• LTC Brechin, USAF, Ret.

Failing the Candidate Fitness Assessment

Updated: Nov 21

It is easy to fail it!

The Candidate Fitness Assessment is an important component of earning an appointment to the U.S. service academies: USAFA, USMA, USNA and USMMA. A successful candidate must 'pass' each CFA event. However, over the last decade, the U.S. service academies stopped publishing any minimum standards.


The big question is "how do I ensure that I pass the CFA?"


First, start preparing as soon as you can. Assess which events are your weakest and take direct actions to improve in those areas. Focus on meeting the averages noted in the tables below.


Second, establish a workout routine and stick to it! It seems quite obvious, but students often do not establish a workout routine, or it they do, they let it lapse. Not practicing a fitness routine 'routinely' is a recipe for failure!


MEN - USAFA AVERAGES - Use for targeting and planning

EXERCISE AVG FOR MEN MAX MIN (EST.)*

Basketball Throw 68' 102' 40'

Pull-Ups 13 18 3 - 4

Shuttle Run 8.7 sec 7.8 sec 10.1 sec

Modified Sit-Ups 81 95 50

Push-Ups 61 75 37

One Mile Run 6:31 5:20 8:15


WOMEN - USAFA AVERAGES - Use for targeting and planning

EXERCISE AVG FOR WOMEN MAX MIN (EST.)*

Basketball Throw 42’ 66' 28'

Pull-Ups 4 7 0

Flex Arm Hang 28 sec 40 sec 9 - 11 sec

Shuttle Run 9.6 sec 8.6 sec 12 sec

Modified Sit-Ups 80 95 36

Push-Ups 41 50 16 - 20

One Mile Run 7:38 6:00 10:15


* My estimates - be very cautious with using minimum numbers as 'absolutes'


Third, take the CFA as often as you need. Candidates may take the test as often as they like; however, a candidate is allowed only to submit a single score. The single exception is the Naval Academy, which allows a candidate to submit a second score, if they desire. You should avoid submitting a poor score. If a competitive candidate fails a single component, then the Academy may ask him/her to repeat the event or the entire CFA to submit another score.


Determining a 'failing' score is difficult. You may use the 'MIN' column in both tables to provide some guidance. As I noted, be careful to use these numbers as absolute or exact. A male candidate might only accomplish 35 push-ups, but if his other events are at the averages, then the candidate will likely pass the CFA. The lack of a finite minimum allows the service academies some flexibility. However, your focus should be on hitting 'average' or above on each exercise.


Typically, a student that achieves an average on each event will score in the top 25% of all scores. It may seem counterintuitive, but candidates will often have stronger and weaker events. For example, a tall candidate with long arms may throw the basketball well over 70 feet. But, in turn, he may find that he can achieve only six pull-ups. Average on every event is quite good, so make it your goal for the CFA.


Doing well on the CFA depends on you and your motivation to become a cadet or midshipman. It takes self-discipline to create and maintain a fitness routine. If you need some suggestions around a routine, I recommend using the workout routines created by Stew Smith, a military fitness expert, a USNA graduate and a former Navy SEAL. Stew has written a CFA preparation guide, and he has posted numerous YouTube videos demonstrating a wide variety of exercises that you may use for your preparations. I use his guidance materials with all of my students.


A couple of logistical items:

  • If you took the CFA at one of the summer seminars (i.e., USMA Summer Leaders Experience, USNA Summer Seminar, or USAFA Summer Seminar), then you may use these scores for the other service academies. Simply complete the "name" blank in your application(s) with the details for your admissions counselors at the appropriate school. For example, if you attended NASS, then note "USNA Summer Seminar" with the email address of your counselors there and the general phone number for USNA admissions, (410) 293-1000. Many of my students have used this tip.

  • When you complete the AFA Candidate Kit, your evaluator will then receive the email request to run the CFA and submit scores. Air Force "requires" that you complete the CFA no later than two weeks from that point in time. In fact, it is not a 'requirement,' but you should coordinate any delay with your admissions team, Team Blue or Team Silver. Perhaps, your evaluator is not available or you have become ill. You should email your counselors immediately and advise them of the situation and an estimate of when you will complete the CFA.

  • West Point requires that your pull-ups and push-ups during the CFA. I recommend that you identify early the person who will accomplish this work for you. Have them review the written and video tips from USMA on the approach. In each case, you must be able to view your full body to ensure you receive no assistance and are performing the exercise correctly.

It's easy to fail the CFA. Prepare early and avoid being one of the candidates that fails. Your workout routines should become a lifetime commitment to fitness as you pursue your goal of becoming a cadet or midshipman. Hooyah!


[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 and/or 503.515.7406]


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