Physical training requires a personal push

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE-GUNTER ANNEX, Ala. -- It is a simple task to mandate physical training three times per week. Our Air Force gives leadership legal authority to dictate a show time, minimum program elements (strength, cardio) and minimum duration of our workouts.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice provides tools to maintain discipline if necessary. All of these things are relatively easy. They come from Air Force policy and the law. What is not so easy is personal push. Making a conscious effort to motivate ourselves and our subordinates is much more challenging.

Applying such effort also yields much more meaningful rewards.

Several times each week (three minimum) our units form for PT. Look around next time. You will likely notice the same things I do. I see Airmen pushing themselves to their physical and mental limits. I see sweat. I hear straining sounds naturally produced by their efforts. These signs are reassuring.

They tell me our Airmen are not only showing up at the appointed time, in the appropriate uniform, but they are using the program to develop themselves.

Unfortunately, I also see something else. I see a few Airmen who do not appear to be taking advantage of the time our Air Force has given them to maintain and improve their fitness level.

It does not matter if you are alone or with your unit, real PT requires a personal push. Only we know how much effort we are putting forth: If the workout is easy, moderate or hard. Only we know the limits of our motion, our maximum speed or the strength of our muscles. Despite our individual differences, one thing is certain: PT should be difficult. We should be pushing our bodies. We should be breathing hard, feeling our muscles burn and producing perspiration. If these things are not happening, you are wasting your time.

Our Air Force core values define integrity as doing what's right even when nobody is looking. PT is a great measure of our personal integrity. Are we lying to ourselves by giving less than a maximum effort?

As leaders, telling ourselves the truth about our own personal push is a start, but we are also responsible for the efforts of those around us. What can we do to help our peers and subordinates push themselves a little harder?

Making our Airmen show up is only the beginning of improving readiness within our Air Force. It is also the easy part. The hard part is encouraging each Airman to put forth individual effort (personal push) to improve the entire team. Several techniques lend themselves to higher motivation. Competition, personal encouragement, and incentive programs can all help raise individual effort.

Programs using safe, good-spirited competition by dividing a unit into teams and measuring the teams against one another offer a chance for each Airman to immediately see the result of his or her efforts. When one team edges out another, the winning team is motivated to repeat its effort, and the losing team is motivated to redouble its input next time. PT leaders have many tools at their disposal to bring friendly competition to their units, but individual motivation encourages extra effort.

Our Airman's Creed states that we will "never leave an Airman behind." Sometimes all it takes is to trot up beside a walker on the track and say, "jog with me for a little bit." Often having a partner who pushes, a friend who encourages or a Wingman who comes back is the little boost it takes to motivate Airmen to push themselves. Not one of us likes being left behind. Everyone appreciates encouragement and positive motivation. Remember to always encourage - not discourage: "You're doing great ... let's pick up the pace a little!"

Finally, unit incentive programs can compel Airmen to perform at a slightly higher level. A three-day pass to the Airman who beats the chief, commander or first sergeant is one way to build an incentive. Lunch or a beverage with the chief to the top performer in the squadron, pizza party to the shop, branch, or division with the best overall PT scores, or even plaques and trophies can motivate people to put forth more personal push.

Our Air Force is the most capable and responsive provider of airpower in the world. Much of our strength comes from our most valuable resource: Airmen. We've come a long way in the last five years toward improving the fitness level of our entire Air Force. Compared to 2003, we are in top shape, but there is always room for improvement and there is always a danger of sliding backward if we aren't moving forward. A well-managed PT program is a start, but it takes personal push from each and every Airman to keep our force truly fit to fight.

Let's challenge ourselves first by asking how much effort we're putting out at PT. Next, we must challenge those around us using encouragement, competition and incentives. Let's lead our Air Force toward better fitness every time we gather together.

If we do so, we will never falter, and we will not fail.