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Mastering the Army Combat Fitness Test: Tips for Success

Updated: Feb 11

March 2022 is quickly approaching, and the Army Combat Fitness Test will officially have finished its data collection period and is intended to take effect administratively as the new Army standard for physical fitness. The Army has been developing the ACFT for over a decade. It had invested millions of dollars into overhauling the outdated Army Physical Fitness Test, a relic of the early 80s when long-distance running was becoming the fitness craze.

The ACFT has undergone multiple independent reviews since its rollout in 2019, with many critics claiming its gender-neutral scoring system and selection of events would nearly eliminate women from the ranks. The test has since been modified several times to account for physiological gender differences and now includes the forearm plank as a permanent, scored, alternative event to the leg tuck, a frequently failed event, especially among female soldiers.

The Army is currently marketing "success stories" on their official ACFT page: interviews with four women who talk about their commitment to meeting the standards of the ACFT. They're doing their best to convince us that real thought has been put into this test and that women had a seat at the table.

After 2021's congressional review of the ACFT, the Army is set to commit to a new standard of physical fitness testing that will affect soldiers' careers this year. Previously, the Army rolled out the ACFT 2.0 and 3.0 for data collection and evaluation only.

So what does this controversial fitness tool look like, and how are soldiers preparing for it during a global pandemic?

Here's a breakdown of ACFT events, scoring system, and how to train for them. Ready to give it a shot? Book a consultation with me today and prepare for the new Army standards.

The Army Combat Fitness Test Scoring System

Like the APFT, ACFT events are scored individually for a cumulative total, with a maximum number of points allowed, which is 600; to pass, you need at least 360 points (60 minimum in each event).

Unlike the old fitness test, the ACFT is intended to be gender and age-neutral. The scoring system does not change based on these identity markers. The ACFT 2.0 piloted a program that categorized scoring based on MOS (military occupational specialty) that was later abandoned for version 3.0.

The Army is currently trying to design some kind of gender-specific categorization of scores for the purpose of comparison and competition for promotions and highly sought-after roles. This would (theoretically) eliminate gender disparities in scores and create a system of performance categorization that does not exhibit bias against the lower-scoring gender.

SFC Mojica (MFT) is Starting the SDC Event during a 2021 ACFT.

TheArmy Combat Fitness Test Equipment

A major obstacle in preparing units for the ACFT has been the stalled dissemination of testing equipment. Unlike the APFT, the new ACFT requires quite a bit of equipment as well as more preparation and set-up time. Additionally, the spaces used for events such as the Sprint Drag Carry and the two-mile run have additional improvement and grade requirements, which few units can meet.

The Army claims that all the equipment needed for the ACFT has been ordered and delivered to units worldwide. Higher-level elements must supply equipment downward through the chain of command until every unit has its own equipment. However many units, particularly in the Reserve and National Guard components, don't have the facility space or equipment needed to accommodate the required equipment for the test. They often don't receive the equipment they're entitled to, more generally, because higher-echelon organizations fail to distribute it.

Each ACFT Testing Kit Includes the Following:

  • 2x 40lb Kettlebells

  • 1x 10lb Medicine Ball

  • 1x Pull Sled

  • 1x Hex “Trap” Bar

  • 2x Plate collars for the hex bar

  • 1x Set of assorted bumper plates with a total weight of 550lb

  • 1x Rack Kip Cage for pullups

  • 1x 30 meter tape measure

The Army spent $63.8 million on 36,000 lanes of Army Combat Fitness Test Equipment for 1 million active duty, reserve, and national guard soldiers in 2020. As of August 2021, DLA (The Defense Logistics Agency, the DoD's biggest contracted supplier of goods) was soliciting bids for a 5-year contract to produce additional equipment at an estimated $13 million/year. The Army's ACFT page claims to have purchased and distributed $78 million of ACFT equipment.

The Army Combat Fitness Test Events

The Army's former fitness test, the APFT, consisted of three events intended to measure muscular strength and endurance, and aerobic endurance. Those events were the push-up, the sit-up, and the two-mile run.

The ACFT consists of 6 events, including one alternative event (the forearm plank) for those who choose not to complete the leg tuck. This alternative option was implemented to negate disparities in failure rates for the leg tuck event between men and women. The new events are intended to measure muscular strength and endurance, power, anaerobic and aerobic capacity.

