Sunday, August 10, 2014

The PT Test: 6 Ways to Quickly Get Max Points for Your Waist Measurement

(This post was updated on 10 August 2014.)

Believe it or not, the waist measurement is probably the easiest component of the PT test to max out. Why? Because the waist measurement is actually an overall measurement of your health and the USAF has set the bar pretty low. Also, improving your health (and dropping inches from your waist) is remarkably easy to do (trust me).

This is good news because the waist measurement also gives you the second largest block of points (up to 20 points). Generally, men have to have a waist circumference of 35 inches or less to get max points; women have to have 31.5 inches or less.

Waist Circumference Analysis
I'd love to talk to the group that put together the points tables for the waist measurement because it makes no sense at all. As you move from least points to max points, you get about .69 points for every half an inch you remove from your waist. However, the last half inch (for both males and females) will get you a whopping 2.4 points! Below is an example of what I mean:

As you can see, that last half inch is very valuable!

You should also see that there is no way to use the points tables to your advantage. That means that everyone should try to max their waist measurement, which should be possible within 42 days for most people.

(If you want to see all the point graphs I created, click on the following links: Men Under 30Men 30-39Men 40-49Women Under 30Women 30-39Women 40-50.)

What Should Your Waist Size Be?
This is actually a very difficult question to answer. As I pointed out in a previous post, your waist size will generally correlate to your overall level of health. A thin (or shrinking) waist generally means that you are healthy; a big (or expanding) waist generally means that you are unhealthy. And different people of different heights will have a different range of "healthy" waist sizes. The table below shows what a healthy waist is for a given height.

Click here for larger image.

Strategies for Getting Maximum Points
Unfortunately, the the USAF's waist measurement does not take height into account. Despite this, it is still possible for you to get max (or close to max) points on your waist by using the following strategies:

Strategy #1: Reduce Chronic Stress
For the most part, chronic stress drives your waist size (1). This is due to the stress hormone cortisol, which has the ability to counter-regulate insulin. This counter-regulation can be seen as insulin resistance. When you start to experience central (or whole-body) insulin resistance, your blood sugar will rise, forcing insulin to try and find some place to store this energy. The place that seems to put up the least amount of resistance is visceral fat, which is found behind the abdominal wall.

Subcutaneous fat is used for long-term energy storage. Visceral fat is used for short-term energy storage. When visceral fat is used for long-term storage, then a person's waistline will increase. If a person has a conspicuously large belly (e.g., pot belly, beer belly) then they are likely suffering from chronic excess cortisol levels and high consumption of refined carbohydrates.

Because your visceral fat can only go so many places, as more energy is funneled into and trapped behind the abdominal wall, the bigger your waist becomes. This problem becomes exasperated by excess consumption of highly-refined carbohydrates (e.g., soda, candy, bread, white flour). (However, consumption of whole carbohydrates--like white potatoes--are fine.)

It is entirely possible for a person to have very low subcutaneous fat (the fat directly under the skin) while also having excessive visceral fat (the fat directly behind the abdominal wall). This causes a condition affectionately known as "pot belly" or "beer belly."

Here are some tips to help you reduce your level of chronic stress:
  • Improve your diet. Eliminate industrially processed and refined foods (that's most of the stuff in the middle of the grocery store), as well as all junk and fast foods. All of these foods can drive hunger and appetite. Instead, eat fresh meats, eggs, whole starches, vegetables, and fruits. When you need to use cooking oils, use natural oils like butter, lard, beef tallow, and coconut oil. Only use olive oil for cold dishes and sauces. Read more here.
  • Remove food sensitivities. If you eat a food that you are sensitive to, your body can react with a stress response. If you are always eating these foods, then you will experience chronic stress. Try my 30 -Day Diet Challenge to identify your food sensitivities.
  • Improve your gut health. The bacteria in your gut are connected to your immune system (2). When your gut is in good health (e.g., teaming with good bacteria), your immune system will function normally and you will experience normal levels of cortisol. However, if your gut is in poor health (i.e., teaming with bad bacteria), then your body will release extra cortisol to control an overly active immune system (3). If your gut is constantly in poor health, then you will suffer from chronic stress. Read more here.
  • Get enough sleep. Getting less than 7-8 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep will prevent your body from fully repairing from the previous day's abuse. If this poor sleep continues for days or weeks, then your body can start to break down, driving a chronic stress response. Click here to get some great tips on how to improve your sleep.
  • Calm your mind. Constant worry and emotional stress will also drive a chronic stress response. Read more here
  • Become socially connected. As social creatures, humans are designed to be around other humans. If we become disconnected, it can cause a chronic stress response (4). To counter this, try disconnecting from social media and reconnecting with actual, living human beings. Join social or fitness clubs and make a dedicated effort to spend more quality time with friends and family.

