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Internal or External: Finding the motivation to train

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Joshua Strang
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs
Physical Training Test may be a polarizing phrase in the Air Force language for Airmen.

While some Airmen look at the PT test as just another workout in a weekly routine of strength building and cardio training, others cringe in anticipation of what a possible test failure can do to their performance reports and careers.

Some Airmen dislike training and the PT test. However, one simple fact remains: the PT test isn’t going anywhere. Physical fitness is an integral part of Air Force culture, and it helps Airmen embrace the physical domain.

A part of the Comprehensive Airman Fitness culture, the physical domain, focuses on taking care of Airmen and their families by providing for their physical fitness needs. By definition, the military is a physically demanding profession and PT helps prepare for deployments to austere environments. Taking part in physical training is not only healthy on a physical front, but a mental one as well.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America Web page, exercise helps improve physical condition, fight disease, maintain mental fitness, reduce stress and fatigue, improve alertness and concentration, and enhance overall cognitive function.

However, for Airmen who dislike PT, the key to increased physical activity may not be to stress the health benefits, as the pain of training doesn’t always feel very healthy. The key to success may lie in associating training with a goal that is enjoyable and motivates the member.

“Find a way to make training enjoyable on some level,” said Master Sgt. Jake Parker, Joint Operations Superintendent at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. “Sometimes just the feeling you get afterward is enough to make the experience enjoyable.”

For years, Parker said he continually struggled to get in shape right before a PT test, but a severe back injury and subsequent surgery made him realize he needed to get in shape and stay consistently fit.

“Fortunately, the surgery went well and I’m able to maintain an active lifestyle,” Parker said. “I do have limitations that add certain challenges, so lifting weights has become yoga and Pilates.”

Parker’s wife, Jennifer, suggested training for a half-marathon. Initially thinking she was crazy, Parker said he went with her suggestion to train in order to support her in making healthy choices.

“She introduced me to the run and walk method to train for distance runs,” Parker said. “I was surprised how easy a long run became. My first time out I made it four miles; farther than I had ever run before.”

Parker currently enjoys Run Disney events and uses their allure as motivation to keep his fitness goals.

“They set courses through the parks, there are a lot of people cheering you on, and they have character meet and greets as well as bands and DJs along the routes,” Parker said. “And let’s be honest, there is also the allure of a shiny medal at the end.”

Parker says training with his spouse also helps keep him motivated. However, some couples don’t always have time to train together.

“Our schedules don’t really allow us to do PT together on a regular basis,” said Angela Adkins, an Air Force spouse stationed at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. “My husband and I try to do local runs together when our schedules allow.”

Adkins, who has completed multiple fitness events, says that having someone present to cheer her on helps keep her motivated.

“I have done local charity runs, color runs, and even a mud run that included obstacles at night,” Adkins said. “If one of us doesn’t want to do a race, then we make sure the other one is at the finish line to cheer each other on.”

A former Airman herself, Adkins adds that Airmen should think outside the box when it comes to PT.

“You don’t always have to run. Instead, mix things up and try new exercises,” Adkins said. “We have done kickboxing, basketball, tennis, paddle boarding and many other exercises over the years. Don’t get stuck in a rut where you think PT has to always be the same thing all the time.”

Parker adds that you don’t need to be in a relationship to have someone with which to train.

“Find friends who have the same interests and train with them,” Parker said. “A friend of mine is single and met people at races from other areas. They chat online about their training and meet up at races. There are always options.”

Finding someone to train with may help in finding personal motivation, but deciding to take PT seriously can be the pivotal step in changing an Airman’s life.

“Training is life changing in many aspects,” said Rob Wieland, a retired senior master sergeant and a triathlon athlete. “Not only does improving your PT score help your professional career, being physically fit is proven to add years to your life. My fitness goals have always been tied to my longevity; I want to live to 100 and still be able to exercise.”

Wieland said he has competed in more than 100 triathlons, including six Ironman triathlons, and was recently selected to represent the United States at the International Triathlon Union World Championships in Chicago later this year. He said he couldn’t have done it alone.

“It was all made possible with the help of hundreds of people that continue to support and provide me with positive energy,” Wieland said. “My biggest fan and supporter is my wife, Jenny.”

Wieland says that good physical fitness isn’t something that will happen instantaneously, but takes time and a positive attitude.

“One day 25 years ago, I ran around the block and that was all the further I could go,” Wieland said. “Six months later, I finished a marathon, my first race ever, in 3 hours and 18 minutes.”

Wieland added that Airmen shouldn’t rush into a training program.

“It is vital to your health that you take a very structured approach to beginning fitness,” Wieland said. “This includes checking with your doctor and finding a qualified coach or PT leader to build a proper training program.”

Wieland says his motivation to train comes from an internal force.

“My driving force to continue competing in triathlons is the idea of continuous self-improvement,” Wieland said. “I also have the desire to get faster, even as I get older.”

Whatever motivates Airmen to begin training, they need to set achievable, realistic goals and hold themselves accountable to exceeding them. Physical training is a part of Air Force culture and ensures Airmen are mission ready.

“Fitness is directly linked to our mission and readiness,” said Chief Master Sgt. Gerardo Tapia, Air Education and Training Command command chief. “It is always a great time for you to make a culture change involving your fitness. Make it a part of who you are as a warrior and valued family member.”

Airmen and their families who are ready to make a fitness change can begin by consulting the Human Performance Resource Center website at