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What is the Candidate Fitness Assessment, and how do you maximize your score?

Although the most challenging part of the Air Force Academy is graduating, the truth is thousands of applicants struggle with admission.

One of the core requirements for admittance is the Candidate Fitness Assessment. It is a physical fitness test that determines whether you are fit enough to attend a service academy.

The test is universal. It applies to the Air Force Academy, West Point, and the Naval Academy. All applicants must earn a competitive score.

What is tested on the Candidate Fitness Assessment?

There are six events in the Candidate Fitness Assessment, according to West Point's Admission Requirements. The events are:

The maximum scores for each event, according to West Point and the Naval Academy, are detailed in the table below.

Table 1: Maximum Scores

Whereas on the Air Force Academy's website, it lists competitive scores as the following:

  • BB Throw: M=69' || F=42'

  • Pull-Ups: M=12 | F=2

  • Flexed Hang: F=31s

  • Shuttle Run: M=8.1s | F=9.4s

  • Sit-Ups: M=81 | F=78

  • Push-Ups: M=62 | F=41

  • One-mile Run: M=6:29 | F=7:30

Although the score thresholds seem achievable, the difficulty of the Candidate Fitness Test is because the events are sequential. So, there isn't a lot of time before each event!

What were your scores when you applied?

Back in 2012 or 2013, when I took the test, I think my scores were:

  • Basketball Throw: 67-68 feet

  • Pull-Ups: 11-13

  • Shuttle Run: 8.4 sec

  • Sit-Ups: 95

  • Push-Ups: 72-75

  • One-mile Run: 6:20-6:35

When comparing my scores to the USAFA chart, I was around their competitive range. Yet, I only 'maxed' my score on one or, maybe, two of the events. Like other obstacles in life, the key to success is demanding excellence from yourself every day.

How are the events sequenced?

The sequence: (1) basketball throw, (2) pull-ups/flexed arm hang, (3) shuttle run, (4) sit-ups, (5) push-ups, & the (6) one-mile run.

Remember, the hardest part of the test is when you do them back-to-back!

Table 2: Event Sequences

What is the testing layout?

As seen in the diagram below, the basketball throw starts behind the court's white lines. From there, you'll have two minutes to make three throws. Although only your highest score counts, all three will be recorded. After that, you'll have three minutes to rest. Next are the pull-ups. They are supposed to be on cadence and video-recorded.

Although this event is also two minutes, the reality is you'll only use 30 or 40 seconds. After a short three-minute break, you'll start the shuttle run.

The shuttle run typically uses the total time for that event since there is a one-minute rest between the two trials. Always take the entire break. So, instead of running head-on and running back, try to plant your foot in the turn sooner--this should improve your score overall.

Next up are the sit-ups and push-ups. These events will take the whole time, especially if you're on your way to a max score. Since these events are self-explanatory after you complete the two, head outside.

With the eight-minute break, you'll want to use all your time. Get your mental space set. Only this event stands before you and freedom. Typically, for men, you'll want to be able to run about 30 seconds faster, so a six-minute mile, when feeling fresh. A six-minute mile breaks down into a 1:30 lap pace on a standard track. If you can do this or better, then you'll be able to get a competitive score. But if you're slow, then get on a program to improve.

Ultimately, you'll want to plan on taking the Candidate Fitness Assessment only once. So, do everything in your power to set yourself up for success on the first go-around.

How else can I optimize my performance?

The five most helpful tips that I took to heart to get a competitive score for the Air Force Academy were:

  • Prep under game-day conditions. So time yourself and conduct a diagnostic test, preferably several months to a year before the official test.

  • Take care of your nutrition. Cut out caloric drinks like soda or beer. Don't eat fast food. Eat a balanced diet of vegetables, fruit, protein, and carbs (if needed).

  • Increase your water consumption. At USAFA, we were told not being hydrated leads to decreased performance. Drink more water starting a week ahead of the official test.

  • Seek help if you're not improving... Talk to coaches at your high school, reach out to the admissions department, go on Youtube, or scour the Service Academy Forums!

  • Get a good night's sleep. Contrary to what most people think, if you want to perform as well as you can on a test, you'll want to get great rest at least two days before.

What's the 'trick' on the basketball throw?

Watch Stew Smith's video at the 2:30 mark. You'll see how he grips the ball in a way that makes his arm acts as a catapult. This trick alone, instead of grabbing the ball with both hands overhead, enabled me to throw it at least 15-feet further.

What is the proper technique for push-ups?

Even though lots of prospective applicants to the service academy think they know how to do push-ups, the test is different from what you might expect.

Below is an official video from West Point media. In this video, aspects like foot placement, shoulder width, hand placement, and even the way you bend your elbow are discussed.

Take a couple minutes to familiarize yourself with this approach. You don't want to show up to test day without knowing what you're supposed to be doing!

What do perfect pull-ups look like on the CFA?

The proper form is illustrated below in this fantastic video by the Mountain Tactical Institute. In the video, you'll see how kipping on the pull-up bar is not allowed. Further, the test must be done as a dead-hang and on cadence. Cadence pull-ups mean that the grader will say "up," and you'll have to get your chin above the bar for it to count. If you don't get your chin above the bar, the repetition doesn't matter.

Again, just like the push-up video, familiarize yourself with the proper technique.

What about the shuttle run, sit-ups, & mile run?

If you're struggling on the remaining event here are a few pointers.

For the shuttle run, an explosive time involves pumping your arms and executing quick turns.

For the sit-ups, working on this under test conditions is the best way to improve. Do a timed test either every day or every other day. Also, a stronger core can be built by flutter kicks, planks, and Russian twists.

For the one-mile run, break down your goal pace into specific times for each of the four laps. Wear a watch and keep track of your time as you complete each lap. Like the sprint, if you're not a great runner, pump your arms to increase your speed and be hydrated. Running longer lengths and performing sprints will help with both endurance and speed.

Remember your success is in your own hands

Whether you pass or fail, the Candidate Fitness Assessment is entirely up to you. Take ownership of your shortcomings and enjoy your successes. This whole test is a great preview of what the Air Force Academy, the Naval Academy, or West Point will make you do on a semesterly basis. That is, physical fitness tests will be your new life. Don't give up!

//Last Updated: 13 Nov 2021//


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