Ask Stew: Army CFT — Adding Exercises into Your Own Weight Training Program

Soldier performs a farmer's walk during a strongest warrior competition.
U.S. Army Pfc. Christopher Ayala performs a farmer’s walk during Osan’s Strongest Warrior Competition at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, May 4, 2019. (Staff Sgt. Ramon A. Adelan/U.S. Air Force photo)

Many soldiers in the Army are preparing for the reality of a new fitness test in their near future.

Those who like to train in the gym and follow it with cardio activity are, for the most part, likely well prepared for the new Army combat fitness test. Perhaps all they have to do is add a few exercises into their normal training routine.

Here is a question from a soldier asking how to do just that:

My name is Lou, and I would like to thank you for everything you've done thus far and what you continue doing. I like your Army Fitness programs and articles as they have done wonders for me in the past. I like to make my own workouts using many of your periodization principles.

The Army has changed its PT test to the ACFT (Army Combat Fitness Test), which consists of 3-rep maximum deadlift, sprint-drag-carry, leg tuck, hand release push-ups, overhead ball throw and a two-mile run. How do you recommend adding the new exercises into my workouts to help me perform well on the test since weight training is involved now? -- Thanks, Lou

You can permanently place many of these exercises into your training relatively easily. First of all, end your workout with a run or some form of cardio, as with The Two-Mile Run Is Here to Stay.

Leg tucks

Consider adding leg tucks (or hanging knee-ups/vertical knee raises) regularly into your plan when doing pull-ups or deadlifts as a general "rest exercise" between sets of other lifts. The grip required to excel in the leg tuck is important to maintain year-round, and the hip strength required can be developed with the other options as well.

Getting better at pull-ups will help you hang on the bar longer. Bend your elbows slightly, which is two-thirds of the exercise of the new leg tuck. I like to do them after deadlift sets as it helps stretch out the back by flexing the hips and core.

One way we used to add in sit-ups and crunches into the workout was to "rest with crunches or sit-ups" between sets. Now, do that with leg tucks a few days a week on pulling and grip intensive days.

Repeat 3-5 times

Deadlift: 5 reps

Leg tucks or hanging knee-ups: 10-15 reps

Hand-release (HR) push-ups/sprint-drag-carry

These make a great warmup before any upper-body day. You can add in some shuttles between sets, like this with the following:

HR push-up/run 25 meters pyramid warmup:

  • 1 HR push-up -- run 25 meters
  • 2 HR push-ups -- run 25 meters
  • 3 HR push-ups -- run 25 meters
  • 4 HR push-ups -- run 25 meters
  • 5 HR push-ups -- run 25 meters

After set five, replace the 25-meter run with 2 x 25-meter shuttle runs and continue up the pyramid until you get to 10 HR push-ups. This is 55 total HR push-ups mixed with several short runs that can be increased progressively with speed as desired. Add dumbbells to the 25-meter run events if you prefer.

Adding farmer walks (hand carrying dumbbells) to your training will help you with the sprint-drag-carry portions of the test. We add farmer walks on leg days with short and fast 25-meter sets between exercises, as well as farmer walking up and down flights of stairs a few times to work the legs (and lungs) a little more.

Sled drag and overhead power throw

The two events that may require some practice to master are the medicine ball overhead throw and the sled pull. Both are simple enough but require power creation from the legs, as well as muscle stamina.

If you do not have a sled, find an old car or truck tire and tie a rope to it. Add weight as needed and practice dragging it in 25-meter sets.

For the overhead power throw, practice thrusters (squat and overhead press with barbell or dumbbells). Then get a heavy ball or weight and throw it behind (over your head), starting the movement from the legs with a half-squat.

Being stronger is going to make you a better soldier. You should practice these events regularly, as they are not even remotely similar to the push-ups and sit-ups of the old test. The old Army physical fitness test allowed you to practice for a few weeks and actually perform OK on the test with very little extra physical activity during the rest of the PT cycle. This new test won't allow anyone to get away with that.

If you are new to training in the weight room, you need to start learning basic lifts, such as deadlift, farmer walks, pull-ups or hangs from the bar in order to work the elements rigorously tested in the new Army combat fitness test pyramid.

More units and departments of the military are overhauling their fitness tests. See more at PT Tests Evolving into Combat Fitness Tests.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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