Prepping for the ACFT? The Two-Mile Run Is Here to Stay

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Army senior leaders run during test.
The top command sergeants major from across the U.S. Army Reserve take off for the two-mile run during a practice Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) at Fort Eustis, Virginia, Oct. 25, 2019. (U.S. Army/Michel Sauret)

The old Army Physical Fitness Test (PFT) of push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run was (and still is) a decent test of basic health and fitness and has been used in studies to show that average to above-average scores will reduce injuries in soldiers attending basic military training and beyond.

However, the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), due to roll out in 2020, is a much better gauge of all the elements of a soldier's tactical fitness as strength, power, speed, agility and grip are tested along with the muscle stamina and cardiovascular endurance that the old APFT tested.

Why Is the Two-Mile Run Still Here?

Many soldiers will argue that running two miles in T-shirt, shorts and running shoes has very little to do with combat fitness. They are not wrong, but timed runs have a scientifically proven ability to predict success or failure in training, as well as acute muscle-skeletal or overuse injuries in recruits and soldiers. They are still a good measure of cardiovascular fitness and endurance, regardless of what tactical population takes the test.

Typically, those who score poorly on this basic fitness test will either fail to meet the standards set for them in training or receive an injury that will be either career ending, require extra days of missed work or cause a delay in training. Not to mention the medical cost and lost days of work costs that occur due to these injuries. Numerous studies and meta-analysis of military, law enforcement and firefighter training programs show that a score of less than an 8:30- to 9-minute mile pace on running tests will inevitably lead to an injury or performance issue with recruits or active members of that tactical profession.

A little preparation prior to basic military training, as well as a maintenance running program while on active duty, will help with building up and staying at a level that is statistically proven to reduce the chance of injury or failing to meet the standard in future fitness tests. (See article links below for help.)

The Two-Mile Run Is Here to Stay. But the Standards Are Different

The older Army PFT was set at a faster pace to reach maximum points. For the age groups 17-26 and 27-36, males had to get a run in the range of 13 minutes to 13:18 to max the score, respectively. Female recruits and soldiers in the same age groups had to get 15:36 to 15:54 to receive maximum points. For other scores, see the complete score card for the two-mile event of the old Army PFT.

The new Army Combat Fitness Test still has the two-mile run for mainly for the same reasons. But since the test events (prior to the run) are so much harder and take longer to complete, the standards to score maximum points on the run are slower. The standard to max the test is actually 30 seconds slower overall: 13:30. There are grading changes compared to the old APFT. There are no age groups, nor are there separate male/female standards. Your scores also depend on your military occupational specialty as to what you need to achieve. See chart with that information. The exercises that are tested in the new ACFT are the deadlift; sprint; hand-release push-up; sprint-drag-carry; leg tuck and two-mile run (more info).

You will see when doing this test that you need to create a strategy for fueling yourself so you can endure all the events. That means eating your carbs -- good carbs (fruits/vegetables/whole grains). This test will challenge all of the energy systems: ATP-phosphocreatine system (sprints/heavy lifts), anaerobic energy systems, and aerobic energy systems. You need to fuel properly to score well.

Preparing for the Two-Mile Run (and More)

Adding weight training and other activities (throw, sled pulls, sprints) into your weekly routine is needed to prepare properly for the new ACFT. That is a good thing as your job will often require load bearing and lifting equipment, so building a foundation of strength is a requirement. In the end, the new training and testing promise to make a better soldier who regularly trains or at least gets tested for more elements of fitness that are applicable to the job of being in the Army.

See the Army CFT Score Card / Changes to Grading System.

There are many articles on the Military.com Fitness pages to help with preparing for timed runs. See a few of the list below:

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