A longitudinal analysis of the U.S. Air Force reserve officers' training corps physical fitness assessment

Cameron S Mackey, Jason M DeFreitas
Military Medical Research 2019 September 23, 6 (1): 30

BACKGROUND: The U.S. Air Force physical fitness assessment (PFA) is used to determine the overall fitness of their personnel. It is currently unknown to what extent the PFA scores of Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) cadets are affected by mandatory physical training. The purpose of this investigation was to longitudinally examine the PFAs of ROTC cadets over a four-year period, evaluate the results across class ranks, and evaluate the sensitivity of the classification of the tests.

METHODS: Air Force ROTC cadets performed the PFAs (abdominal circumference, 1-min pushups, 1-min sit-ups, and a 1.5-mile run) in both the spring (n = 26) and fall (n = 22) semesters. PFAs were compiled over a four-year period (Spring 2014 - Fall 2017) and were performed in accordance with Air Force Instruction 36-2905. A one-way repeated measures ANOVA was performed separately for the fall and spring groups for each dependent variable across the 4 years. Additionally, a one-way between groups ANOVA was performed for each dependent variable during the time point (fall 2015; N = 46) with the most recorded cadets for each class rank.

RESULTS: Longitudinal assessments revealed a main effect of time (P = 0.010) on abdominal circumference; cadets had a smaller abdominal circumference in their freshman year than in their senior year. A main effect of time (P = 0.006) was also observed on sit-up quantity; cadets performed more sit-ups in their junior year than in their freshman year. Examining between class ranks during the same year (between-subjects ANOVA) revealed a main effect of class rank on sit-up quantity (P = 0.003); the freshmen completed fewer repetitions than the sophomores (P = 0.018) and the juniors did (P = 0.001).

CONCLUSION: The results indicated that only the sit-up component showed differences between class ranks. These findings suggest that the Air Force PFA may not be sensitive enough to detect changes in physical fitness or distinguish between class ranks regarding physical performance, even after years of training. This limitation may be in part due to the limited duration of training incorporated by the ROTC program (2 h per week), which provided a maintenance effect rather than improvement in physical performance. We recommend that more attention be directed to the efficacy of physical training, the sensitivity of measures included in the PFA, or both.

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