So you are considering joining the Army! Congratulations! There may be some things you want to work on before you raise your right hand though. Below are 5 healthy habits you should consider doing before you go to basic training for the next 9 weeks that can help you improve your Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) score.
1. 2 mile run: If you have not already been training, you should start running. At the very least you should be running for the last month before you leave for basic training. The run is the method that the Army uses to determine your cardiovascular fitness, and for many people it is the most challenging aspect of the APFT. Not only do you run for the APFT but when you get to your unit you will most likely run at least 3 days a week. These may be ability group runs (people run with other people that run around their same speed), or it may be a unit run where everyone runs together and you sing cadence (“1-2-3-4 I am in the MP CORPS!”) To work on your 2 mile run time, interval training works wonders on your run time. I have heard some people in the Army call them “60-120s” because you can do 60 second sprints and 120 second jogs. Start out with a 0.5 to 1 mile run at your speed follow that into cycles of sprinting for 30 seconds and slow jogging for 30 seconds. Start off with 3 cycles of sprints/jogs and build up from there by adding 1 cycle every other time you do interval training. As they you continue your training start increasing the amount of time in your sprints. Don’t forget about distance running too. Mix in 2-4 mile run days with your interval sprint days to get your stamina up.
2. Push-ups: In basic training you will do a lot of push-ups. More push-ups than you thought possible. The push-up is the way the Army determines your upper body strength. Remember though, form is very important in the Army and if you do not go down far enough or let your middle sag, those repetitions will not count. A straight body plane, where your arms reach a 90 degree bend is proper form. To get better at push-ups try doing 100 at a time. If you need to stop, try dropping to your knees and continue pushing. As you progress, you will be able to do more full push-ups until you do not need to drop to your knees. Additional things you can do to improve your push-ups: actual push-ups (wide grip and diamond), dive bombers, ranger push-ups, and mountain climbers.
3. Sit-ups: While you are at basic training you will do a lot of work on your core (your abdominal muscles). The strength of your abdominals is determined by the sit-up during an APFT. Besides that who doesn’t want a 6 pack? (I know I do!) Form for this is also important because improper form will make that repetition not count. You must keep your fingers interlocked behind your head, your shoulder blades must touch the ground, and the base of your neck has to go at least to the base of your spine when you go up. Try doing as many sit-ups as you can in 2 minutes. If you need to rest, rest in the up position and then keep going! Ways to strengthen your core: Sit-ups, rocky mountain sit-ups, oblique sit-ups, leg lifts, flutter kicks, crunches, and V-ups.
4. Pull-ups: Yes, pull-ups are not tested on the APFT, however they are important for overall body strength. You will do pull-ups during basic training and just imagine if you could only do 1-2! It is also good in preparation for rope climbing and if you are going to airborne school after basic, you will need that pull-up strength! Pull-up exercises: pull-ups (surprise!), chin-ups (underhanded pull-ups), weighted pull-ups, and wide grip pull-ups
5. Diet: Put down that soda and that pie! Those chips and candy bars are doing nothing but harming your health and your PT score. Diet from a fitness perspective and body composition (your fat to muscle ratio) probably accounts for 80% of your results. You can run all day, but if your diet is not good you will not see the results you want. Your run speed will still be slow, and it will seem like you are not losing any weight. Instead of that fettuccine alfredo try savory steel cut oats. Instead of soda, try drinking water instead. Nothing quenches your thirst like water! Small changes can give you big results.
If you want more detailed and comprehensive help on the APFT, I would recommend this guide for maxing out the APFT. It was written by a prior service member, who developed a system that helped him max out his PT test.