The Physical Fitness Test (PFT) you must pass as a member of the military goes by different names depending on the branch of service you join. The requirements for passing your PFT may vary depending on the branch of service, your current age at testing time, weight, and other factors. But all branches of the service conduct the PFT for the same reasons-to ensure all members are fit for duty and can handle the physical rigors of military duty.
PFT is ever-changing. The days of the old-fashioned “confidence course” and its’ various obstacles aren’t quite gone; you’ll still find obstacle courses in Basic Training and elsewhere. But as a unit of measure for fitness and combat readiness, the military has long since switched to timed runs and other challenges that don’t involve climbing up ropes or jumping over barriers.
Are PFT Tests The Same For All Branches Of Service?
No. In the past, the Air Force conducted fitness assessments using stationary bicycles-something troops today tend to snicker at since the service changed its approach. The Marines are known for their emphasis on running, and Navy members may have the option to swim rather than run, depending on circumstances.
PFT benchmarks vary depending on the branch of service, and the consequences of failing the fitness test will also vary. Some branches of the service may require remedial fitness regiments, others may require troops to do self-paced workouts but report their activities to a fitness monitor prior to retesting.
Physical Fitness Test (PFT) Names by Branch of Service
- Air Force BMT Physical Fitness Test
- Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT)
- Coast Guard (PFT)
- Marine Corps Combat Fitness Test (CFT)
- Navy Physical Readiness Test (PRT)
What Physical Challenges Are Associated With PFT?
The Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard all have their own approaches to PFT, but in general, you should expect to run, and do some combination of crunches, push-ups, and/or pull-ups. These may be timed, and you may be expected to perform a minimum amount of crunches, push-ups, etc. within the timed period.
The running portion may be between a mile and a half and three miles. The running portion is timed, and PFT standards include a specific time requirement to complete the run.
When Does PFT Happen?
The first experiences with military fitness tests will happen during Basic Training. All new recruits are urged to prepare for boot camp physically many weeks prior to shipping out; the journey toward better fitness should always start long before basic training, but to get in the physical shape required to meet basic training expectations, talk to a recruiter and your physician about how to structure a boot camp prep program.
Physical fitness testing depends greatly on the approach of the military service, the mission, and other factors. Marines take their PFT semi-annually. Air Force members may be required to take their fitness test annually, based on changes to the service’s approach to fitness standards.
No matter what branch of the service you are interested in, potential new recruits, ROTC candidates, and Guard/Reserve applicants should know that fitness tests are carried out during Basic Training and successful completion of these fitness tests are a condition of service.
The nature of these tests is not always the same as the fitness assessment you’ll be given when serving on active duty. For example, in 2019, the Army required basic trainees to pass the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) as a condition of graduating from boot camp. In 2020, the ACFT was viewed as the only accepted fitness test that could replace Army Physical Fitness Test.
In response to the global pandemic, Army fitness standards were altered to accommodate having to lock down (and not gather at gyms) in 2020 and 2021. Each branch of service made alterations to deal with COVID-19 complications in their fitness programs. These are good examples of how the military adjusts fitness programs to keep up with the times, changing science, or even the restricted ability to maintain a fitness regimen during a pandemic.
The Navy has taken the opportunity to make changes, too. March 2021 was the month the Navy chose as the right time to eliminate “curl ups” or sit-ups as part of its fitness test and replace them with something known as a “forearm plank event”. Some sources report the Navy has done this in response to evidence that the forearm plank is better for the body than sit-ups.
You should expect to be physically challenged during Basic Training, any required tech schools or additional training before your first military duty assignment. Those who are attending military training schools such as Airman Leadership School, NCO training, or Senior NCO Academy training should expect to be challenged physically, too.
If it sounds like the military expects the troops to consider PFT to be a regular part of military life, it’s because that IS an expectation for military service.
How Do I Prepare For Military Fitness Testing?
Each branch of the service has unique advice for getting physically ready for that version of the fitness test. Marines have it the hardest, running three miles, doing pull-ups and crunches within the span of a two-hour evaluation period.
The Army has its troops run two miles, plus two minutes of pushups and situps. There are similar requirements for the Navy, the Air Force, and the Coast Guard.
