The U.S. Army on Friday announced major changes to its new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), including lowering standards in some cases. It also added a plan to have new soldiers in initial military training pass the more challenging assessment as a graduation requirement after Oct. 1 of this year.
The service is moving into the next phase of an effort to replace the current, three-event Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) with the new six-event fitness assessment after completing a yearlong field test of the ACFT involving 63 battalions of active-duty, National Guard and Reserve soldiers.
Current soldiers across all three components of the Army will begin taking the ACFT for practice until October 2020, when it will become the service's official test of record.
Army senior leaders stressed that the ACFT will significantly improve combat readiness.
Related: Check out the revised ACFT standards
"Physical fitness is fundamental to sustained Army readiness," Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston said in a service news release. "We must have highly trained, disciplined and physically fit soldiers capable of winning on any battlefield. The ACFT, specifically linked to common warfighting tasks, will help us assess and improve the individual readiness of the force."
Part of the field test was designed to see whether the initial set of ACFT standards needed to be adjusted.
"The purpose of this past year was ... to determine how to give the test efficiently, how to grade the test efficiently, to get the graders out there and to see if we got the scores about right," Michael McGurk, director of research for the Center for Initial Military Training (CIMT), the organization overseeing the new ACFT, told Military.com.
"The good news for us is, after a year, we got the scores about right, so there have been some very minor adjustments, but we are broadly on track," he said.
The New ACFT Standards
As with the initial standards, the revised standards are shown on a chart that shows scores for each of the six events all the way up to the maximum score. The chart also highlights the minimum scores soldiers must meet for three categories: Black for soldiers in "heavy" physically demanding units or jobs; Gray for soldiers in "significant" physically demanding units or jobs; and Gold for soldiers in "moderate" physically demanding units or jobs.
Gold also represents the overall Army minimum standard for passing the ACFT.
The initial, outdated minimum standards broke down like this:
- Black, for 70 points. 180 pounds on the strength deadlift; 8.5 meters for the power throw; 30 hand-release push-ups; 2 minutes, 9 seconds for the sprint, drag and carry; 5 leg tucks; and 18 minutes for the two-mile run.
- Gray, for 65 points. 160 pounds on the strength deadlift; 6.5 meters for the power throw; 20 hand-release push-ups; 2 minutes, 45 seconds for the sprint, drag and carry; 3 leg tucks; and 19 minutes for the two-mile run.
- Gold, the Army minimum standard, for 60 points. 140 pounds for the strength deadlift; 4.6 meters for the power throw; 10 hand-release push-ups; 3 minutes, 35 seconds for the sprint, drag and carry; 1 leg tuck; and 21 minutes, 7 seconds for the two-mile run.
In the new ACFT standards for 2020, the minimum requirement for the strength deadlift in Black increased from 180 pounds to 200 pounds, and the Gray increased from 160 pounds to 180 pounds, McGurk said.
The minimum score for the standing power throw dropped from 8.5 meters to 8 meters in Black; in Gold, the minimum standard dropped 4.6 meters to 4.5 meters, McGurk said. The maximum possible score dropped from 13.5 to 12.5 meters.
The minimum score for the sprint-drag-carry for Black slowed slightly from 2 minutes, 9 seconds to 2 minutes 10 seconds. The Gray standard sped up from 2 minutes, 45 seconds to 2 minutes, 30 seconds. And the Gold sped up from 3 minutes, 35 seconds to 3 minutes.
The standards for the leg tuck remain unchanged, McGurk said.
The minimum standard for Gold on the two-mile run sped up from 21 minutes, 7 seconds to 21 minutes.
The maximum score on the ACFT for the two-mile run slowed from 12 minutes, 45 seconds to 13 minutes, 30 seconds, McGurk said.
A New Push-Up
Army fitness officials also changed the push-up event from hand-release push-ups to arm-extension push-ups.
The minimum standards remain unchanged, but the maximum possible score dropped from 70 hand-release push-ups to 60 arm-extension push-ups, McGurk said.
To complete arm-extension push-ups, soldiers start chest down and do a traditional push-up. Then, after returning to the down position, they move their arms outward, followed by going in to do another push-up, according to the news release.
"We found it very difficult to grade the hand-lift [push-up] due to a myriad of factors, including shoulder mobility," Whitfield East, a CIMT research physiologist, said in the release. "Instead of lifting their hands, soldiers hyperextended their lower backs and lifted their chests off the ground, and then never got back to the start position."
ACFT to Begin with New Soldiers
Another change to the ACFT rollout plan is to have new enlisted soldiers and commissioned officers going through Basic Combat Training, Advanced Individual Training, One Station Unit Training, Warrant Officer Basic Course and the Basic Officer Leader Course begin taking the test as a graduation requirement starting after Oct. 1 of this year.
Introducing the ACFT in initial military training will allow new soldiers to "train realistically and develop physically in the earliest phase in their career," Maj. Gen. Lonnie Hibbard, commander of the CIMT, said in the release. "This sets them up for success."
Current soldiers in the active duty, National Guard and Reserve will begin taking the ACFT for practice as of Oct. 1 but will continue to take the APFT as the test of record until October 2020.
Active-duty soldiers will take the ACFT as a diagnostic twice, six months apart, before October 2020. Members of the Reserve and National Guard are scheduled to complete the diagnostic test once, the release states.
"As units in the field begin transitioning to the ACFT, [new] soldiers arriving can already pass and are grounded in the fundamentals of the test," Hibbard said in the release.
The Army plans to start fielding athletic equipment needed for certain ACFT events, such as the sprint-drag-carry and the strength deadlift, in January, McGurk said.
Army leaders stressed that soldiers should start preparing for the ACFT as soon as possible.
"I would encourage all soldiers across each component to begin training for the ACFT now -- if you aren't already," Grinston said in the release. "We have already released an ACFT training guide with exercises from Field Manual 7-22 to help soldiers successfully prepare for the test with or without equipment."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.