Week 2 & OTS Physical Training (PT) (Part 2 of 3)
TD8 – TD12
Physical Training (PT) in the Air Force is extremely important for all of the wrong reasons. The Air Force should be all about mission effectiveness and promoting excellent overall fitness or unit esprit de corps. Instead of making sure the best qualified people stay in so they can accomplish the mission with the least amount of resources, I have seen the Air Force separate some of the best Airmen, NCOs, and officers because they couldn’t pass their PT test. Instead of promoting overall fitness many Airmen (big “A”) train only for their PT test and take the other months off, or hide and possibly aggravate back or other injuries just to pass their test. Instead of doing unit PT which enhances unit cohesion or esprit de corps, units do PT which only targets push-ups, sit-ups, or running. I know there is no perfect answer and I know senior leadership has it’s reasons, but I have been enlisted for 11 years and this is my blog so I am allowed to rant. The bottom line for me is the Air Force currently places WAY too much emphasis on the PT test and how it impacts an Airman’s career. The PT test day should not be the most stressful day of the year (or six months) but for many, to include hardcore athletes, it is, and that is wrong.
All of that said, the above mindset is no different at OTS. When I went through there were two PT tests at OTS, the Physical Fitness Baseline (PFB) and the Physical Fitness Assessment (PFA). Our PFB was on Wednesday of Week 2 which was Training Day (TD) 10 but calendar day 16. We did absolutely zero PT prior to the PFB I assume so they could prevent injury. My student squadron also did absolutely zero motivational PT (you mess up something so the staff tells you to do push-ups until you want to cry) which slightly surprised me. Two things I had problems with with PT and OTS were 1) It took about a week for us to get an answer about when our first PT test would be and 2) it was very unclear about what phase we were in initially (which also meant it was unclear whether or not we would be able to work out at the OTS gym). Bottom line be sure you are definitely good to go for your first PT test because it may be two weeks until you can work out.
For the non-priors who are worried about the PT test the two biggest things IMO are push-up/sit-up form and the run. If your form is questionable 100% of the repetitions you do could NOT count depending on how strict your counter is. If you normally do 50 push-ups and they don’t count 20 of them that would mean you would fail (if you were < 30 year old male). Bottom line get lots of opinions on your form (hopefully from people in the AF) and make sure you are absolutely good to go. Best case scenario you have access to a base Health and Wellness Center or gym and certified instructors can critique your form. Worst case scenario read the regulation and have your wife, parents, or friend critique your form. Beyond the form, it is just a matter of doing the reps. Making sure you can do the reps is just a matter of doing the reps.
To prepare for the run you will need to run. I have never liked to run. Over the years I discovered two things which made it easier was varying the terrain I ran on and taking on a sport which pushed me aerobically but was also fun. To prepare for my run I will do a lot of running around the house. I have a GPS watch (Garmin Forerunner 25) and it tells me when I ran 1.5 miles. I programmed it to beep every time I hit a quarter mile so I can keep a mental count in my head. One of the biggest benefits of using a GPS watch is that it will give you live updates of what pace you are running. For example if you run an 8:00 min pace (pace measure in one mile) you will run a 12:00 min 1.5 mile. While I am running if I look down and see I am doing a 7:00 min pace I know I am good to go, but if it says 10:00 min I know I have to speed up. It is extremely valuable information.
I like running around the neighborhood because it helps me entertain my brain and it mixes up the difficulty. When I want to get a feel for where I am at I have a 1.5 mile gravel road with a slight incline (5%) which I will run. I am always slower due to the incline but if I still break 13:00 min I know I will be good once I hit the track. About one month and one week out from my test, I will do a full mock PT test on myself at the base gym (or local school track).
Two key things for preparing are:
- HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE. Drink a ton of water. Try running 1.5 miles without water and 1.5 miles when you are properly hydrated. You will be surprised at the difference.
- Whatever training you do, you MUST STOP WORKING OUT a few days before your test. Muscle fatigue is a real thing. If you do a mock test the day before your real test, you will probably not be able to perform.
Physical Fitness Baseline (PFB)
Our PFB was bright and early on Wednesday morning. We actually did our waist measurements a few days prior for the PFB so we went straight to the track. They had us line up in lines of 10 all the way from one end of the track to the other. Each group of 10 had an OTS staff member who counted for us. Everyone did one minute of push-ups and then everyone did one minute of sit-ups; it was very straight forward. Once we were ready for the run they broke us up into eight groups (two flights each) and we all had a different starting point on the track. We each had a partner and when they blew the horn we all started from our own starting point on the track, meaning there were around 120 people running on the track in each round. It was a ton of people but because they staggered our starting points I didn’t have any major problem with it. The start and end point was the same for everyone meaning they considered the track exactly 1/4 mile. Once we finished we then counted the laps for our partner and reported when our partner finished each lap so they could record our final time. Due to adrenaline or the elevation or probably a combination, most people ran faster than their typical time.
I am not sure on the actual numbers but there were probably 10 or more people who failed the PFB for various reasons. For my class I think if you completely and utterly failed you were dis-enrolled from the course. If you were close you were placed on the naughty list and given the opportunity to re-test about a week later. There were six people who were allowed to re-test and I think even some of them failed again. At the end of the day if you fail anything at OTS the squadron commander will look at how bad you failed and your performance in all other areas, and your fate will then be determined on a case by case basis.
Physical Training Assessment (PFA)
The second and final PT test was the Physical Training Assessment (PFA). This was the only formal Air Force PT test which did count for me and was loaded into AFFMS II by my next base. We were told many times that the PFA was a graduation requirement. The only difference between the PFB and the PFA was the entire class was divided into two for the PFA so some tested on first thing in the morning and the rest tested the first group was done. The push-ups and sit-ups were the same, but each lap during the run was counted by the staff instead of by other cadets. I think the only reason they did this was so the group as a whole would be more manageable (not because they thought we were cheating each other on laps).
A few things I picked up about the PFA were one guy was injured and on a waiver for the PFA so they had to get OTS Commandant approval for him to waive the test and use his still valid AF PT score from the system (he was prior service) to meet the graduation requirement. Another guy failed his PFA but passed every other graded measure for the previous eight weeks of the course, so he was allowed to retest a few days later. So in summary I think the waiver is very high-level due to the syllabus but failures are a case-by-case basis approved by the Training Squadron Commander himself based on your entire record at OTS.
The last thing I will talk about is the general PT culture at OTS. Our schedule at OTS was packed so we often had something scheduled which prevented us from doing PT five days every week. The general rule for PT was three days per week but the actual days varied by the schedule. Usually we would always have a Student Squadron Commander day (typically Monday) which for most was a squadron formation run. We would run around base at a slow pace for around 3-5 miles, but every student squadron (Goldhawks, Hoyas, etc) would run a different route (therefore a different distance and pace). The biggest thing here is BE CAREFUL. We had to run on some sketchy roads with potholes and there were several twisted ankles because it was pitch dark at 0500 hrs.
On the other PT days there was an NCO who led our PT from the OTS support squadron. We would all warm up as a squadron then usually one day we would do calisthenics and the other day we would do some sort of run on the track. The calisthenics would be the typical do a bunch of push-ups, planks, burpies, jumping jacks, etc. until you were dead. It honestly wasn’t too bad. The running days was always self-paced but some days we would be told to try to get two laps done in five minutes or something or other days we would just do as many laps as we could. All organized PT started and ended with group warm-up and cool-down. We would often do PT on Saturday which was led by the Squadron PTL or sometimes by the Flight PTL. When we did Flight PT we would mostly do whatever the PT NCO gave them to do but one day we were able to do yoga (our choice).