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How to Crush the APFT Run

Tips and strategies to improve your time over the 2-mile test
Photo from CPT Holly Di Giovine
Photo from CPT Holly Di Giovine

 Does the 2-mile run present a major challenge to passing your annual APFT? To master this event, you will need high-end aerobic capacity, dynamic leg strength and the endurance to recover from the sit-up and push-up segments of the test. Simply running 2 miles here and there isn’t going to prepare you for this max effort event, but incorporating the following training strategies will help you perform to standard and beyond.

THE STANDARD  

This is essentially a go or no-go event, requiring you to run 2 miles without assistance and preferably without walking.

PERFORMANCE TIPS

1. Run tall. Stack your shoulders, hips and pelvis, “growing” tall through the spine with shoulders relaxing down. The “taller” you run, the lighter your body will feel and the easier it will be to move the legs fluidly.  

2. Run from the hip. The hip muscles are larger and more powerful than the lower leg muscles. Focus on lifting the knee forward and up, and draw your heel straight up the inseam of your leg. This maximizes hip and knee flexion while allowing the ankle to remain relatively unloaded; mastering this technique can help reduce shin splints as well.

3. Use proper cadence. An optimal running cadence is 90 steps (per leg) in one minute. If you are running slower than an 8-minute mile, check your cadence—you’re likely running well below 90 steps per leg per minute.  

4. Achieve breath control. Learn to mechanically control your exhalations to manage your breathing as you approach max effort. Accomplish this by breathing all the way down into your diaphragm and core to squeeze as much air back out of your system as possible so you can exchange it for fresh oxygen.

TRAIN UP

With these exercises, you can prep your muscles while perfecting your form:

1. HEEL-UPS

Draw heel of moving leg up inseam of base leg to activate both the hip flexor and the hamstring for max efficiency. Progress from marching to stationary heel-ups to traveling forward and backward. Sets: 3. Reps: 20–30/leg.

Tip: Stand tall and maintain a neutral pelvis throughout—i.e., don’t let it rock side to side, rotate or tilt front to back.

2. SKIPS

The skip is a more dynamic heel-up that further emphasizes extension/landing of the base foot. It also incorporates more time “in the air,” requiring more overall stability to maintain body position. Sets: 3. Reps: 15/leg.

Tip: Incorporate running arms in opposition to the knee drive.  Engage the core so the knee can effectively drive up and lift body away from the ground—this is key to “running tall.”

3. INSTEP STRETCH

This runner’s lunge helps to develop length in the hip flexors as well as stability in the pelvis. Feet are shoulder-width apart and straight. Maintain opposite lines of pull at all times—forward through the front knee and backward through the back heel. Sets: 1. Reps: 10/leg.

Tip: Inhale as your elbow stretches in the direction of the instep of the foot, and exhale as you twist toward the front leg.

 

TRIAL PREP: MINI-APFT

(run on pre-fatigued muscles as during the test)

Perform 30 seconds of max effort on push-ups and 30 seconds of max effort on sit-ups, then run a half-mile at 80 percent effort. Sets: 4. Reps: Record number of reps completed in each round so you can increase it next time around.

Tip: Rest and stretch for two minutes after the run so you can perform at a high level in the consecutive rounds. Your goal is to maintain or improve performance from rounds 1 to 4. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Don’t wait until the morning of the PT test to hydrate your body. A diet packed with celery, watermelon, bell peppers, cucumbers, berries and cantaloupe not only will add water to your system but will provide micronutrients like potassium and magnesium to aid in hydration.

To see tips and strategies for the APFT's other two events, visit GX's Sit-Up and Push-Up links. For more fitness articles, go to GXonline.com/fitness