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How to pass a PFT or CFT


PFT (physical fitness test)

As a Marine you will have to pass a physical fitness test every so often. It used to be twice a year. It has changed since the addition of the CFT (combat fitness test). Now a PFT is done the first 6 months of the year (Jan 1st - June 31st). You will run more than one PFT in the first 6 months whether it be just for normal pt, or to see where your at physically, but only one will be for score.

If you do not pass the PFT it will ultimately result in you being kicked out if you fail to pass one after an allotted amount of time you are given to improve your physical fitness. A PFT is also used towards your promotion. The higher your PFT score, the more points you have on your promotional score (composite score). For a PFT a first class score is 225 - 300. Second class is 175 -224. Third class is 135 -174.The scoring system changes with your age. The scale will become more lenient once you turn 27. I will not be covering that scoring system. Female marines also have a different scoring system. They will do the flex arm hang instead of pull ups and they will be given more time to complete the run. I will not be covering that either.

A PFT works on a point system. There is a possible and maximum of 300 points. Your score will be calculated based off of how you perform 3 events. Pull ups, modified Marine Corps crunches, and a 3 mile run. Each event gives you the opportunity to get 100 points. You will start the PFT with pull ups. You can have your palms gripping the bar facing you or away from you. You will come to a dead hang. You will be told to begin. You will have someone counting each pull up. You must come all the way down each time so your arms lock out, your chin must break the plane of the bar, and you may not swing, kip, use the sides, or bring your knees or feet up past your waist. Each pull up you do is worth 5 points. There is no time limit for this event.

Next you will get a partner and do the modified marine corps crunch. your partner will sit on your feet so that they stay planted while your trying to crunch. You have a time limit of 2 minutes. Each crunch is 1 point. Your butt may not come off the ground, your arms must stay on your chest, and you must crunch until the meaty portion of your arms touches the meaty portion of your thy.

Last you will do a short 3 mile run. Your maximum time is 28 minutes. A perfect score is 18 minutes or lower. You have 100 possible points. You start with 100 points. Every minute over 18 minutes takes away 6 points. Another way to figure it, is 1 point off for every 10 seconds over 18 minutes.

Here is an example PFT score.

3 mile run completed in 23 minutes 40 seconds = 66 points

14 pull ups = 70 points

100 crunches = 100 points

Your PFT score = 236 (first class)


Improving your PFT score.

I cannot stress how important it is to have a good PFT score. Have a great PFT score will help you get promoted on promotional boards, or as a Lcpl and Cpl it will help you get promoted to the next rank faster because it goes into a score. With that said here are my tips to get yourself a better PFT score.

Crunches- To improve your crunches it is simple. Just do crunches. It is not hard to do 100 crunches in 2 minutes. I was 230 pounds when I joined the Marine Corps five years ago and I still did 115 crunches in 2 minutes. So any kind of ab exercises you can do will help, but doing crunches is the best way because of the muscle memory factor. If you cannot do 100 crunches in two minutes just do a max set of crunches every three hours for a week, and you will probably achieve your goal. If you need something to remind you, try to do a max set every time before you go into the bathroom for anything.

Pull Ups- Pull Ups take a little bit more work to increase them because a pull up is an exercise that is a really good test of pure strength. Anyone can do push ups, hence why the army, navy, and air force use those for their tests. Marine however do pull ups. When you do push ups. The majority of your weight is just chilling on the ground because of your feet, so your really only pushing up a portion of your weight. Pull ups you have to pull your entire weight up. When i joined I couldn't even do one pull up. This is what helped me get to about 12 pull ups in a very short amount of time.

Pyramids work wonders. It is simple. All you do is do one pull up then 5 push ups, then two pull ups and then 5 push ups, three pull ups and 5 push ups, and so on until you get to 5, then you go back down...4 pull ups 5 push ups, 3 pull ups 5 push ups, etc. I would do this twice a day. If you add it up it's 45 push ups and 25 pull ups for reach pyramid set. Now this is important. If you can't do a single pull up, do what you have to do. Have a buddy hold your feet or waist to give you just enough assistance to do a pull up, or they make these huge bands you can wrap around the bar and then put your foot through so that it pulls you up. Same for the push ups. I'm telling you after you get to about 3 on the pyramid your going to be hurting so if you can't do the push ups correctly then do the girl push ups on your knees or stand up and do them against the wall just make sure your at an angle extreme enough to require you to use some kind of effort to push yourself. Just do what you have to do.

If you can do at least one pull up or a few then the next thing I suggest is weighted pull ups. You can use a weightlifting belt with the chain on it and add whatever plates you want to it. you can use the weighted vests that you can purchase from Gold's Gym or maybe even Dicks sporting goods. If you can't afford any of that then just use a backpack with some bags of rice or canned food or your cat. Whatever will add weight use it.

Losing weight is another way to improve your pull ups for obvious reasons. The less you weigh, the less you have to pull up. Negatives are great as well. Negatives are where you do a pull up, but come down very very slowly then go back up and repeat.

