Airman 1st Class Christopher Vanhauen does a high intensity interval workout at Maxwell, March 18. Vanhauen uses multiple types of exercise to stay test-ready all year. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman William Blankenship)
by Senior Airman William J. Blankenship
42nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
3/28/2014 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala -- While every Airman's physical training test is the same, not everyone prepares the same way.
Traditional, organized PT, consisting of bodyweight exercises and some running, is one way to keep test-ready. However, there are many avenues Airmen can take to stay in top condition 365 days a year.
Distance running, weightlifting and programs focusing on high-intensity training are a few options that individuals can adopt into their lifestyle.
The Air Force fitness test forces Airmen to test on not just strength or stamina, but to accumulate points based off both types of performance and an Airman's body composition to arrive at a final score. An individual who only focuses on one aspect may struggle in the neglected area.
"I started lifting in high school for football and continued through college and into my time in the Air Force," said Airman 1st Class Christopher Vanhauen, an Air University programmer and competitive weightlifter. "Lifting builds up your base strength. Someone who spends time in the weight room will do more pushups, lose body fat and have more leg power to propel him to faster speeds on his run."
In group PT sessions, getting a large group of people in a weight room may prove to be a challenge. Limited equipment and other people working out at the same time could deter many PT groups from incorporating weights into their routine.
Vanhauen said while pushups and sit-ups strengthen Airmen, more can be done to improve fitness.
"If you take two Airmen, one does traditional PT exercises, such as pushups and sit-ups, and the other does full-body weightlifting, the second Airman will definitely be stronger," said Vanhauen. "You are limited on bodyweight exercises, whereas the weight room gives you unlimited options and can work more components of your body than just those required to be used on a test."
Vanhauen went on to say that just because Airmen are physically strong, that does not guarantee an excellent score on their test. He said that while he may be more powerful because of his training, he does not get a perfect score on the run portion of the test.
Whether in basic military training or an officer commissioning program, running has been a part of every Airman's fitness strategy since crossing into the blue.
"Only running long distance doesn't provide the total fitness package you need for the military mission set, neither does just lifting weights, nor just doing pushups, sit-ups and running 1.5 miles," said Maj. Brian Lutz, headquarters Air University education operations division chief. "You need to mix in speed work, distance runs and upper body strength exercises to be well rounded."
Lutz, an avid runner with multiple marathons under his belt, also said that there are multiple ways to achieve cardiovascular health. He recommends finding an avenue that works for each individual and sticking to whatever activity that is.
"For hitting the passing scores, you may not have to work on all aspects," said Lutz. "But if you are trying to reach our core value of excellence (in all we do), then you have to do a variety of workouts and draw in the nutrition aspect of the whole body picture."
Certain programs combine both running and weightlifting into a high intensity circuit workout, which works the individual in both strength and endurance exercises.
"I do CrossFit," said Maj. Rakanem Milligan, Air University project integration branch chief. "It is a mixture of lifting weights and cardio activity. Every day is different, keeping the workouts exciting. Other programs such as P90X and Insanity can help you in a similar way."
Milligan said that he gravitated toward CrossFit to get away from the monotony of traditional PT sessions.
"I like it better because of the total body workout that pushes me every time I go to the gym," said Milligan. "Working on my entire body rather than just preparing for a PT test is more beneficial. Not just for scoring on your test, but it will help you better perform your daily activities."
Regardless of the avenue, the common theme for Airmen is to discover the type of exercise that works best for them and consistently use that outlet for fitness aspirations. The fitness test is an assessment, not a limit to what an Airman can focus on.