Each branch of the service will tell service members the same thing with regard to passing the fitness test-you cannot “cram” for this test by attempting to hurriedly get into acceptable physical condition at the last minute. Remember, your height and weight are measured in addition to your ability to physically endure the test.
Fitness is a lifestyle, and those who have neglected physical activity prior to enlisting, or prior to taking the annual or semi-annual fitness test will definitely struggle to meet the standards. Consult your unit First Sergeant, Sergeant Major, supervisor, or orderly room to get information on the fitness standards of your branch of service and advice on how to prepare for PFT.
I Am A New Recruit. How Do I Physically Prepare For PFT In Basic Training?
The best source of fitness prep information prior to basic training, regardless of military service, is your recruiter. The recruiter has the latest information on PFT requirements, safely preparing for the rigors of Basic Training, and avoiding injury while doing so.
After you’ve taken the ASVAB, talk to your recruiter as early as possible about how to physically get ready for your new military career. It’s best to avoid potentially old or outdated information on third party websites that offer specific advice on how to prepare; at a minimum, you should consult the official website for your branch of service (such as Army.mil) to see what’s presented there as the current PFT standard.
Are The Fitness Standards For Military Service Consistent?
No. Each branch of the military has unique, service-defined benchmarks; as mentioned above the Navy places a premium on swimming abilities, the Marines put a great amount of faith in running ability, and even the Air Force has taken a unique approach.
In early 2018, Air Force officials announced the development of career-specific fitness requirements, which is a big change from the one-size-fits-all fitness approach of earlier times. In 2019 some Air Force troops were participating in “tiered” testing that involved a Tier One for all airmen, but a Tier Two fitness test or PT test targeted for specific career fields. Tactical Air Control and Explosive Ordnance Disposal were two career fields identified early in this program as needed a different kind of PT testing.
In 2021, the Air Force eliminated the tape test. It still requires height and weight standards, but the tape measure is no longer a part of Air Force fitness testing or standards-setting. In 2021, talk of providing the U.S. Space Force its own fitness standards (as opposed to mirroring Air Force standards) has started, but at press time this is in discussions and into in the implementation phase.
How Are Military Fitness Tests Scored?
Scoring for military physical fitness tests may vary depending on the branch of service and any changes that service has made to its’ fitness requirements. The Marine Corps PFT scores are based on points earned for the number of crunches and pull-ups completed, plus the length of time it takes to complete the three-mile run. Army scoring is similar.
The use of these scores may vary depending on why the PFT is being conducted. Some requirements are more stringent; to qualify to become an Airborne Ranger, for example, higher PFT scores are required and the physical challenges of a program like Army Ranger school or Navy SEAL training will far exceed “typical” military fitness requirements.
Is Failing The Fitness Test A Problem For My Military Career?
Depending on the branch of service, failing a PT test could negatively affect your performance ratings, ability to re-enlist, or change career fields. Depending on when the PFT testing failure occurs, you could be offered a second chance to pass, remedial physical training, or both.
If you fail to meet fitness standards in a training environment such as Basic Training or in career training, your ability to retake PFT may depend greatly on the nature of your failure, how much time is left in the training program, and whether your command is willing to extend another opportunity to participate in PFT.
What Else Should I Know About PFT?
The military constantly reviews fitness requirements. Sometimes this review is done by an individual branch of military service–remember standards for each branch are unique. Other times there may be a top-down DoD-wide review of policies and requirements. You should expect fitness standards, workout requirements and/or testing requirements to change and evolve. Last year’s PFT is not this year’s PFT for many reasons including the age of the troops involved, the nature of the mission, etc.
Your age, gender, military occupation, and other variables could all be responsible for changing standards. Older service members are given more time to complete the running portion, you may find weight and height factors affect the required test result minimums. Also, each branch of the service may revise these tests at any time due to changes in leadership, mission needs, the performance by troops taking the test in recent times, etc.
In short, it’s not safe to assume that your PFT won’t change, that your requirements or minimum fitness levels won’t be altered by one or more factors. It’s best to work fitness into your everyday routine, commit to meeting the PFT requirements year-round within reason, and avoid trying to “get back into shape” weeks before the test.
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