Those events are:

1. The 3 Repetition Maximum Deadlift (MDL):

Using a 60 lb standard hex bar (trap bar) the soldier completes three repetitions, with proper form, of the heaviest deadlift they can complete. Weight ranges from 140 lb to 340 lb.

2. The Standing Power Throw (SPT):

The soldier uses quick, explosive movement to launch a 10 lb medicine ball rearward and overhead down the lane. The ball must land at least 4.5 meters away for the soldier to achieve a passing score.

3. The Hand-Release Pushup (HRP):

The soldier completes as many pushups as possible in 2 minutes, fully extending the arms outward and away from the body before bringing the hands to just under the shoulders, and pushing up. The current minimum for this event is 10 repetitions with good form.

4. The Sprint-Drag-Carry (SDC):

This event consists of several events competed in a single, 25-meter lane (down and back = 50 meters per exercise) in under 3 minutes. The soldier sprints down and back, then drags the weighed sledge (90 lb) backwards down and back. Once the sledge crosses the start line, the soldier completes the lateral portion, a farmer's carry with two 40-pound kettlebells, and a final sprint.

5. The Leg Tuck or The Forearm Plank (LTK or PLK):

Beginning from a dead hang, the soldier must flex at the knees, elbows, and hips to bring both knees upward to touch both elbows. One repetition is required to pass. Alternatively, the soldier can complete a forearm plank for at least 2 minutes and 9 seconds. The soldier must indicate which exercise they will attempt before the test begins. Previously, if the soldier failed to complete one leg tuck, he or she could try the plank.

6. The Two-Mile Run (2MR):

This is a two-mile, sustained-pace run at the end of the test. Soldier standards are not gender and age-neutral. Soldiers have 21 minutes to complete this event. Alternative aerobic events are the 5,000-meter row, the 1,000-meter swim, or the 12,000-meter bike.

the army combat fitness test personnel
What a beautiful day for an ACFT. I'm on the top row, center, with my MFT colleagues and cadre.

How To Train Army Combat Fitness Test: Practical Application

Each event is intended to test various fitness components using various energy systems. The test for using those energy systems seems well constructed if nothing else. However, there has been a lot of confusion regarding how the exercises were chosen and whether or not they have much more to their scoring systems than arbitrary initial markers paired with data-driven norms.

As a 16-year veteran, former non-commissioned officer, and Army Master Fitness Trainer, I can speak to the overwhelmingly high failure rates throughout the Army Reserves before implementing the ACFT and worsening after its initial rollout. Suffice it to say that if we were using our data to determine these scoring norms, we were already walking into the program design blind, because almost half of Reserve component soldiers were not meeting the criteria to begin with.

The Army has justified its specific exercise choices as a combat-related movement miming the biomechanics of common combat actions, including throwing supplies over a wall, dragging a litter containing a casualty, and pushing a stalled-wheeled vehicle. The Army also recommends employing exercises in training for the ACFT that mimic the biomechanics of the chosen exercises.

Here's what the exercises are designed to test, and how the Army suggests you train for them:

What does it test?

How to train for it

The 3 Repetition Maximum Deadlift

Grip, core, and lower body strength

Sumo squat w/kettlebell

The Standing Power Throw

Explosive power and balance in legs, back and core

Power Jump, Tuck Jump, Overhead Push Press

The Hand Release Pushup

Upper body endurance

Bench press, Supine chest press,

The Sprint-Drag-Carry

Agility, anaerobic endurance, muscular endurance (lower body)

Straight-leg deadlift, Bent-over row, 300 M shuttle run

The Leg Tuck/Plank

Grip, arm, shoulder, and core strength

Bent-leg raise, leg tuck and twist, alternating grip pull-up

The 2 Mile Run

Aerobic endurance

30:60s/60:120s, ruck marches

If You Don't Know Where To Begin

While it may appear challenging and complex, the Army Combat Fitness Test requires no equipment to prepare for and can be trained for in any environment. In fact, during the early days of the pandemic, I designed exercises and taught a virtual course with demonstrations for preparing from home, without equipment.

If you're a soldier overwhelmed by the new ACFT, or a civilian ready to see if you have what it takes to meet the Army's rigorous testing standards, let's dive in! I'm easily reachable for all of your ACFT questions and advice or can help you get started today with a free fitness consultation over the phone.

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