I like to tell people to mix it up--incorporate fun stuff into your life, that way you're more likely to stick to it. Stay active--play sports as often as you can, if that's what you like. Drink plenty of water. You can do it if you apply yourself.
The 1.5 mile Run
Since this component makes up half of the PFT, it only makes sense to score as high as possible on this event. The same principle applies as with the situps—to be able to run the 1.5 miles in under 9:36, you must run. More than just jogging three or four miles a couple times a week. The problem people have is that they don’t care to improve their performance, and those that would like to usually go about it the wrong way. You cannot improve performance on a timed 1.5-mile run by doing LSD [long, slow distance] runs all the time. Note* This only applies to people who run on a regular basis. Those who never run will make progress by doing LSD runs initially. After a while their improvement will start to taper off. So if this is the case, why not just start out correctly and make continuous progress? How can you do this? With intervals. If you incorporate intervals into your runs—stay around 1.5 to 3 mile runs—you’ll reduce your run time [good], but only if you continuously apply yourself. Most people don’t apply themselves. I suggest that you keep all your distances to no less than 1.5 miles. Here’s a good progression:
If you're deconditioned [out of shape]--start with regular sessions of 1.5 to 3 miles with a LSD run [long, slow distance--4 to 7 miles] each week. Go for completion first off, then gradually increase speed. Pick a distance and stick with it for a while so you can monitor progress at that distance before increasing. Example: you start out with 1.5 miles three times a week. A decent time for this is under 12 minutes, but that's nowhere near what you need to max out. Continue increasing speed until you can hit the 1.5 mile run in under 12 minutes, then proceed to the next step, which is intervals.
If you can run 1.5 miles in 12:00 or less--do intervals. You should be running at least 2-3 times a week, at least 1.5 miles each time. To do intervals, simply alternate between a moderate pace and sprinting. You can choose the duration of each--it's whatever you want. A good example could be 1 minute of moderate running followed by 30 seconds of sprinting, repeat. Dr. Tabata [of Crossfit fame] recommends 20 seconds moderate followed by 10 second sprints. You can do that if you prefer. You also need not use times as a measuring tool; you can use geographic features. Run to the next telephone pole, then sprint to the mailbox. Things like that. The important thing is to keep pushing your boundaries. Don't settle for 3 or 4 sessions of jogging a couple miles here and there.
Other tips: Familiarize yourself with what a 6:00 mile pace feels like compared to a 7:00 mile pace. Practice each of these so you'll know if you need to speed up or not. If you're not running at/around a 6:00 pace, you'll need to pick it up, and this is where you'll need to dig down for motivation or utilize some of those intervals you've been doing to pass someone or something.
Precautions: don’t overdo it and wear proper attire. Shin splints suck. Vary your running surface every once in a while. Do track one day, trail another, road another. I prefer outdoors to indoors always, but it’s up to you. Doing so will help prevent shin splints, plus it will help combat monotony.
Pushups and Crunches
For some people, 77 pushups alone seems like an impossible feat. I assure you it is far from impossible. Doing them in under 2 minutes is still very possible. You just have to prepare your body for that type of stress. Several techniques to prepare for this:
Grease the Groove--do sets of 25-50 periodically throughout the day. Start out with 3 sets or so and work your way up until you can do 50 comfortably each time, then start adding sets. Gradually increase the speed of your reps also.
Increase Your Max--when you can do 10 sets of 50, it's almost guaranteed you'll be able to max out this test, and you can start setting your sights a little higher. What I like to do is shoot for 70 in one minute, then 75, then 80 and so forth.
Do Timed Intervals--start with 1 minute. Do as many reps as you can in 1 minute. Rest. Then do as many as you can in 45 seconds. Rest. Then 30 seconds. Do this once or twice a week.
Other tips and tricks--remember the test is only 1 minute. That's not a lot of time. You have to knock them out as fast as you can. Don't take any breaks. Keep going the entire 60 seconds. For the crunches, be cognizant of not putting your heels too far away from your butt. You'll have to go farther with each rep, plus your legs will be compensating.
Do these things and you will max out the APFT, guaranteed.