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One very important thing to keep in mind when doing all of this is to try BOTH grips. Palms facing you, and palms facing away. You will be able to do more pull ups with one of the grips. It is still important though to still train with the other grip. So try to do both grips because it will help you. When you go to do the PFT though use whichever grips allows you to get more pull ups. When I started out I couldn't do any with palms facing in, but I could do about half one with the palms facing out. Then I started practicing with palms facing in and could eventually do 12 but only like 3 with palms facing out. That is why its important to be able to do both. During a PFT you are allowed to change grips as long as you don't get off the bar. Doing pull ups with your palms facing you uses more of your biceps than anything. If your palms are facing out you are using more of your back and lats.

3 mile run - To improve your run time do the following:

Sprints, weighted runs (3 miles), lose weight, make your self uncomfortable, control your breathing, pick points and run to them, take long strides, get some good running shoes, music, and eat right.

Doing sprints, losing weight, taking long strides, and weighted runs is self explanatory so i won't elaborate on that. OK, so making yourself uncomfortable; what I mean by this is, if you wear bulky heavy sweatshirts or clothes or ankle weights or anything that makes running uncomfortable will make it that much easier when you do run in just shorts and a t-shirt and mentally you will allow yourself to run faster.

Controlling your breathing means to have a rhythm and planned way to breath instead of just sucking wind like your running from the bulls. What I find to work the best is to inhale twice through my nose then exhale twice through my mouth. Each inhalation and exhalation happens with one of my feet hit the ground. So your left foot hits the ground you inhale through your nose, right foot hits the ground you inhale through your nose again, left foot hits the ground again and you exhale once through your mouth, right foot hits the ground again you exhale through your mouth again. This is hard to do the first part of your run but once you get in your groove and used to breathing that way trust me you will notice the difference. If you just breathe like a mad man you can actually hyperventilate.

Picking points and running to them may or may not help you. All you do is find something ahead of you about 25 or 50 yards away and just run to it. Then once you get to it find something else and run to it. This way it kind of make your forget about the whole run and just focus on the object you are currently running to if you can convince yourself enough to just think about running to the point. This may help you run faster, if not....I'm sorry?

Good running shoes are everything. I suggest you go to a running shoe store. You don't have to buy a shoe there, but at least find out what kind of shoe you need. Some places will watch you run and see how your feet land and get you shoes specifically for how your feet land. They make shoes with high arches, mid arches, no arch etc. Also try to get a light shoe. New Balance and Asics make pretty good running shoes.

Eating right is also key. I once ate a peanut butter sandwich and glass of milk right before a run. Big Mistake. I always try to not eat anything whatsoever before I run. Even be careful with drinking water. The more you have weighing your stomach down or splashing around in there then the more your going to get nauseous and sluggish. If your run later in the day and it is not possible to not eat before you run then just try to give yourself enough time to digest before you run and try to eat something light.

Listening to music can also help you run better. Keep in mind though you will not be able to do this for a scored PFT.

CFT (combat fitness test)

Now we have the CFT. The CFT is also graded once a year for score (July 1st - Dec 31st). CFTs were a recent addition to the Marine Corps physical fitness test in 2008 I think. I was in Iraq when they started doing them so I'm not sure when they started them exactly. General Conway the commandant at the time decided that there needed to be some kind of way to make sure Marines were fit enough to be able to survive combat. The PFT crunches and pull ups don't mean anything, and the 3 mile run is unrealistic since you will probably never run more than 100 yards at a time in combat (in urban warfare anyway). So the CFT brings a little bit of an endurance element to the table. Now like I said I'm not very familiar with the scoring on the CFT because it's new and I was gone for the first year they were doing them, but I will provide a website which shows you how it's scored at the end of this hub.

Much like the PFT, it is three stages. The first stage is called "movement to contact" in which you will do a 880 meter sprint. The sprint will be done wearing "boots and utes" your camouflage utility trousers and your combat boots. The next portion is the ammo can lift in which you will lift a 30 pound ammo can over your head as many times as you can in 2 minutes (I think 90 reps is a perfect score). The next portion will be the Maneuver under fire. You start in the push-up position. You will sprint 15 yards, low crawl 15 yards, high crawl 15 yards, sprint 15 yards through zig zag cones, pick your buddy of equal weight up and buddy drag him 15 yards, then fireman's carry him all the way back to the starting point. You will then pick up two 30lb ammo cans and sprint up to the zig zag cones then zig zag 15 yards. You set the cans down and pick up a dummy grenade and throw it 22 1/2 yards and try to hit inside the marked area for -5 points off your time if you hit, or +5 points to your time if you miss. Then you do 3 push ups, pick up the ammo cans sprint through the zig zag cones, and sprint back to the starting point and you are done.

Combat Fitness Test

Improving your CFT score

880 yard sprint - Same as improvement for 3 mile run.

Ammo can lifts - These exercises will help you get more reps on your ammo can lift portion of the CFT: military press (barbell), Arnold press (dumbbells), tricep press down (cable), Incline bench press (dumbbells or barbell).

Maneuver under fire - To help improve you score on this event I suggest doing box drills, sprints, running 1.5 - 3 miles with a 25 pound log on your shoulder, lunges with dumbbells, and squats with dumbbells. Overall cardio exercises will also help. The CFT takes a lot of endurance and it will break you off no matter what kind of shape your in.


Tony on July 15, 2012:

I suggest buying the shoes from the place where they were most helpful...pls support those of value - there is more to value than just "low price"...if we put these helpful people out of business, we will be left with only morons in box-stores who are of no value added. Thank you for a great article and Semper Fi!

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