10 November 2009

New USAF Fitness - Mock Test Results

The 779th MDG/MDSS is running mock Fit Test this month - allowing us to compare our current fitness levels to the new criteria (which goes into effect the first of the year).

Here are my results from this morning. Looks like my sporatic CrossFit workouts are still paying dividends. It will be interesting to see how others do with these new standards. The bar got pushed pretty high for pushups. In the past people could still pass by doing well enough in other areas to make up for poor performance in just one (like women who cannot do many pushups). But now there is a set minimum and I fear many women will fail the pushups (and a lot of heavier men may have a hard time with the abdominal circumfrance and/or the run).

Here's an article from Air Force Times about the new fit test, and the whys behind it (hint: It's NOT testing our potential ability in combat, it's all about health risks).

PT designer explains Air Force’s new test

By Michael Hoffman - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Oct 28, 2009 14:16:18 EDT

Teed off about the PT test? Scratching your head over why there’s still a waist measurement? Or how come your run time counts six times more than your pushup score?

You’re not alone.

Complaints and questions are still pouring into the Air Force, even though the service unveiled the new standards five months ago.

The man with the answers is Neal Baumgartner, a retired Air Force major and exercise physiologist now working as a civilian with the 342nd Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

Baumgartner helped design the Air Force’s “Fit to Fight” fitness program in 2003 and he’s the one who two top leaders —Maj. Gen. Darrell Jones, director of force management policy, and former Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney McKinley — turned to when they wanted to revamp the service’s PT test.

Scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, the test is what service leaders tout as the only one in the military based on scientific research — done by Baumgartner. The Army, Navy and Marine Corps based their tests on normative standards, or the averages from past results.

Baumgartner answered some of the questions airmen still have for Air Force Times, but first he wanted to clear up the misconception that the service’s PT test measures an airman’s ability to perform his job. It doesn’t.

“[The Air Force’s fitness test] measures your health,” he said. “We are providing a standard that will test the forces fitness and health levels that should reduce health care costs and increase duty time.”

The new PT test even correlates an airmen’s run time and body composition with a low, moderate or high health risk.

Waist not
Questions always come up about the waist measurement. Airmen want to know why it doesn’t factor in height or age. Or why it’s even part of the test when the other services leave it out.

Baumgartner’s response: It’s the second best test to gauge an airmen’s health.

Other than the run, Baumgartner said, research shows an airman’s waist size predicts his overall health better than the PT test’s two other events — the pushups and sit-ups.

The larger the waist, the more intra-abdominal fat — what Baumgartner calls “dangerous fat” — a person has. It’s dangerous because it sits next to your organs. A recent study in the Netherlands found that waist size helps predict susceptibility to cancer.

Leaders chose not to scale a waist size against an airman’s height or age, Baumgartner said, because research didn’t show either factor should affect waist size.

“Your stature has no influence on the health outcome variable,” he said. “A person’s height doesn’t alter their abdominal circumference.”

And to the older officers and senior non-commissioned officers who think they should get a break on their waist, forget it, Baumgartner said. If anything, he said, the waist measurement should be smaller for older airmen.

Baumgartner explained the older you are, the less muscle and more intra-abdominal fat you have. Air Force leaders didn’t want to give airmen the impression they can get fatter as they got older — although the other PT test events are scaled for age.

The service did relax the waist measurements needed to score the maximum number of points, from 32.5 to 35 inches for men and 29 to 31.5 inches for women.

Research shows that larger waist sizes pose significant health risks, Baumgartner said. The service also didn’t want airmen pushing too hard to cut weight to reach those waist sizes, he said.

As with keeping the waist measurement, the Air Force wasn’t out to impose cruel and unusual punishment by changing the age ranges for PT scores from five to 10 years. The science just didn’t back up having 5-year groupings, Baumgartner said. After all, scientists never want to get ahead of their data and “our data separated airmen in 10-year groups,” he said.

Run with it
Plenty of conspiracy theorists wonder if the Air Force wants to train marathoners, not good airmen, with a PT test that gives 60 possible points on a 100-point test to the 1.5-mile run.

Baumgartner’s other job as a high school cross country coach certainly won’t help quell those theories, but he said the run is still the best test to judge an airmen’s health.

It best measures how a person’s body transports and uses oxygen while exercising. The better your body can do that, the more fit you are, Baumgartner said.

This is why the Air Force bumped up run scores from 50 possible points to 60.

It’s also the event where airmen need to focus hardest if they want to pass the new test. However, the run is also the most difficult event to improve on quickly.

Baumgartner recommended airmen start slow and not expect to drastically change their score in one week. It takes a disciplined approach to improve your 1.5-mile run time.

Depending on age, gender and skill level, airmen will have to devise their own running programs, but Baumgartner advised working with the fitness experts at base health and wellness centers.

Baumgartner also said PT leaders must design fitness sessions that keep airmen’s attention while providing a complete body workout. He recommended circuit training that focuses on multiple muscle groups instead of just repeating pushups, sit-ups and a short run.

“You can’t use the Johnny-off-the-shelf fix,” Baumgartner said. “It has to be part of your lifestyle.”

Here are some answers/comments/info about the USAF Fit Test, from the AFPC Fitness Program website. (My own comments are included).

Why did the Air Force revise the Air Force Fitness Program?

In the summer of 2008, then Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rodney McKinley requested an Air Force audit, and it clearly revealed the fitness program needed significant improvement.

The audit revealed that unit programs did not create a "culture of fitness" needed in the Air Force. In addition, it identified inconsistencies in action taken on members who did not meet fitness standards and implementation of proper fitness testing.

Air Force Reserve Airmen (that's me) will fitness test 12 months after their last calendar year 2009 test date, then again 6 months later to progress to a biannual cycle. (My last test was in Sep 2009, so my first official test under the new system will be Sep 2010 and then Mar 2011 - both nice times of the year for Las Vegas weather).

Will there be any incentives for members who clearly demonstrate fitness excellence?

Yes. Patches are being designed for wear on the PT uniform. Patches will recognize both one-time and sustained (four consecutive tests over 2 years) performance in the Excellent category (composite score of > 90), and for scoring a perfect 100. (That perfect 100 will go to young men who are natural runners, I'm close, but that run time is not designed for a Clydesdale like me. My first 100 points this year will just have to be my only one, I'll still have the satisfaction that I earned it).

How were the minimum requirements for each component determined?

The minimum requirement for the aerobic and body composition (abdominal circumference) components was established at the cut line between moderate and high health risk associated with that component. Air Force officials want Airmen to avoid the high health risk region in order to pass the test. For pushups and sit-ups, the minimum requirements were established at the 50th and 60th percentiles, respectively, for performance among the entire U.S. population based on widely accepted fitness data. (I find that hard to believe regarding the pushups and women - my max score went from 18 to 38!)

Why did the service make the run scores harder to max out for certain age groups?

Air Force officials chose to use proven databases used by the Cooper Institute and recognized by the American College of Sports Medicine. New 1.5-mile run times that assess the most important physical fitness component, cardiorespiratory endurance or aerobic fitness, are based on the most current scientific data for age and gender. (For a max score on the run, I have to train to run a 1:53 quarter mile/7:32 mile - and maintain that speed the second 1/2 mile - I'm not saying it's impossible, but I've never enjoyed sprinting even when swimming, and at the peak of my running experience circa early 1990s I was usually in the 8 min range).

And now it's time to hit the gym.


  1. Yep, they have been talking about that here, (obviously).