I recently received these questions about AFHPSP in an email from a reader, and while…
The Air Force Physical Fitness Test, and how to prepare for COT PT
I have had a few messages recently from people who have received a Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) scholarship, or another form of military funding, and are wondering how to prepare for the physical demands of military initial entry training. As an Air Force HPSP recipient, I can really only speak in detail to the Air Force’s Commissioned Office Training, but I suspect that the general physical requirements will be similar for each branch.
What is physical fitness training (PT) like at COT?
When I attended, PT was based on insanity, and lasted for an hour each morning, Monday through Friday. There was no PT on weekends. Insanity is intense, bodyweight-based exercise. Think lots and lots of pushups, sit-ups, and running.
Do I have to take a physical fitness test?
A “diagnostic” physical fitness test was conducted a few days after arrival. This is a practice version of the real physical fitness test that you take at the end of COT. It is conducted exactly like the real physical fitness test. You can find more details of the physical fitness test here. The COT handbook that I received says that you can have certain privileges withheld if you fail the diagnostic physical fitness test, so you really should arrive ready to pass the test. In fact, because you won’t have much of a chance to exercise in the first couple of days at COT while you get settled in, and you’re going to be exhausted, you should be ready to pass with a wide safety margin. You will take the “real” test at the end of the course.
What is the physical fitness test like?
The Air Force Physical Fitness Test (AFPFT) has four components: waist circumference, 1.5 mile run, sit-ups (total reps in one minute), and push-ups (total reps in one minute). Each component is scored on its own points scale, and each has a minimum that you have to meet. You need to hit the minimum in each category, and earn a minimum of 75 total points in order to pass the test. You can find the scoring charts here. The minimum scores in each category are listed here. The Air Force’s FAQs on the physical fitness test can be found here.
Um… What does that chart mean?
Example: As a female under age 30 when I went to COT, I had to run the mile and a half in less than 16:22 (44.1 points), have a waist circumference less than 35.5 inches (12.8 points), do 18 push-ups in a minute (5.0 points), and do 38 sit-ups in a minute (6.0 points). But if I only did that, I would have a total of 67.9 points. You need 75 points to pass, so I need to pick up 7.1 more points somewhere. How can I do that? Well, I could run the mile and a half in 14:52 or less, have a waist circumference of 31.5 inches or less, or do 28 push-ups (3 more points) and 45 sit-ups (2.5 more points) and run the mile and a half in 15:50 or less.
It looks like I have a lot of work to do… What should I do first?
Let me start by saying that when I started getting ready for COT, I couldn’t run more than a block without slowing to a walk for at least a little bit, and I couldn’t do even one real push-up with proper form. If I can pass the PT test, then you can, too.
You definitely need to hit the minimums in each category, so make sure you can hit the minimums in each category. We’ll talk about how in a minute. Once you are hitting the minimums in each category, you can see from the chart that you get the most points for improving your run time and your waist circumference. Dropping half an inch from your waist or cutting 30 seconds from your run can get you as more extra points than doing 20 more push-ups in a minute.
So how do I actually DO push-ups?
This might sound silly, but if you don’t routinely do push-ups, it can be hard to get started. One of the best ways to start is by doing modified push-ups. Yes, “girl” push-ups, on your knees. Focus on keeping your back straight, controlling your movement up and down, and making sure your elbows reach a 90-degree angle at the bottom of the push-up. Do as many as you can do in a minute. You can rest as much as you want during the minute, but only in the “up” position. During your rest periods, you can arch your back (stick your butt up in the air), which takes some of the strain off your abdominal muscles. The next day, try to do one more.
When you can do 10 or more knee push-ups in a minute, switch to full push-ups. Focus on the same things – keeping your body straight from head to heels, controlling your movement (no flopping), and getting your elbows to a 90 degree angle.
If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, youtube has some great examples of how to do push-ups correctly.
What about sit-ups?
Easy – just like the sit-ups, do as many as you can in a minute, resting when you need to (in the “up” position). Try to do one more tomorrow. It’s that simple. You need to keep your hands on your shoulders. Your elbows must touch your legs in the “up” position, and your shoulder blades must touch the ground in the “down” position. For the actual test, your partner will count your reps and hold your ankles.
And the run?
There are a ton of couch to 5K programs out there. I would recommend trying one of these – they help you work up to running 5k straight (3.2 miles). If you can do that, then passing your mandated 1.5 mile run will be a breeze. Most programs have you running 3 days per week.
The bottom line?
You can do it. Start early; it takes 3-6 months to get ready to pass the test by working out for 20-30 minutes 3 days per week.
If you aren’t ready to pass when you get to COT, they will try to get you to the point where you can pass, but they will do it by kicking your butt for an hour a day for 5 weeks, and you still may not pass the PT test at the end, which goes on your Air Force personnel record. Whether this actually does anything in the military match, or in your career, I don’t know. Probably not. But you may as well have all the possible check marks in the right columns, and avoid the stress of worrying about the PT test.