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NEWS | June 22, 2021

Learn how to improve run times for Air Force PT test

By Greg Chadwick Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs

The Air Force will resume physical fitness testing July 1, 2021. The 1.5-mile run component is weighted as the highest scored portion of the assessment, accounting for 60 component points of the 100 point composite score.

The following physical training guidelines can help Airmen reduce their 1.5-mile run time and lower the risk of an overuse injury.

Many military members prepare for the running component of the PT test with long slow runs. While this type of training will develop a base fitness level, this approach isn’t necessarily the most effective training method to improve running speed. In fact, if this is all you do during training you are more likely to hit a plateau and suffer from aches and pains associated with large volumes of repetitive stress on the musculoskeletal system.

The most effective exercise training programs combine the principles of overload, progression, and specificity.

Overload means training longer/more frequently and/or harder this week than last week, and longer/more frequently and/or harder next week than last week. Progression means increasing the overload very gradually-running just a little longer/more frequently and/or a little harder each week. Too much overload too soon can result in a musculoskeletal injury. Specificity in training means training according to the goal, for example, running would be a more effective method of training for improving the 1.5-mile run time than biking.

That doesn’t mean an Airman needs to run at the exclusion of all other conditioning activities, but to improve run times, running needs to be the focus of the exercise training program.

So what is an efficient way to improve running speed for the PT test? Interval training.

“Interval training is an alternate conditioning method to continuous running training” said Kevin Ball, fitness and sports manager, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. “Interval training is used to develop the ability to perform at higher intensities than during continuous running.”

Ball explains that interval training combines shorts bursts of strenuous physical activity with slower, easier bouts of recovery activity.

“The desired training effect from the short bursts of intense running activity is to get your heart, lungs, and active muscles’ used to exercise at a higher level, which makes it easier for you to do more at that elevated training level over time,” Ball said.

Prior to beginning an interval training program, airmen should establish a foundational level of fitness. The base fitness level is a consistent running activity for several weeks (2-3 times a week for 20 minutes of continuous running). The base fitness level will prepare your muscles and joints for the increased intensity of interval training. If one has not been physically active, it is recommended to start with the walk-to-run program listed in the AFMC Physical Training Leader Guide. The PTL Guide is posted on the USAF Connect app. As with any new exercise regimen, it’s always a good idea to get clearance from your physician before you begin.

When starting interval training, ease into the program gradually. Ball recommends that Airmen start their first intervals with brief periods of running, covering shorter distances.  Run at a pace that feels uncomfortable and hard, but also a pace you can still control.

When performing interval training, the work interval (fast run) is followed immediately by an active recovery interval (walk). An appropriate work to recovery ratio for improving running speed is 1:2. During the work (run) interval, you will run at a brisk pace for 30 seconds. During the recovery (walk) interval you will walk for 60 seconds. Completing the 30-second run and 60-second recovery is one repetition.

Here is an example of a basic interval training workout to improve running speed:

  • 5 minute warm-up with walk/light jog, dynamic warm-up/movement preparation
  • Run at a brisk pace for 30 seconds
  • Recover for 60 seconds by slowing down to an easy jog or a walk
  • Repeat run interval-30 seconds/recovery interval-60 seconds for 3-4 repetitions
  • 5 minute cool down walk

Ball suggests that airmen try to increase the interval repetitions (progressive overload) by one repetition each week. Doing so will help improve your fitness and running speed.

Interval training is not about sprinting. A targeted speed that you can maintain in all repetitions through the total workout is most important. The difficulty lies not in a single repetition, but in a series of repetitions.

Interval training should be performed once per week, with at least 2 full days of recovery followed by a more relaxed training session. Too much interval training overloads your body, increasing the risk of injury.

To avoid an overuse injury, Ball recommends that airmen mix up their exercise routine with cross-training. Incorporating a variety of low-impact activities -- such as biking, swimming, and the elliptical machine -- can help prevent overuse injuries by allowing your body to use different muscle groups and not overload any one particular group.

Regardless of your age or specific health goals, the Centers for Disease Control and American College of Sports Medicine recommend that healthy adults age 18-65 participate in moderate aerobic exercise for 30 minutes, 5 days per week. Alternatively, you can perform vigorous aerobic activity for at least 20 minutes, 3 days per week to meet this recommendation. For more comprehensive information on physical fitness guidelines, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.