a man does a plank

The Army’s New Physical Fitness Test Is Intense. You Should Try It

Sit-ups are dead. Here’s what to do instead.
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At a Glance:

  • The U.S. Army is changing its fitness testing protocol after 50 years
  • The focus of the new test is building functional strength to enhance overall fitness
  • Functional training can improve the way you move in everyday life 

Do sit-ups or pushups appear in your workouts regularly? You have the military to thank for that. Due to their scale, prestige, and high physical standards, military training programs have an ambitious influence on civilian exercise routines. Who doesn’t want to be as fit as a Green Beret?

The Army’s Physical Fitness Test (APFT), which originated in the 1980s, has endured as the gold standard for human performance. The test—consisting of two minutes of max pushups, two minutes of sit-ups, and a two-mile run—is not exactly a thrill, but presents a straightforward challenge.

There are different APFT standards based on your age and sex (male or female). A 27 to 31-year-old male (what the Army deems peak physical age), would need to crank out 30 pushups, 36 sit-ups, and cross the two-mile finish line in 17 minutes and 54 seconds to score the minimum of 50 points in each event, and complete basic training.

However, the simple test from five decades ago has less to do with powerlifting and CrossFit workouts that today’s fittest soldiers rely on to stay combat-ready.

Introducing the New Army Combat Fitness Test

The new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), which becomes official this October,  is staggeringly different from the test it’s replacing. Unlike the APFT, the new ACFT focuses on more tactical fitness elements like muscular strength and power, cardiovascular endurance, muscular stamina, core strength, and speed and agility.

The ACFT involves 3-rep-max trap-bar deadlifts, a backward medicine ball throw for distance, a timed plank to replace the ever-so-popular sit-ups, two minutes of hand-release push-ups, a two-mile run for time, and a hybrid-sprint-drag carry—which includes an 80-pound total kettlebell carry and a 90-pound sled push. All to be completed in just 120 minutes.

Like the original, the ACFT standards are based on your age, sex, and physical demand of your unit or job. To pass the ACFT, military personnel will need to score a minimum of 60 in each event. For the same 27 to 31 male age group that equates to:

  • a 140-pound max deadlift
  • a 6.5-meter medicine ball throw
  • 10 hand-release pushups in two minutes
  • a two-minute and 32-second sprint-drag carry
  • a one-minute and 20-second plank hold
  • a 22-minute two-mile run 

 

Recruits need an overall score of 360 to advance from basic training, and active-duty and active guard reserve officers are tested a couple of times a year to ensure they stay in shape. The new test may come as an unpleasant surprise to personnel who could be discharged if unable to reach the minimum requirements within six months. 

An Emphasis on Functional Fitness

Unlike the old test, the ACFT requires a rigorous training regimen, equipment, and physical capabilities. Besides presenting new challenges to those looking to enlist in the Army the most notable shift is the focus on building functional strength (strength that directly enhances activities repeated in everyday life, or in this case combat)—a welcome nod to advancements in physiological science. 

Our understanding of how the body moves and gains strength has definitively evolved in the past 50 years. We now know that muscles don’t function alone; they work in concert. Compound exercises, like deadlifts or weighted carries, train your muscles more effectively.

Developing the ACFT based on a soldier’s functional fitness provides a better glimpse at applied fitness than the basic APFT. And, by shifting the focus to movements similar to those used regularly in combat, the ACFT may be able to cut down on occupational injuries sustained in the field—so long as the movements are practiced correctly.

Why You Should Try Functional Training, Too

Not in the Army? You can still use functional training to improve your daily workout routine. Want more stamina to play with your kids after work, the mobility to lift a box without tweaking your back, or the grip strength to open any pickle jar your partner can’t? These are all elements of your life that can improve with the proper implementation of a functional fitness routine. 

Where should you start?  Choosing exercises that mimic regular movement is ideal. Stay away from isolation exercises that narrow in on one muscle or joint only. Instead, look to compound exercises that work more than one muscle group, like squats, rows, or pullups, to see real advancements in your functional strength.

Whether you’re preparing for combat or everyday life, training for the long haul means form should be the number one focus of any compound exercise you add to your routine. If you lift heavy but with bad form, it’s more likely to contribute to injury than gains. Start basic. As you increase strength and coordination, you can add more volume and then fold in some of the fancy stuff, like that sprint-drag-carry you have your eye on. 

Feeling adventurous? Try the test for yourself.

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