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  • Writer's pictureLTC Brechin, USAF, Ret.

Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA): the Shuttle Run

It just two round trips!

Candidate running CFA shuttle run for US Air Force Academy

The CFA's shuttle run is often overlooked and rarely practiced. It intends, along with the other five fitness assessment events, to measure your agility, endurance, power, balance and overall fitness. Typically, a candidate will take about 8 to 11 seconds to complete each 40-yard run. The shuttle run 'course' consists of two parallel lines that are 10 yards (30 feet) apart.


Let's discuss the details of the event itself first. The CFA script provides the following instructions:

  • The candidate must . . .

    • Begin the test with his/her entire body behind the start/finish line.

    • On the "GO" command, sprint 30 feet to the turn-around line. His/her foot and hand must simultaneously touch the floor on or beyond the turn-around line.

    • Then she/he sprints back to the start/finish line, touching on or beyond the start/finish line, and sprinting back to the 30-foot line. Candidate touches on or beyond the turn-around line and then sprints back across the start/finish line to complete the trial.

    • Run the entire distance of 40-yards.

    • Execute two trials with a one-minute rest between trials.

  • The scorer will . . .

    • Note the event start time (which should be 10:00 elapsed) with the candidate's body behind the start/finish line.

    • Measure the shuttle run course of 30 feet from a baseline.

    • Give the "GO" command to start the event; start stopwatch.

    • Monitor the candidate to determine that he/she places hand and foot on or beyond the measured line on each turn.

    • Record the best of the two trials in seconds/tenths of seconds.


With these details in mind, let's review some practical tips and considerations. The first one is the surface that you use for practicing and for taking the test. Ideally, you will run the test on a court or good track surface. Often, candidates use a grass, artificial turf or concrete/asphalt surface for the shuttle finding that each can be quite slippery and difficult to use. Prepare by sweeping the area of lose gravel and dirt, and 'test' how your shoes grip the surface. If you find an issue, you should then look for alternatives. Beware of turning an ankle if you cut too hard on your feet. Planning and practice should be a key part of your CFA preparations. Take action well before conducting your fitness testing.


Shoes are also an important consideration for this event. On a court, you might weigh using a basketball shoe (or other court shoe) for the shuttle run. None of the instructions prevent you from changing shoes for this event and then returning to a running shoe. Or, you may find that you perform well with a running shoe. In either scenario, preparing early will allow you to make the best decision and then plan accordingly.


Some suggested tips and techniques for success with the shuttle run include:

  • As you approach the second line, reach out from your side (i.e., left or right-hand) placing your foot and 'same-side' hand on the line. Your reach should be a stretch allowing you to rebound quickly in the opposite direction to return to the starting line.

  • There is no need to cross the line with your body as you will simply touch each line with a hand-foot combination.

  • Repeat this turning 'technique' three times.

  • On your fourth and final leg, there is not need to reach down to touch the starting (or now, finish) line. Instead, run at full speed through the finish line.

  • The entire trip is 40 yards or 120 feet -- no more or no less!


The chart below provides the averages for the CFA shuttle run along with the maximum-score times and my estimate of the minimums. Be very cautious with the latter, as the minimum-score times are not official and are meant only for your guidance. USAFA, USMA, USNA and USMMA do not publish minimum times.


CFA shuttle run times for US Military Academy candidates

*Not official -- use the estimates of minimum-score times as guidance only


As I noted in the introduction, candidates often take this event for granted. To improve your agility, practice the shuttle run turn-around, as well as supplementing your efforts with additional exercises for speed and strength. Stew Smith, a military fitness expert, a USNA graduate and a former Navy SEAL (www.stewsmithfitness.com) recommend a number of exercises. You will find his YouTube videos and other materials online when you do a 'search' for the following:

  • Run and Leg PT

  • Squats

  • Lunges

  • Leg exercises on weight machines

  • Sprints


It is said that "practice makes perfect." With the CFA shuttle run, practicing your quickness, turn-arounds and agility are your keys to perfecting and earning a strong CFA score for the shuttle run!


[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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