Updated: Feb 2, 2022
March 2022 is quickly approaching and the Army Combat Fitness Test will officially have finished its data collect period and is intended to take effect administratively as the new Army standard for physical fitness. The Army has been developing the ACFT for more than a decade and has invested millions of dollars into overhauling the outdated Army Physical Fitness Test, a relic of the early 80s, when long distance running was becoming the fitness craze.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 definitely doing their best to convince us that real thought has been put into the making of 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 begin to 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 start preparing for the new Army standards now.
The Scoring System
Like the APFT, ACFT events are scored individually for a cumulative total, The maximum points allowed is 600, and 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 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) Starting the SDC Event during a 2021 ACFT.
A major obstacle in preparing units for the ACFT has been in stalled dissemination of testing equipment. Unlike the APFT, the new ACFT requires a 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 are able to meet.
The Army claims that all of the equipment needed for the ACFT has been ordered and delivered to units around the world, and that higher-level elements are obligated to 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 amount of equipment required for the test. Needless to say, 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:
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 contacted supplier of goods) was soliciting bids for a 5-year contract to produce additional equipment at an estimated $13 million/year. The Army's own ACFT page claims to have purchased and distributed $78 million of ACFT equipment.
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 that choose not to complete the leg tuck. This alternative options 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:
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.
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.
The Hand-Release Pushup (HRP): The soldier completes as many pushups as possible in 2 minutes, and fully extends 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.
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 first sprints down and back, then drags the weighed sled (90 lb) backward down and back. Once the sled crosses the start line, The soldier then completes the lateral portion, a farmers carry with two 40 lb kettlebells, and a final sprint.
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 a minimum of 2 minutes and 9 seconds. The soldier must now indicate which exercise they will attempt before the test begins. Previously, if the soldier failed to complete one leg tuck, he or she could then try the plank.
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.
Practical Application and How To Train
Each of these events is intended to test various fitness components using various energy systems, and if nothing else, the test seems to be well constructed in terms of the use of those energy systems. 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 that existed throughout the Army Reserves, prior to the implementation of the ACFT and worsening after its initial rollout. Suffice it to say that if we were using our own 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.
That being said, the Army has justified its specific exercise choices as combat-related movement that mimics 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,
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
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 how to prepare 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.