News: What it Takes: Conquering the Perfect Combat Fitness Test
Story by Cpl. Reece Lodder
Whether prompted by your squared-away NCO’s perfect PFT or the veins popping out of your drill instructor’s forehead, you’ve always been intrigued by exceptional Marines and their accomplishments. Grab a drink, pull up a chair and indulge yourself in the “What it Takes” series, an in-depth exploration into various Marines’ professionalism and perfection within their jobs, tests, and standards.
As combat operations rage on overseas, functional fitness and combat conditioning remain vital to the success of forward-deployed Marines. Whether lifting a casualty into a 7-ton truck during training, or bounding through an urban zone under fire, Marines are called to prepare for any situation.
Before leaving garrison for the fight, Marines can prepare by training for their annual Combat Fitness Test. Developed to simulate potential combat situations, the CFT’s three events are built on principles of combat conditioning and focused on short bursts of energy.
“Training for the CFT helps Marines build strength and endurance, but it also helps develop a combat mindset and sharpen their reaction time,” said Sgt. Robert Hernandez, a black belt Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructor with the School of Infantry West — Detachment Hawaii.
“By conditioning their bodies to get used to different movements now, Marines better prepare for situations later on,” said the Del Rio, Texas, native.
Beginning with a timed, 880-yard run in boots and utility trousers, the test transitions into a two-minute, maximum set of 30-pound ammo can shoulder presses. In the final event, Marines move through a maneuver under fire course, completing a variety of exercises including crawls, push-ups, casualty drags, ammo can sprints, and throwing dummy grenades.
“The hardest part of beginning to train is starting up, but you need to stop making excuses and just do it,” said Sgt. Bajro Buzaljko, the ammo chief for SOI West — Det Hawaii. “If you push yourself from the beginning and stick with it, it gets easier. From there, you can find something harder to work on.”
Together as a unit or on an individual basis, Marines should focus on short, explosive strength training workouts to prepare for the CFT, said Cpl. Lucas Bruss, a black belt martial arts instructor trainer with SOI West— Det Hawaii.
“Sprint interval workouts are great for improving on the 880-yard run,” said Bruss, of Bennet, Neb. “Set a goal on how far you want to go, and as time progresses, increase this distance.”
For one cardio workout, Bruss said to sprint 400 meters, walk 100 meters, and continue alternating until reaching the desired distance. On another, he said to alternate between sprints and sets of push-ups, not resting until completion.
To better perform ammo can shoulder presses and maneuver under fire time, Bruss encouraged trainees to perform circuit drills or intense total body workouts, incorporating exercises like “wall balls” — squatting, then throwing a medicine ball up against a wall — and weighted overhead presses to build strength and endurance.
Outside their shops, there are a variety of resources available to prepare Marines for the CFT. The Semper Fit Center on base offers a variety of conditioning classes, in addition to four personal trainers who can tailor training programs, said Carli Yokoi, personal trainer, Semper Fit.
After pinpointing the individual’s weaknesses, Yokoi said the personal trainers work through basic exercises to help improve the Marine’s CFT score. As Marines progress, the personal trainers incorporate other endurance-building exercises.
“We’ll help you train your body to handle a certain workload in a specific amount of time,” she said.
Nonetheless, dedication and training hard alone don’t guarantee success, said Buzaljko, of Utica, N.Y. He said trainees need to examine their diet due to its effect on performance, and discouraged the consumption of alcohol and fatty foods.
“You can train all you want, but if your diet doesn’t reflect your workout, you’re not fully gaining the workout’s benefits,” Buzaljko said. “It’s like taking two steps forward and one step backward.”
A high CFT score is beneficial from a professional standpoint, too. It is now factored into composite scores and as Marines rise in rank, promotions become even more competitive, said Master Gunnery Sgt. Bart Heidrich, base Manpower, Personnel and Administration Directorate chief. For this reason, scoring well on the CFT helps Marines stand out among their peers and boosts their résumés for future boards, said Heidrich, of Belle Fourche, S.D.
Akin to its counterpart, the Physical Fitness Test, the CFT is an annual training requirement, and must be run between July and December. The CFT’s scoring system varies by age and gender, and can be calculated using the CFT calculator in the “Tools” section of Marine Online.