Ask the Experts: Cadet Physical Fitness
Posted on 10/31/2011 at 12:00 AM by Becci Sundhagen
“The only thing my squadron does for physical fitness is the cadet physical fitness test (CPFT) once a month. We have a few cadets that fail the CPFT time after time, and it’s making them discouraged about staying in the cadet program. Besides the fitness test, what can my squadron do to increase fitness for all cadets and improve performance for the cadets that are struggling?”
If that sounds like a familiar situation, read on to hear what these CAP volunteers have to say! The squadrons featured below have cadets that excel in the physical fitness events at National Cadet Competition and Alabama's annual Iron Man Competition.
Maj Bill Hrinko, firstname.lastname@example.org, of GLR-OH-051 says:
"In our unit we look at the Physical Fitness component of the Cadet Program as a two-part activity comprised of the CPFT and supporting physical activities. When we do the CPFT, all of the cadets present participate. They cheer one another on - the high performers encouraging the struggling cadets and the struggling cadets pushing the high performers farther and farther. The enthusiasm adds to the overall adrenaline rush of PT night. Top male and female performers in each event get their name and scores published on the squadron Facebook page in addition to those that score in the 75th percentile. The administration of the CPFT is efficiently handled through senior staff assignments in which one senior member is appointed CPFT Coordinator and an assigned Event Administrator for each CPFT event. This way we always have a knowledgeable senior who knows the rules of the event and can offer advice on technique and areas of improvement for the cadets testing. As a backup, we keep a piece of card stock with the event rules printed on one side and the Score Chart on the other to prevent the temptation of "guessing" which is the right procedure. Once we record the scores, all of the information is entered onto a shared Google Document so that we can quickly see pass rates for each event and identify trends for each cadet or the unit as a whole. Depending on where the strengths and weaknesses lie, we can then tailor our workout routines to fit the major deficiency areas.
In addition to the CPFT, we offer a variety of alternative physical activities that provide some excitement and team building among the cadets. Team sports such as volleyball, walleyball, basketball, and ultimate frisbee are always popular activities. The members who are knowledgeable in those sports serve as referees to ensure that the rules are safely followed and provide on-the-spot education to the cadets on how to play. PT races are also popular events where the cadets are split into teams and compete in relays determined by the physical needs of the unit. For example, if the Push Up pass rates are low, it may be an event where cadets sprint to one station, do 100 push ups as a team, sprint to the next, do 50 burpees as a team, sprint to the next, and on and on. The team that finishes first wins. Additionally, we do nutrition instruction, group P90X workouts, and Martial Arts instruction. All of this culminates in the cadets who serve on the Drill Team and Color Guard. Through their instruction in overall physical fitness they get the opportunity to test their mettle against the top cadets in CAP. Their specialized preparation allows them to live up to the philosophy of our competition teams in that their investment is paid forward to helping their fellow cadets excel. Together these things make PT more than just taking a test - it is a meeting that the cadets look forward to."
C/2d Lt Jacob McGowin, from SER-AL-117 is a 2-time Iron Man Champion team member. He has this advice:
"We give around 20 minutes every meeting for PT. This is only a light workout, with around 20 or so punch ups, flutter kicks, man-builders, side straddle hops, etc. On our designated PT night, we stretch well, then accomplish the PFT. After the PFT, those who are testing on aerospace and leadership do so, while the rest begin a game of soccer, frisbee football or volleyball. When those who are testing finish, they join the game. It is of note that the games mentioned are all team sports that also challenge physically. The cadet staff are quite obviously elemental to any such endeavor. They should always give everything, not only what is required to pass the test. One thing we try to emphasis is that stopping before you can't go on is quitting. This, however should be used carefully, as it could easily be used to try to force the cadets beyond what they are capable of, and is reasonable for them. For those cadets that struggle, it is important that they not be left to drown. There should be a single person that keeps up with them, encourages them, and helps that push themselves past what the cadet THINKS they can do, and on to what they can actually push themselves to. Ideally, the cadet staff member that works with them should not be one that breezes through every PT test through cadet major, but rather one that can realistically say that they were in the cadet's position, struggling, at one time. Lastly, it is important to emphasize that weekly PT will not improve one's physical condition substantially, if at all. PT at home or elsewhere should be highly encouraged. Competitions such as Iron Man Competition, and even team sports at the squadron level, can help increase morale with regards to PT."
Squadron commander Maj Gary Ernest, SER-AL-117, adds:
"Every year end we sit down with our cadets and discuss the previous year and make plans for the next year. A few years back the topic came up about wanting more PT so we put in the schedule for 20min PT directly after opening formation except on blues night when we substitute drill. For Iron Man preparation the cadets have put together a form to record daily workout results. This tracks improvement and encourages daily personal workouts."
Lt Col Pamela Landreth-Strug, email@example.com, of MER-NC-801 has this advice:
"In our squadron, every cadet completes every event at every CPFT, even if they have already met their promotion requirements. Physical fitness isn’t just a promotion item to check off; it’s a required part of the cadet program. Cadets can only improve by completing the events, and by participating in every test they are encouraged and shown how to do each event properly. We don’t encourage cadets to do the minimum for a passing grade – we challenge them to reach further than their current level, or to compete to have the highest score/fastest time on the event for that night. Requiring cadets to complete all events even if they’ve passed the required 2 out of 3 allows them to improve on their weakest event. As a result, we’ve had cadets who turned their previous weak event into their strongest event.
Pushups are usually the hardest event for most cadets; we focus on good form and partner up with cadets of similar ability to encourage and challenge each other on this event. For sit and reach, we heavily emphasize stretching – not just before the event, but throughout the entire evening’s physical activities. For the mile run, we break every cadet’s target run time into lap times, and we call those out during the run so cadets can focus on keeping a steady pace. Cadets who struggle with one event are paired with a cadet who is successful at that event, and the paired cadet offers encouragement and tips for improvement. We’ve also invited guest speakers to the squadron to discuss specific fitness events and ways to improve.
In every month that has a fifth meeting night, we schedule a fun activity. Our cadets do not want to sit still and watch movies! They always choose an athletic activity, from basketball to football to (their favorite) ultimate Frisbee. The bottom line for cadets who struggle with a CPFT event is: keep trying!"
Capt Carl Gomes, firstname.lastname@example.org, of NER-NJ-067 offers the following:
"We dedicate one meeting per month to physical fitness training and a fun night for cadets. We often hold flight to flight competitions. Since we meet at a Marine reserve center, we have access to their obstacle course, and our cadets run through it every other month when the weather is good. Very few cadets struggle with the entire CPFT. Each month, we probably have 2 or 3 cadets (out of 45 active cadets) who struggle with just one or two events. The biggest aid to passing the CPFT is to encourage cadets. After one failure, the cadet is asked to set up a routine for daily exercise for a limited period (usually 3-4 weeks) to help him pass that event. Once your unit starts that system of encouragement, the program carries itself through. Now we have phase 3 and 4 cadets who mentor phase 1 and 2 cadets on proper CPFT event technique, and will help write up a fitness routine for them. Regarding NCC physical fitness events, it helps to have cadet overachievers! Cadets on our NCC teams are goal oriented, motivated, and able to dedicate 4 months of their free time to spending 4-6 hours weekly on NCC preparation. They worked specifically on improving their volleyball skills for the competition by inviting local coaches to help."