There are many ways to assess physical fitness levels, and with each of these assessments comes scoring methods. If you’re anything like me, when you know there is a score of some type involved, you want to score perfect. This Autopsy will show you how to do just that; this one is the first of a series of Autopsies which will outline and detail a plan to score perfect on each of these tests. This one is on the US Army Physical Fitness Test.
Overview of the APFT
The Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT, is mandatory for all members of the Active Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve, regardless of their age. The APFT consists of three-events which are used to assess muscular endurance and cardio respiratory fitness. Performance on the APFT is strongly linked to the soldier’s fitness level and his ability to do fitness-related tasks. An APFT with alternate test events is given to Soldiers with permanent profiles and with temporary profiles greater than three months’ duration.
The three events are:
The test sequence is the push-up, sit-up, and 2-mile run [or alternate aerobic event]. The order of events cannot be changed. This sequence is set in stone, no exceptions. Soldiers are allowed no less than 10 minutes, but ideally no more than 20 minutes, to recover between each event. Under no circumstances is the APFT valid if a soldier cannot begin and end all three events in two hours or less.
Each Soldier is required to take the APFT twice a year, and must score a minimum of 60 points in each category. The scoring chart is broken up into age groups, and by gender. For our purposes, we will be using the maximum effort required to score 100 points, taken from whichever age group’s score chart has the highest requirement. This is as follows:
The methodology is that if you can perform at the level listed above, you will score perfect [300 points] on the APFT, regardless of your age group. Now let’s get started with preparing for it.
Pushups and Situps
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 or four sets. Once you get to where you can do sets of 50 every time, increase the number of sets to 5-10.
Increase Your Max—when you can do 10 sets of 50 [you should technically be able to max the APFT out by now] you can increase your reps to 60, 75, 80, and so on.
Do timed intervals—Start with 2 minutes. Do as many pushups as you can for 2 minutes. Rest. Then do as many as you can in 1 minute. Rest. Then 30 seconds. Do this once or twice a week.
Other tips and tricks—When you’re doing the actual test, remember you have 2 minutes. The key is time management. Utilize the first whole minute to knock out as many reps as you can as fast as you can. If you can continue pumping them out after that, keep going. Personally, I don’t stop to rest until I have hit 80 pushups. This is usually right around the 1-minute mark. Then I have a whole other minute to get 20 more pushups, to hit my goal of 100 every time. Reposition your hands at the end when you're smoked. It'll give you a fresh edge. For situps, positioning helps out a lot. If your feet are too far out you'll have farther to go with each rep, plus your legs will be compensating for it.
Training seriously with the methods above will enable you to max out the pushups and situp portions. It is statistically the easiest portion of the APFT to max out the pushups; many people have a little more trouble with the situps. A note on situps: the only way to train for them is to do them the same as you would on the test. You have to train the muscles [mostly the hip flexors] to handle that kind of stress. Most people fail only because they’ve been doing other kinds of ab exercises than situps. If you truly want to max this part out, you must practice situps.
The 2-mile Run
This is what kills most people’s scores. The same principle applies as with the situps—to be able to run the 2 miles in under 13 minutes, 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 two-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. Here’s a good progression:
If you’re deconditioned [out of shape]—start with regular sessions of 1 to 3 miles with a LSD run [long, slow distance—4-7 miles] each week. Go for completion first off, then gradually increase speed. Pick a distance and stick with it for a while; this way you can monitor progress at that distance before increasing the distance. Example: you start out with 1.5 miles, 3 x a week. A good run time for 1.5 miles [that correlates to the 2-mile] is 9:30. You should increase to 2 miles [if you haven’t start out with that distance] once you can do 1.5 miles in under 12 minutes, because running 2 miles [at least] is more important than getting your 1.5 mile time down to 9:30. After you get to where you consistently complete 2-miles in a reasonable amount of time [under 14:30 or so], move on to the next step.
If you can run 2 miles in 14:30 or less—do intervals. You should be running at least 2-3 times a week, at least 2 miles each time. Alternate between a moderate pace and sprinting. You can choose the duration for each—whatever you want. A good example could be 1 minute moderate, 30 seconds sprint. Dr. Tabata [of Crossfit fame] recommends 20 seconds moderate followed by 10 second sprints. You can do that if you wish. You also do not need to use times; you can use geographic features. Run to that telephone pole, then sprint to the mailbox. Whatever you want. The important thing is to keep pushing your boundaries. Don’t settle for 3 or 4 sessions of jogging 2 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.
Do these things and you will max out the APFT, guaranteed.
If you liked this article, you may also like these:
Max Out the USMC Physical Fitness Test
Max Out the US Air Force Fitness Test