Preparing for the APFT is both a mental and physical effort. If you want to reach optimal performance, it is important to take a whole-body approach, including engaging in cardiovascular exercise and strength training; eating a healthy diet; and getting adequate and quality sleep.
When beginning your exercise program it is important to pace yourself and slowly increase your activity. This will help you avoid injury, achieve optimal benefits, and reach Army standards. Your standardized physical training program will always include the following elements: a warm-up, the main physical training, and a cool-down. This is the safest and most effective way to train and condition your heart for exercises and progression.
The warm-up should last approximately 15 minutes, and occur just before the activities of your physical training session. Performing consistent dynamic (moving) warm-ups can ultimately help improve performance on the APFT. Dynamic warm-ups like walking prior to jogging and jogging prior to running, prepares the body for more vigorous conditioning activities and can decrease the risk of injury. Soldiers should also refer to the Army Physical Readiness Training Manual FM 7-22 for the preparation drill that is a dynamic warm-up consisting of ten exercises that appropriately prepare Soldiers for physical readiness activities.
Cardiorespiratory and Strength Training
Cardiorespiratory endurance refers to the body’s ability to utilize oxygen in the working muscles. The standard Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) involves running, so activities like Ability Group Runs (AGR), speed running, foot marching, and conditioning drills per the FM 7-22, will help you prepare for this event. Cycling and swimming are also good choices when working on cardiorespiratory fitness. Strength training at least twice per week is important to prepare for the push-up and sit-up portion of the test. If your APFT goal is to improve the number of repetitions of push-ups and sit-ups, it is recommended that you perform a variety of upper body and core exercises.
Ø Upper Body Exercises: There are three major muscles groups involved in a push-up: Pectorals, Triceps, and Deltoids. Maximize your workouts by varying muscles worked and super-setting exercises so that you can combine rest time for one muscle group with work time for another muscle group.
Ø Core Exercises: A true core strength training program not only uses your abdominals, but also activates all the muscles stabilizing the spine, hips and pelvis. Refer back to Army HEALTH’s fitness tool for specific exercises and instructional videos for these specific areas. Practice will help you increase your APFT scores, but remember that rest is also important. Incorporating upper body and core exercises into your weekly workout routine will help you reach your goals.
The cool down should last approximately 10-15 minutes and should occur immediately after the activities of your standardized physical training session. You should begin the cool down by walking until your heart rate returns to less than 100 beats per minute and heavy sweating stops.
In addition to exercise, proper nutrition plays a major role in attaining and maintaining total fitness. Good dietary habits on the days leading up to, and including the day of your APFT can greatly enhance your ability to perform at your maximum potential. According to the Department of the Army Fitness Training manual, "Because foods eaten one to three days before an activity provide part of the fuel for that activity, it is important to eat foods every day that are rich in complex carbohydrates."
The night before the test, you can benefit from drinking water and eating fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. On the day of your test, it's a good idea to eat just one light meal before the test begins. Having a light meal will help keep your energy up without feeling sluggish. Here are some ideas for staying energized and hydrated:
- Half whole-grain bagel with light cream cheese and a cheese stick or slice of turkey breast.
- A piece of whole-grain toast with peanut butter.
- Apples, bananas or carrots with hummus or peanut butter.
- Keep water with you at all times.
- Several hours before your scheduled cardiovascular event, drink at least 16 ounces of water.
- Avoid rehydrating with sports drinks (if exercising for < 1 hour).
- Drink 20 ounces of fluid for every pound lost through sweating.
*Remember: It is possible to drink too much water. Listen to your body.
Sleep is a vital component for peak physical performance, yet it is often overlooked or not prioritized. In addition to increasing energy and endurance, getting enough sleep also aids in muscle recovery, stress reduction, and increased accuracy and reaction time. Research has shown that sleep so strongly affects physical performance, such that your body declines in physical performance by 25% for every 24 hours that your body is deprived of sleep. It is important to get enough sleep all the time, not just the day before your APFT. Here are some tips for getting more sleep:
- Avoid caffeine at least 6 hours prior to bedtime (including soft drinks, tea, and chocolate)
- Avoid eating 2-3 hours prior to bedtime
- Keep the bedroom cool
- Block noise and light
- Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as taking a hot shower.
The Bottom Line
Train the way you test. This is the best way to ensure that you will do well on your next APFT. Focusing on a whole body approach that includes diet, exercise, and sleep will also aid in preparation. Finally, here are some tips for the day of the test. Good luck!
- The night before the test, drink water and eat fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Runners also prefer the carbohydrate-boosting energy of pasta the night before a race.
- On the day of the test, eat a small snack that consists of a complex carbohydrate and a protein (i.e. whole grain toast with peanut butter).
- Drink at least 16 oz. of water prior to the test. During the breaks between the tests, drink small amounts of water slowly to replenish fluids lost during sweating.
- Wear proper running shoes with your PT uniform (i.e. no minimalist “barefoot” shoes). Additionally, choose a running shoe that is suitable for your particular type of foot .
- Always warm up and cool down. The warm-up should include a lighter version of your exercise activity, such as jogging before running. The cool down process allows your heart rate and breathing to return to their resting rates.
References: www.active.com, www.miltary.com, http://www.militaryonesource.mil/, http://armyhealth.pbrc.edu/, and FM 7-22.