The Army Combat Fitness Test: A Culture Shift in Military Readiness

The military became a part of my life when my husband joined the New Jersey National Guard in 2017. I gained experience attending his basic training graduation and seeing the impressiveness of a military base and military ceremonies. As a member of the Guard, it is expected that he stays in the great shape that he gained in boot camp while he is home. The expectation is to always be ready for anything. Sometimes, this is easier said than done when you factor in working full time and the duties and responsibilities of home life. Additionally, now there is the difficulty of gyms and exercise facilities being closed or restricted during most of 2020. This has been a unique year to try to maintain physical fitness.


In October 2020, the Army unveiled the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). This series of six fitness tasks to complete is meant to closely mimic the demands of combat, and become a more functional way of assessing a soldier’s readiness for combat. The previous test, the Army Physical Fitness Test, consisted of push ups, sit ups, and a two mile run. This system was used for about 40 years as the standard of readiness. Military leadership conducted research into how to optimize the standard of testing to produce soldiers equipped to perform more specific combat-based tasks. The ACFT is a more expanded and specific form of the prior fitness testing.


These are the six measures:


  1. Three Rep Maximum Hex Bar Deadlift


This is an overall measure of grip, lower body, and core strength. The use of the hex bar as opposed to a barbell for the deadlift makes it easier for soldiers to perform to good form and be able to load the bar for the test with decreased risk of injury. Additionally, utilizing a three rep max (meaning the maximum weight a soldier can lift three times) will allow assessment of maximum lift capacity, but less load will be needed than if a one repetition maximum is used.


  1. Standing Power Throw


This test is to assess power and coordination, and involves throwing a medicine ball overall for distance. The ACFT website states the the standing power throw is an assessment of movement “lethality” and is highly predictive of combat performance. 


  1. Sprint Drag Carry


This is a multiple phase test that incorporates endurance in combination with the warfighter specific tasks of sprinting, being able to drag weight, and being able to carry weight in succession. 


  1. Elevated Hand Push Up


This is a new take on the classic push up assessment. The main difference is when the body is on the ground, the soldier picks the hands up off the ground and resets the hands in between each repetition. This is to make the assessment easier to grade a full repetition, and due to higher difficulty can build upper body strength with less reps. The functional tasks assessed are the ability to get up quickly, push obstacles, and holding off combatants.


  1. Leg Tuck


While the ACFT is being rolled out in it’s first year, this test is substituted with a two minute plank if the soldier is unable to complete the leg tuck. Early data has shown the most difficulty with passing this test, so a temporary substitute is allowed as needed while the military trains and adapts to this new test. The leg tuck is designed to be close to assessing a pull up but with the added functional value of assessing the ability to get the body up and over an obstacle.


  1. Two Mile Run


There’s nothing like a good old running assessment. Running is timeless.


As far as training for the ACFT, I am going to come up with ways that my husband can train for being assessed on this physical battery. Unfortunately, we are still in the second covid wave, so we are going to have to get creative with getting workouts in with minimal equipment. Deployment during covid is also a possibility, so we may have to communicate about exercise remotely if he gets called up. 


The army put out a guide to the new test. There is a lot of good information about instructions for each test. There are also detailed metrics of how to score each test and what score you need to get. In one section, there are a couple of examples of bodyweight exercises to train for each test, but the guide does not provide a comprehensive look at how to go from point A to point B of acing the test. That’s where I want to help.


What I intend to do is to help my husband prepare for this test, but do it in a safe and gradual way due to a period of relative inactivity during the pandemic. The keys to writing a program for this fitness test are going to be:


-getting a medical history and history of musculoskeletal injury to consider when programming

-assessment of the key movement patterns involved in these tests and identifying any deficits in movement

-take a baseline test and establish a realistic timeline to achieve passing scores

-find the entry point of appropriate exercise to begin training


Once the entry point of difficulty level of exercise is established, what I aim to do in the coming weeks is gradually progress these functional movement patterns until we are actually performing the tests themselves. I hope to be able to learn more about these tests as they become the new norm, so that it can facilitate me in working with the military population. Keep soldiers strong and safe so they can keep us safe!

Works Cited




Center for Initial Military Training. (2019). Army Combat Fitness Test: Initial Operation Capability. Fort Eustice, VA.

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