PFT/PRT training series—Part 1: Cardiovascular fitness

The PFT/PRT is designed to test your cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength. In this three-part series, HPRC takes a closer look at each component, offers tips on training optimization, and suggests how to prevent common training-related injuries.

Preparation for your Physical Fitness (PFT) and Physical Readiness Tests (PRT) takes time and discipline. Training for the test isn’t something you should start the month before the test, and the fitness habits you develop leading up to the test should continue year-round. Weekend warriors and procrastinators are at greater risk of injury, and it’s likely that your performance will be less than optimal when it comes time for your test.

HPRC provides a series of articles with guidelines to help you prepare for the PFT/PRT, beginning with this one on cardiovascular fitness.

FITT for aerobic conditioning

One of the most commonly failed parts of the PFT/PRT is the initial 1.5–2 mile run. With the right preparation, you can avoid this. Well in advance of your PFT/PRT, map out a fitness program based on the FITT principle. FITT stands for “frequency” (how often you train); “intensity” (how hard you train); “type” (the kinds of training activities you perform); and “time” (how long you train). Progression, an additional component, is also an essential part of any exercise plan.

Frequency

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and U.S. Surgeon General recommend at least 3 to 5 days a week of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.

Intensity

Training intensity calls for a combination of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity that increases your breathing and heart rate. You can calculate your target heart rate to determine the ideal range to aim for during exercise, depending on your age and fitness level. The “Talk Test” is another way to gauge intensity. Unless you’re doing high-intensity exercise, you should generally be able to carry on a conversation (but not sing) while exercising. If you feel that you won’t be able to sustain your exercise for at least 30 minutes, lower the intensity and gradually build it up.

Type

To build aerobic conditioning, you need to do aerobic exercise. Interval training and other speed work is a great way to improve your run time. Cross training—training with a variety of aerobic exercises—can help you avoid overuse injuries. That’s any kind of exercise that is continuous and rhythmic and uses large muscle groups such as running, dancing, swimming, biking, walking, rowing, jumping rope, etc.

Time

Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise should last anywhere from 30–60 minutes a day for a total of about 150 minutes per week to maintain cardiovascular fitness (and help prevent chronic disease). You can achieve the same goal with vigorous-intensity exercise for 20–60 minutes a day for a total of about 75 minutes per week. Or meet your goal with a combination of the two types of exercises.

Progression

If you’re just getting back into shape, be sure to gradually and safely get back into running. Once you’ve resumed a regular exercise routine, you might notice some aches and pains. Listen to your body. Watch out for symptoms of common athletic injuries such as overuse injuries (that is, stress fractures) and knee pain. It’s important to address these issues early to minimize any damage and get you back in action as soon as possible.

Debrief

However you train, remember to start early enough that you’ll be ready when test time comes around, and maintain your training schedule so you’re prepared for the next time.

Part 2 of this series addresses the muscular-strength component of PFT/PRT training.

Resources

Garber, C. E., Blissmer, B., Deschenes, M. R., Franklin, B. A., Lamonte, M. J., Lee, I.-M., . . . Swain, D. P. (2011). Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(7), 1334–1359. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e318213fefb

Swedler, D. I., Knapik, J. J., Williams, K. W., Grier, T. L., & Jones, B. H. (2011). Risk factors for medical discharge from United States Army Basic Combat Training. Military Medicine, 176(10), 1104–1110.