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  • Writer's pictureLTC Brechin, USAF, Ret.

Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA): Push-Ups

Practice push-ups daily and watch your numbers grow . . .



Push-ups are the 'true' military exercise! As an AF cadet, I cannot begin to count the thousands of push-ups that I accomplished through my four years at USAFA. Often during study hours, I found myself doing a few push-ups to simply erase some drowsiness prior to attacking my next set of homework. But, for a candidate for the US service academies, push-ups represent one of the six events that constitute the Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA). It is also part of the three different fitness assessments required by Air Force, Naval and Army ROTC scholarships.


Let's focus on the CFA requirements for push-ups, which is the fifth event of six. The directions noted for this event are as follows.


The candidate must:

  • Assume a prone (abdomen toward the ground) position supported on one knee on a 1-inch mat or a hard surface floor.

  • On the command "READY POSITION", assume the front-leaning rest position (arms extended) by placing your hands where they are comfortable (width is variable). Feet may be together or up to 12 inches apart. When viewed from the side, your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles.

  • On the command "GO", begin the push-up event by bending elbows and lowering entire body as a single unit until your upper arms are at least parallel to the ground (90-degree bend). Return to the starting position by extending arms and raising entire body as a single unit until arms are fully extended.

  • May rest in the up position, flexing or bowing the back as long as hands and feet remain in contact with the floor, and no other body part touches the floor. Must return to the generally straight body position before attempting another repetition.


The scorer will:

  • Note the event start time.

  • Give the command "GO" and start a stopwatch for a two-minute trial.

  • Monitor each repetition, making sure body remains straight, moving as a single unit, upper arm is parallel to the floor in the down position, and the arms come to full extension in the up position.

  • Verbalize "NO" for any repetition that does not meet the criteria listed above.

  • Stop the test at the two-minute mark and record the number of repetitions.

  • Terminate the event if the candidate lifts a hand or foot off the ground, or touches the ground with any body part other than the hands or feet.


One interesting variate is used by the US Coast Guard Academy. They are "cadence push-ups" as a candidate must keep in-sync with a two-second timing cycle. The examiner will give an "up" command at one second and then follow with a "down" command at the next second. Thus, in two minutes, the maximum score will be 60 push-ups. Refer to the USCGA website for more details.


Some push-up pointers for a candidate include:

  1. Hand placement is a key consideration.

    1. For width: your hands should be placed just a bit wider than shoulder width. This position will provide the ideal mechanical advantage for you.

    2. For lateral placement: your hands should be even with your chest. Too far in front, or too far behind this line, will not give you the maximum support.

  2. Your elbows can be 'out' or 'in' depending on your preference. By 'in,' I mean the elbows brush your ribs as you complete the push-up. I suggest practicing with both methods and see which works best for you.

  3. Your overall push-up position should be a straight line from your ankles to your head. Avoid having your tail-end up high in the air!

  4. Your head position is not impactful. You many look down at the mat, ahead or some degree of both.

  5. To take a quick rest, during the two-minute testing period, you should lock your elbows straight to allow your arm muscles to rest. You may flex your back, but remember you cannot lift your hands or feet up from the mat.

  6. Gravity is your friend, so practice dropping with as little muscle-aided motion as possible. Thus, 'push' on the way up and avoid exertion on the way down.

  7. Use the AF Academy CFA averages for your targets. Ideally, you will be able to beat the numbers and perhaps achieve the maximum score.


Below is a table outlining the criteria for CFA push-ups. The number of push-ups listed corresponds to the Air Force Academy standards. Please note that the 'minimums' mentioned are based on my own approximations and should not be considered official. They are rough estimates.

CFA Push-Ups Details for Service Academy Candidates

*Minimums are my estimates and are not published by the service academies


Push-ups are a military staple. As a cadet, midshipman or an aspiring military officer candidate, you will do thousands of them. Your success on the CFA will be based on mastering push-ups -- practice them and learn to 'love' them!


[I would welcome a chance to discuss details with you. I offer coaching services to pace and prepare you (and your parents!) for the entire Academy application process, including the CFA. Contact me at chris@cbbrechin.com, 503.515.7406 or complete my contact form on the home page.]



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