Issues of Fitness Standards in U.S. Air Force

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I believe many of the Airmen in our Air Force have become complacent when it comes to our fitness test and this paper will address its multiple shortfalls. I can’t even count how many times I have heard the phrase “My PT test is next month, I guess I’ll start running”. If I was a commander, my unit would be at optimum efficiency if they were at peak fitness all year long, vs just 2 months out of the year. Today’s Airmen always want to know why: why are they doing this, why are they doing that. The current Air Force fitness test of a 1.5-mile run, 1 min of push-ups and 1 min of sit-ups does not accurately replicate one’s capability to perform in a deployed environment and a new test should integrate full body exercises that will prepare everyone to be combat-ready, ultimately giving our Airmen a reason why we should maintain fitness standards.

For example, according to Brett and Kate McKay (2018), over a period of years and the course of several wars, the costly lessons learned from our past military experiences led to an increasing interest in the physical condition of the fighting man. With this interest has come the ever-increasing realization that our troops must be well conditioned to operate effectively. No longer can we afford emphasis on physical fitness during wartime and de-emphasis during peacetime. It is evident that, in spite of increased mechanization and modern weapons, physical readiness retains a vital place in the life of each individual (McKay, 2018, https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/history-of-the-armys-pt-test/). Since the dawn of the 20th Century, the United States military in some fashion, has required their members to perform a physical fitness test. In 1920 shortly after WWI, the United States Army conducted an eight-part fitness test with movements ranging from wall climbs, grenade throws and obstacle courses; representing tasks that would be completed on the battlefield and testing their overall fitness levels.

This leads me to two possible courses of action (COAs): My first COA would be to integrate a new fitness test, similar to the new Air Force Battlefield Airman fitness test but for non-physically demanding AFSCs. My second COA would be to adapt the new gender and age neutral Army Physical Fitness test, which goes into effect in 2020. Unquestionably, just like throwing a small rock into a lake, every action has a consequence and that action made also has a consequence causing a ripple effect. One of the second order effects I foresee happening is that the troops may resist it. According to Kanter (2012), change is meant to bring something different, but how different? We are creatures of habit. Routines become automatic, but change jolts us into consciousness, sometimes in uncomfortable ways.

Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory. It’s not just political, as in who has the power. Our sense of self-determination is often the first thing to go when faced with a potential change coming from someone else (Kanter, 2012, https://hbr.org/2012/09/ten-reasons-people-resist-chang). All changes are hard to handle at first and with big changes leading to people to feel overwhelmed, thus a third order effect of low moral could possibly happen. Another second order effect would be after rolling in a new fitness test, there will be an increase in PT failures due to members having to focus on new movements; leading to more military separations.

According to Air Force Regulation 36-2509 (2013), unit commanders exercise discretion when selecting OPTIONAL command action(s) keeping in consideration the need for progressive discipline and the requirement for a separation package to be processed after the 4th failure in 24 months (or 36 months, when applicable IAW (AFI36-2905, 2013, FITNESS PROGRAM. On the other hand, not all ripples in the pond are negative as we will see troops get in better shape and thus perform better and in the long run prevent cardiovascular disease and save lives.

Consequently, there could possibly be many constraining factors as well as risk in moving forward with a new physical fitness test. There will need to be a time where the Air Force can research and analyze data to establish a new scoring system, the purchase of new equipment and facilities (i.e. most pools are only open during summer months) and getting all test administrators qualified on new movement standards. A gender and age neutral test would seem unfair to most people due to the fact that an individual’s heart rate & stroke volume decrease as we age, as well muscle and bone density. Furthermore, women generally have more body fat, have less hemoglobin – an oxygen delivery protein in your blood and have smaller hearts and lungs, making it harder to pump as much blood per unit time and smaller lungs which can’t take in as much oxygen.

Therefore, my solution would be to integrate COA one, a new combat fitness test for non-physically demanding AFSC’s, that will build an Airmen’s confidence as they go down range as well as improve the four distinct components of physical fitness; cardiovascular, physical, mobility and body composition. This is similar to the new tier 2 Battle Field Airman Fitness test that select AFSC’s (TACP, SF, ALO etc.) will soon conduct, but unlike the new 10-part tier 2 test, I would make this a 4 category (strength, core, cardiovascular and body composition) 6 event test. I don’t expect a Cyberspace Operations Officer or a Dental Technician to be required to be as physically fit as a Combat Controller, but I do believe they need to be combat-ready to some extent.

Just because your current job has you sitting behind a desk does not mean your next job won’t have you outside the wire. For strength, you would perform 1 upper body exercise; 1 min of maximum push-ups and then 1 full body exercises, a 3-rep max power clean. The power clean requires one to bring a heavy loaded barbell, bring it from the ground and swiftly bring it to your shoulders in one smooth movement; representing the act of picking up a wounded ally or supplies from the ground to your shoulders. For the core event, an airman will perform maximum knees to elbows while hanging from a bar, representing the act of activating your core to climb over a wall or object. The cardio aspect of the fitness test will be a “you choose it” and will include either a 1-mile run, 3-kilometer row or a 400-meter swim.

There will also be a mandatory 400-meter sprint; representing the act of sprinting to cover during small arms fire. The 1-mile run would be shortened from the current 1.5 mile run to compensate for the additional components. Finally, there will be an abdominal circumference portion that measures your overall body composition. As for scoring, the strength, core and cardio aspect of the test will all be worth 30 points, since they are equally important, and the body composition portion will be worth 10 points. To ensure ample amount of time to adapt to the new standards, I would have an 18-month roll-out period making the chance of a failure minimal.

In conclusion, I believe that there needs to be a change in the way the Air Force conducts their physical fitness test. In this paper, I addressed some shortfalls in the current USAF PT system, and offered two possible suggestions. Just because your current job has you behind a desk does not mean your next job won’t have you outside the wire; one must always be prepared. There will be many speed bumps at first, but it will slowly mold us into a fighting force that is fit to fight!


  1. McKay, B., & McKay, K. (Eds.). (2018). What the History of the Army’s PT Test Can Teach Every Man About Complacency and Readiness. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/history-of-the-armys-pt-test/.
  2. Kanter, R. M. (2012). Ten Reasons People Resist Change. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://hbr.org/2012/09/ten-reasons-people-resist-chang.
  3. United States, Air Force. (2015, August 27). AFI 36-2905 Fitness Program. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://static.e-publishing.af.mil/production/1/af_a1/publication/afi36-2905/afi36-2905.pdf

Cite this paper

Issues of Fitness Standards in U.S. Air Force. (2021, Aug 29). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/issues-of-fitness-standards-in-u-s-air-force/

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