How to Pass the Service Academy CFA

Civil Affairs candidates complete a two-mile run.
Civil Affairs candidates complete a two-mile run during an Army physical fitness test as part of the Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection course at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, Sept. 18, 2019. (K. Kassens/U.S. Army photo)

Every week, there are several young people seeking my advice as to how to prepare for the country's service academies fitness assessments. The CFA, or candidate fitness assessment, not only evaluates strength and endurance, but also measures potential for athleticism.

The history behind the CFA is decades old; it used to be called the the physical aptitude exam, or PAE. The major difference between this fitness test and other physical readiness tests (PRTs) in the military is the use of the shuttle run and the kneeling basketball throw. This article will assist Naval Academy, Air Force Academy and U.S. Military Academy (West Point) candidates with this universal fitness exam.

The fitness test is a 40-minute exam that requires the candidates to perform a list of exercises in order, and in accordance to strict time regulations.

What Is the CFA?

1. Kneeling basketball throw

2. Cadence pull-ups

3. 120-foot shuttle run

4. Crunches 1:00

5. Push-ups 1:00

6. 1-mile run

Helpful tips for the CFA

Basketball throw

Practice throwing the ball from your knees at a 45-degree angle, using your entire torso and arm. By using a twisting motion of your torso, you will generate more throwing power than if you just threw with your arm. Exercises to assist with this test:

Lightweight shoulder workout


Abdominal exercises

Lower-back exercises

Upper-back exercises

Cadence pull-ups

The best way to get better at pull-ups, or flexed arm hang, is simply to practice them. However, the following exercises will assist:


Negative pull-ups


Assisted pull-ups

Biceps curls

120-foot shuttle run

The shuttle run is an all-out sprint that requires you to stop and change direction as fast as you can. To get better at this agility drill, practice the shuttle run turn-around, as well as the following exercises for speed and strength:

Run and Leg PT



Leg exercises on weight machines



The push-up is a military standard. You should be able to do push-ups continuously without much effort. The best way to improve on this upper-body exercise is to do push-ups 3-4 times a week. I have a quick way to add significant numbers in a short period of time: Read the "Push-up Push Workout" article.

Exercises to assist with push-ups:


Bench press -- high reps -- light weight

Lightweight shoulder workout

Triceps extensions

Dips or bench dips

Crunches in 1:00

You should get to the point where you can perform crunches at a fast pace for the entire minute. When you have to do two minutes' worth of crunches, you will want to pace yourself and break up the time into four 30-second quarters. Find your goal and pace it out every 30 seconds. For example, if your goal is to do 80 crunches in two minutes, then try to do 20 crunches every 30 seconds.

Compare the crunches to the run. If you sprint too fast in the mile run on the first quarter-mile, you will have a tough time maintaining your pace. The same goes for crunches in a two-minute period.

Sit-ups, curl-ups or crunch tests

1-mile timed run

Learn your mile pace by practicing mile runs as fast as you can for testing purposes as well as at a maintainable pace for long runs. Running a mile in six minutes may not be that tough to do, but maintaining that pace for three or four miles is very tough. You should have two speeds -- one for the mile sprint test in the CFA and one for distance runs of 3-5 miles. Find your pace and push yourself with sprints and interval training drills, as in this workout plan.

For more information, see:

Faster pace

Run faster

These tips will assist the candidate seeking to serve our country as an officer in the military. Getting into one of the service academies is tough and requires extreme effort in academics, college entrance exams, athletics, community service and leadership. So stay busy in high school, doing as much as you can to improve your chances of getting accepted. The CFA is just one of many ways the admission board will evaluate you. Good luck.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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