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PT Tests Evolve Into Functional Combat Fitness Training

Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Frances Candelaria
Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Frances Candelaria

Maybe it is 15 years of war or understanding the physiology and occupational health of the military athlete better over the past decade, but training the tactical athlete has evolved significantly. Big changes in the military do not happen overnight—especially with a PT program that is 30-40 years old. Think of the Department of Defense like an elephant. You may be able to clip its toenails, but getting it to change direction requires a little more time and effort.

The transition from the standard health and fitness test the military has used for decades have slowly evolved with minor changes in standards, form of exercises tested, and testing out new exercises for men and women. Even these standard changes take time to implement. Creating a completely different combat fitness related (functional) test with new exercises and training goals is progressing nicely in many of our branches of service. Some will argue—not fast enough; but patience and testing seems to be winning out in the favor and new and creative thinking with fitness testing.

Here are some of the changes being tested and implemented within the Army, USMC, and Special Ops programs across the military:

Army Occupational Physical Assessment Test (OPAT) – The OPAT is considered the ASVAB test of physical conditioning as the score you receive on the exercises (long jump, seated power throw, dead lift, beep test shuttle run) will determine what job you are eligible for in the Army. The harder, more physical jobs like armor, artillery, and infantry require a higher score on the test. Army recruits in boot camp and if transitioning MOS’s will have to perform this test. The creation of an Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) is also being considered and developed. The standard Army PFT is still pushups, situps, and a 2-mile run and will likely remain for the foreseeable future, but the addition of new testing protocols and exercises will help soldiers train in a different way for combat readiness. Replacing the standard APFT with a new Army PFT and Army CFT is under discussion.

Marine Corps Combat Fitness Test – The USMC is moving fast with not only making changes to the standards of the USMC PFT (Pullups, Crunches, 3 mile run) with the addition of pushups as an option in place of pullups, but adding the USMC CFT as part of the testing protocol for Marines. The Marines take the USMC PFT and the USMC CFT every six months. The CFT consists of the following:

800m timed run in boots and pants and t shirt.
Ammo Can Lifts Overhead – Lift 30-pound ammo cans as many times as possible from shoulder to head for 2-minute time limit.
Maneuver Under Fire – This section is the combat conditioning course of the test. Marines will run through a 300 yard course performing the following tasks:

  • Sprint 10 yards, then a high craw for 15 yards and grab the “injured Marine”.
  • Drag a casualty for 10 yards, while moving through cones changing direction often.
  • Fireman carry and drag the casualty fast for 65 yards.
  • Carry two 30-pound ammo cans for 75 yards, while changing direction through a series of cones.
  • Throw a dummy grenade 22 1/2 yards and aim for the marked target circle.
  • Finally do FIVE push-ups, then carry two 30-pound cans and sprint to the finish line.

Navy SEAL Tactical Athlete Program (TAP) Test – The Navy SEAL program has historically used the 500yd swim, Pushups, Sit-ups, Pullup, and 1.5 mile test to get selected into the program. For decades, the active duty SEALs used a modified version where the swim was increased to 800m and the run was increased to 3 mile runs.  That was dissolved over a decade ago. However, now the Navy SEAL TAP is the new program being implemented throughout the SEAL community. It consists of the following events: 

Standing Long Jump is a broad jump with both feet leaving and landing at the same time.
Pro-Agility Test is the 5-10-5 yard shuttle run totaling 20 yards and three direction changes.
Bodyweight Bench for max repetitions.
25lb pullup for maximum repetitions.
Deadlift (+1.5BW) 1 rep but can you build up to twice or more times your bodyweight?
300 yd shuttle run – 6 x 50yd shuttle runs
3 mile run for time.
800m swim for time.

This or a modified version is the future of the SEAL Team PT Test.

Army Ranger-Athlete-Warrior Program (RAW) – The Ranger 4.0 program is a comprehensive training program and has four main components to not only assess the Ranger’s abilities but educate the tactical athlete as well. The focus of the RAW 4.0 are the following areas:

Functional Fitness – The focus of the fitness elements are strength, endurance, and movement skills (mobility) doing such exercises as the following:
Pro-agility test – This is a short sprint of changing directions every 5, 10, and 5 yards – total of 20 yards of running with three 180 degree directional changes. Also known of the 5-10-5 agility test.
Standing Long Jump – Jump forward from a standing position.
Dead Lift – 225 lb dead lift for max repetitions maxing out at 30 reps.
Pullup – Dead hang pullups (no kipping) for maximum effort and no added weight.
Pushup – On a cadence of a metronome, perform pushups until you cannot keep the pace of the device.
Heel Claps – Also known as Kip ups.
300 yd shuttle run
Ranger Physical Assessment Test (RPAT) – This is essentially a three mile run in gear with a variety of obstacles such as the rope climb, caving ladder climb, wall climb, weight carry event, and sprints.
Performance Nutrition – Teaching about nutrient needs of the Ranger before, during, and after mission training is the focus of this section.
Sports Medicine – Injury prevention, early interventions, as well as access to a team of doctors, physical therapists,
Mental Toughness – Making tough workout events that become mental challenges and understanding the optimal performance state both mentally and physically is the stated goal of this non-tangible attribute that every tactical professional seeks.

Air Force Battlefield Airmen Fitness Test - The Air Force has created a Tactical Fitness Test that focuses on functional fitness that Air Force Battlefield Airmen will perform during selection and once in active duty Air Force Special Operations units in addition to the Physical Ability and Stamina Test (PAST) (see Air Force Tactical Fitness Test).

Conclusion
It has only been about ten years since the term Tactical Athlete took hold and Tactical Fitness became an actual genre of fitness that yielded scientific studies. The standard fitness test combined with a medical screening still is useful as a health and wellness test that indicates if a member is healthy enough to be in the military. The changes moving forward will build stronger military members that are better able to withstand the unique challenges of the day to day job requirements of the profession.

Personal Observations:  When I joined the military in the late eighties and later the SEAL community, I was amazed that my high school football team and college sports teams had better access to nutrition, training, and physical therapists / athletic trainers than the military special ops communities did. Treating our military members as Tactical Athletes is the key. Also, our military, police, and fire fighters need to treat THEMSELVES like athletes as a whole if we want to see the results of years of study, labor, and testing to create better training programs for our military members.

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Stew Smith has been in the tactical fitness industry for nearly twenty years with workout books titled Tactical Fitness, Tactical Strength, The Special Ops Workout, The SWAT Workout and more.  Check out his Military.com Archive of Articles for a large variety of military and fitness related topics as well.

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