Raising the score

Airmen take off from the start line of the 1.5 mile run, a portion of the Air Force physical training test, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, Jan. 7, 2015. The PT test is comprised of body composition, strength and cardiovascular endurance and is scored based on age and level of fitness that should be achieved. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexa Culbert/Cleared)

Airmen take off from the start line of the 1.5 mile run, a portion of the Air Force physical training test, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, Jan. 7, 2015. The PT test is comprised of body composition, strength and cardiovascular endurance and is scored based on age and level of fitness that should be achieved. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexa Culbert/Cleared)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala.-- -- "Ten minutes!" yelled the physical training test evaluators into the cold January air as Airmen pushed out the last stretch of the 1.5 mile run to make it to the finish line.  One after the other, they cross the line with relief and satisfaction on their faces. Another physical training test completed and passed.

How the PT test is perceived and taken completely depends on the mental and physical preparedness of the Airman. For some, the PT test is a painless and straightforward assessment that takes place at least once a year. For others it is a dreadful test that determines their future in the Air Force.

"For the most part, I think people get nervous because it is a test," said Tech. Sgt. Natika Adams, 42nd Force Support Squadron Fitness Assessment Cell manager. "It's normal to be nervous."

"I definitely get nervous, like with any other test," said Tech. Sgt. Bradley Hill, a paralegal from the Judge Advocate General's School. "I try to calm down and remind myself that I have done my best and think about everything I've done to prepare."

While nervousness during a test can be inevitable, being prepared and confident depends on self-discipline and attitude.

"Your test should never be a surprise, and you should never come in wondering what you're going to get," Adams said. "Never shoot for satisfactory and never shoot for the bare minimum, those people don't tend to pass."

Some believe that they can spend 30 minutes on the treadmill or elliptical to get ready for the fitness test, but according to Adams, that isn't doing much to improve their scores. She advises Airmen struggling with their PT test to run for 30 minutes at least three times a week and to practice push-ups and sit-ups periodically throughout the week to avoid muscle fatigue during testing.

"People who say they run on a treadmill don't usually pass the run because you practice how you play," said Adams. "Running on a treadmill or elliptical is a completely different cardiovascular workout than what you're actually going to do during the test."

Cardio workouts and building endurance are not the only things Airmen should focus on. When preparing for the PT test, body composition is another factor that must be looked at. 

"The abdominal circumference is the biggest failure component," said Adams. "For most people it comes down to their diet."

Weight can pose a bigger threat for some based on individual body standards. The PT test uses a score card, based on age, which determines the level of fitness that should be reached. Those who carry extra weight around their waists might find it difficult to meet these standards.

"Because we all have different body compositions, it may be harder for one person than the other to keep the weight off; it's something they have to work at," she said.

According to Adams, the key to having a good overall score is having a strong core, which is engaged in every portion of the test.

However, to keep the scales from rising and PT test scores declining, an exercise regimen is only half the solution. A healthy diet is also needed to achieve overall wellness.

"Eating right is something that a lot of people neglect," said Adams. "You can work out every day, but if you go home and eat chili fries, that is not helping you.

"Diet and exercise, if you're doing both of those right, passing the test will be no problem," she said.

When it comes to injuries, achieving a high score can take a little more dedication. Being exempt from a portion of the PT test due to injury means Airmen will have to perform well in other areas or possible face failing the test.

"If you do the bare minimum in areas (of the PT test), it doesn't mean your score is going to add up to a 75 (minimum passing score)," said Adams. "You have to push yourself a little bit more because you have points that have been taken away."

Whether an Airman is slowed down by a medical profile or they're going strong, the PT test is unavoidable. 

"Be consistently in workout mode," said Tech. Sgt. Justin Holmly, 42nd Contracting Squadron, contracting specialist. "Don't just workout right before you test; you'll be too sore or injured to be at your best,"

Hill found that taking advantage of the on-base fitness programs improved his overall performance.

"I did heart rate-based training at Maxwell and it helped with the run," said Hill. "I learned more effective ways to workout, and it's been helpful."

Everyone has their own preferred workout regimen for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and passing the PT test, but staying dedicated and motivated is the key to reaping the awards of a good fitness program.

"If you're continually maintaining your physical fitness then you should have no problem passing the test," said Adams. "It is one of the easiest tests, because it's a test you already know the answers to."