Olympian Nick Symmonds' Army Fitness Test Challenge: What You Need to Know

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Nick Symmonds
In this Aug. 13, 2013, file photo, United States' Nick Symmonds celebrates after winning bronze in the men's 800-meter final at the World Athletics Championships in the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Two-time Olympian runner Nick Symmonds, now the CEO of his own company, Run Gum, and the host of a popular YouTube channel, recently took on a new challenge: The Army Physical Fitness Test.

In a video posted Aug. 1, Symmonds attempted the test without any special training or practice, and bagged a respectable score, albeit with some not-quite-authorized modifications. Here's what you need to know about Symmonds' APFT challenge -- and how you can take your own test to see how you would compare.

The Scores

The Army Physical Fitness Test currently involves three elements: maximum push-ups in two minutes, maximum sit-ups in two minutes, and a two-mile run for time.

Let's start with the run. It's been three years since Symmonds officially retired as a professional athlete, but he's still in great shape and impressively fast. He completed two miles on the track in 11 minutes, 54 seconds -- just under his personal goal of 12 minutes. Symmonds is 36, so he could have bagged a perfect score with a run time of 13 minutes, 18 seconds, or 6 minutes, 39 seconds per mile. No problem.

One the push-ups, Symmonds unfortunately would have been disqualified partway through (more on that below). But if all his reps had counted, he would have gotten 55 in two minutes. That's good for a score of 79 out of 100. He would have had to get 75 push-ups to max out the APFT with a perfect 100 score.

For the sit-ups, the middle event on the APFT, Symmonds barely beat his push-up reps count, with 56 sit-ups. Here too, he would have been disqualified mid-event if the test had been administered by the Army. But if his full score counted, he would have gotten a 76 out of 100. To max out in his age ground, he would have needed 76 reps.

Bending the Rules

Here's the thing: It's not enough to do the reps on push-ups and sit-ups; you have to do them exactly as prescribed by the Army, and you can't take unauthorized breaks.

On push-ups, Symmonds repeatedly sat up on his knees to shake out his arms, which would have meant instant disqualification on the real APFT. According to the official Army Physical Fitness Test administration rules, the only rest permitted mid-test is an "altered front leaning rest position," meaning that soldiers may flex their back up or sag in the middle.

According to 550cord.com, "if you rest on the ground or raise either hand or foot from the ground, your performance will be terminated."

Otherwise, Symmonds' push-up form was strong. The Army regulations require the upper arms to be at least parallel to the ground on each repetition; Symmonds went deep enough to touch the ground on each rep.

The sit-ups also would have resulted in disqualification, according to Army rules. For proper sit-up position, a soldier must interlock fingers behind his or her head and come up to a vertical position where "the base of your neck is above the base of your spine." The feet must be held by another soldier. Reps don't count "if you fail to reach the vertical position, fail to keep your fingers interlocked behind your head, arch or bow your back and raise your buttocks off the ground to raise your upper body, or let your knees exceed a 90-degree angle."

In addition, there's only one authorized rest position: vertical. A soldier cannot rest in the "down" position.

Symmonds completed his reps with his arms crossed over his chest (although occasionally they flailed), used a soccer goal to secure his feet and rested repeatedly in the down position. The test was still tough and no doubt a good workout, but it would have landed Symmonds in trouble with Army supervisors for multiple rules infractions.

New Test Coming

Symmonds says he plans to retake the test as some point in the future and try again for a perfect score. But by the time he gets around to that, soldiers may be taking a different test with new rules and events. The Army is in the process of introducing the five-event Army Combat Fitness Test, which will be the test of record beginning Oct. 1.

The ACFT is considered more difficult to ace than the current APFT, and requires more equipment, too. The events on the new test include a maximum deadlift; standing power throw; hand-release push-up; sprint, drag and carry; leg tuck; and two-mile run.

Also new on the ACFT: all scores are age- and gender-neutral, which means there's just one score chart for all soldiers. There are different minimum requirements based on job category, however; soldiers with jobs that are highly physically demanding, such as infantry, have to achieve higher scores than those with less physical jobs.

Army PFT Score Charts

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