Preparing for the PT test

  • Published
  • By Guy Leahy
  • 377th Medical Group

After a COVID hiatus, the PT test is back. So, what are some strategies you can do to get yourself good to go for the test? The most important thing to work on is body fat. The abdominal circumference (AC) component is gone, but excess fat affects every test component. For example, 99.7% of Airmen who failed the AC test also failed at least one other component, so this tells us that bodyfat is the overwhelming contributor to a failed test.

Here’s one example: Let’s say an Airman weighs 176 pounds and has 26% body fat; their run time is 12:20. If that same Airman reduces their body fat to 15.5%, their run time would drop to 11:11 – almost a minute faster. That’s what I call the “fat drag” effect on run times.

Another example: Two Airmen have the same fat-free body mass (everything but fat.) Airmen 1 has 30 pounds more fat than Airman 2, but Airman 2 is wearing a 30-pound ruck, and they both take the run test. The ruck will slow Airman 2 down - to the second - the exact same amount the excess bodyfat will slow Airman 1.

You can find out what your fat drag is by scheduling an appointment with us for a Bod Pod assessment. You sit in the Bod Pod for five minutes, and we can determine your bodyfat accurately. The results are saved, so you can return later to see how much you’ve improved. You may not like the initial number, but that’s OK; look at it as a “before” picture. If you return at regular intervals to retest (I recommend waiting at least three months between tests,) it’s a valid way to assess your progress. I’ve seen Airmen lose 10%-15% bodyfat, and keep (or even gain) muscle over the same period.

How much cardio do you need to lose that extra fat? It really depends on how much “fat drag” you have. The recommendations range from 150 to 300 minutes per week. If you’re 10% or more over a healthy bodyfat, you’re going to be in the high end of that range. If you’re less than 5% over? More on the low end.

The mode of exercise doesn’t matter. For weight loss, there’s no difference between running, cycling, rowing, elliptical or swimming. If you match workload, frequency and intensity, they’re all the same.

How hard should you work out? The easiest way to tell is “the talk test.” If you can’t talk, the intensity is too high; if you can talk easily, the intensity is too low.

I don’t recommend running more than three days per week, or more than 30 minutes, if your only goal is passing the PT test. Any amount above that will not improve your run time, but will increase the risk of a running-related injury. For example, running five days a week vs. three days a week does not lower run times, but the five days-per-week frequency increases injury risk by 225%!

One strategy that will make you faster is high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. HIIT involves short intervals of really hard exercise, alternating with equal or longer intervals of low-intensity exercise. Typically, five to 10 intervals are performed. I’ve seen Airmen improve their run times by one to three minutes using HIIT twice weekly. I have a list of HIIT protocols, and I can send those to any interested Airmen.

I also have a four-week evidence-based running program I can send to those who are interested. The program only involves three days of running/week, but it does work.

In addition, I strongly recommend Airmen include resistance training in their workouts. Resistance training improves all PT test components, and unlike bodyfat, muscle will not slow you down on the run test. One study at Langley AFB, Virginia, in 2007 found that a combination resistance training/HIIT cycling program improved push-ups/sit-ups by 21%, and improved run times by an average of 35 seconds, even though for the 12-week study, the subjects didn’t run a step. You can improve your run time without running.

For scheduling a Bod Pod and/or exercise prescription, contact me at 846-1186 or