Over the next month, U.S. Army physical fitness officials plan to release the initial standards soldiers will have to meet to pass the new Army Combat Fitness Test.
Senior leaders announced July 9 that the new ACFT will replace the current Army Physical Fitness Test in October 2020. Beginning this October, the Army will conduct a large-scale field test to fine-tune and make changes as needed to the new six-event test that's designed to measure a soldier's fitness for combat more effectively than the current APFT.
But soldiers can start preparing for the 2020 changeover date before the field test begins, according Michael McGurk, director of research for the Center of Initial Military Training, the organization overseeing the new ACFT.
"Probably within the next 30 days here, we will publish what we are going to start with for the field test, for standards, and then we will adjust those as we go forward," he told Military.com.
Setting a Standard for All
"We are trying to figure out how we are going to put it out to the field so the field understands they have got to work and they have got to try to do well on this, because if you tell somebody the minimum weight is 30 pounds -- well then, nobody tries to do anything more than 30 pounds," McGurk said.
"But if you tell them the maximum weight is 3,000 pounds, nobody tries to do it at all because it is unrealistic. So how do you set a goal for them that is realistic and ... achieves the Army goals without setting the bar too low or too high?" he added.
The ACFT is made up of six timed events:
- Strength Deadlift. This is a three-repetition maximum deadlift to test muscular strength; it mimics movement to safety and effectively lifting and carrying heavy loads.
- Standing Power Throw. This event involves throwing a 10-pound medicine ball as far as possible over the head and to the rear. It measures upper and lower muscular power, balance and whole body flexibility. Soldiers will get one practice throw and then two throws for record, McGurk said.
- Hand-Raised Push-ups. This two-minute event forces the soldier to go all the way to the floor and raise both hands before coming back up again, measuring upper-body muscular endurance.
- A 250-Meter Sprint, Drag and Carry. This is five different events within one event -- a 50-meter sprint; a backward 50-meter drag of a 90-pound sled; a 50-meter movement; a 50-meter carry of two 40-pound kettle bells; and a final 50-meter sprint. It measures muscular strength, power, speed and reaction time.
- Leg Tuck. A soldier hangs perpendicular to the pull-up bar and brings his knees up to his elbows and back down again for one repetition, performing as many as possible in two minutes. The exercise measures muscular strength, endurance and grip.
- Two-Mile Run. The ACFT retains the two-mile run portion of the APFT, which is designed to measure aerobic and muscular endurance.
"The two-mile run is the two-mile run we have always done, but we know that most people will run about a minute slower," McGurk said.
"It's going to be a test that is more challenging than the current test, but passing it will not be something that most people will have a challenge doing ... maxing it will be very challenging," he said.
To do well on the ACFT, soldiers will need to do other exercises when training for the new test, McGurk said.
Within the next 30 days, the Army plans to publish at least three alternative exercises soldiers can use to train for each event on the ACFT, he added.
"If you want to get faster at your two-mile run, you don't get faster by running two miles every day," McGurk said. "You've got to do interval workouts and some speed workouts and some other things.
"If you go out and do power throws all day long, you will get better at the power throw, but you might see much more rapid increase if you were doing some dumbbell curls and some abdominals and some other exercises in conjunction with that," he said.
The training guidance will also include three other exercises soldiers can do in a "field condition or a remote site that will allow you to improve for these events as well," McGurk said.
"For this fitness test, if you are doing your work for the six months before it and going to the gym and doing your lifting and doing your running, once you get to the test, you won't have much of a problem," he said.
All events must be completed in 50 minutes or less, which includes mandated rest and a maximum time for each event, Army officials said. Each soldier gets two minutes' rest between each of the first five events and five minutes of rest before the two-mile run.
The 50-minute time standard may change when large numbers of soldiers are taking the ACFT at the same time, McGurk said.
"When you are testing an individual -- like, say I am testing on guy who needs to go to Ranger School next week and I've got to give him a PT test, just one dude -- this is the model you would use and he would complete it in 50 minutes or less," McGurk said.
During initial field tests with soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, "we put them in groups and did it like we do current PT test where five people do the sit-ups with one grader and the next five people do the next event with one grader, and you go through the different events like that," he said.
"It's a much more reasonable pace and time, and the overall test time increases a little bit, but you are grading a hell of a lot more people and it is a much better way to do it," McGurk said. "So the reason we have to do a field test is to figure out the administration of this and what is the best way to do it."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.