Strategy #2: Get Enough Protein
Another thing you have to watch out for is your protein intake. If you don't eat enough quality protein then your brain will sacrifice its calorie intake to get enough to keep you somewhat healthy (5). Since calorie intake is connected to body weight, a calorie surplus will cause you to gain weight, which could find its way to your waist.

To improve your protein intake, try to get at least 100 grams of protein each day. And this protein should come from high quality sources and NOT from soy or other plant foods. Animal protein is the best protein you can eat.

Strategy #3: Reduce Leptin Interference
Because your brain will work hard to maintain a specific body weight, and calorie intake and body weight are inextricably connected, your brain is constantly determining your body weight so that it can control your daily calorie intake. There are three ways that your body can react to the body weight it detects:
  • If it determines that you are underweight, then it will increase appetite and hunger and decrease metabolism to gain body weight. 
  • If it determines that you are overweight, then it will decrease appetite and hunger and increase metabolism to reduce body weight.
  • If it determines that you are at the correct body weight, then it changes nothing.

Your body weight is generally comprised of two different kinds of mass: Lean and fat. Lean mass is communicated via nerves and fat weight is communicated via a hormone called leptin. This hormone is produced by fat cells. The more energy your fat cells have, the more letpin they produce. Your brain then translates this overall level of leptin into an estimate of how much body fat you have.

If anything interferes with how leptin communicates with your brain, then your brain will underestimate how heavy you are, which will simulate starvation (6). This will cause your brain to add extra fat weight.

There are several ways that leptin can be interfered with:
  • Damaged fat cells
  • Chronic micro-inflammation
  • Excess blood triglycerides
  • Blocked leptin receptors
  • Damaged hypothalamus 

You can reduce leptin interference by improving your diet (i.e., less junk and fast foods, more real foods), periodically fasting, lowering your intake of refined sugar and wheat, and improving your gut health.

Strategy #4: Get Enough Exercise
If you are too inactive, your brain actually loses its ability to control calorie intake (7). Consequently, if you are very sedentary, you will feel much more hungry and have a bigger appetite than you should, driving calorie intake and body weight upwards.

These graphs show the relationship between physical activity, calorie intake, and body weight. Employees with more physically demanding jobs expend and eat a lot of calories, but their calorie intake and expenditure is balanced, allowing them to maintain a low and healthy body weight. However, employees who are sedentary lose their ability to maintain a healthy weight as they are unable to control calorie intake.

At a minimum you need to burn about 2,000 calories a week doing some kind of exercise (8). This could be a lot of fast walking, jogging, biking, or any other kind of moderately-intense cardio. Heavy weight training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are also very good at burning a lot of calories. Try to exercise consistently 3-5 times a week for 30-45 minutes each session.

Strategy # 5: Control Bloating
Certain foods actually cause poor gut health (9). This poor gut health can cause quite a bit of swelling, which will have an obvious impact on the size of your waist.

To control this bloating, about 30 days before your PT test avoid the following problematic foods:
  • Wheat (e.g., bread, pasta, white and whole grain flour)
  • Grains (e.g., oats, rye, corn)
  • Dairy (e.g., milk)
  • Tree Nuts (e.g., almonds, cashews)
  • Legumes (e.g., peanuts, soy)
  • Industrial cooking oils (e.g., corn, soy, canola, peanut oils)
  • Margarine

Strategy #6: Improve your Posture
When you slouch or overly arch your lower back, your spine can push on all of the organs in your abdomen, causing them to move outwards. By simply improving your posture you can instantly remove up to an inch from your waist.

When slouching (above left), your waist will expand a bit as the spine pushed your internal organs outward. Proper posture (above right) pulls the spine back, slimming your waist.

Correcting poor posture takes a little while to master, mostly because standing with good posture will initially feel weird and "unnatural." However, if you do the following drill twice a day (once when you wake up and once before you go to bed) for the next month, your brain should re-learn what correct posture feels like, making your old poor posture feel weird.

  1. Find a tall, flat wall.
  2. Place your heels, butt, shoulder blades, and the back of your head against this wall (if you have a big derriere, then your heels, shoulders, and head may not actually touch the wall). Imagine that you are pulling a string anchored to the top of your head. As you pull this string, your body should straighten.
  3. Make sure that your lower back is NOT arched too much.
  4. Make sure that your head is level (eyes forward) and directly above your shoulders.
  5. Hold this position for 30 seconds. 
  6. Memorize this position and maintain it while standing, walking, and running. 


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