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. It 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. 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 a 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 musculoskeletal 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 either will 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 delay training. That's 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 nine-minute mile pace on running tests inevitably will lead to an injury or performance issue with recruits or active members of that tactical profession.
A little preparation before 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 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 many of the same reasons. But since the test events (before 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 good carbs (fruits/vegetables/whole grains). This test will challenge all of the energy systems in your body, so 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 -- your job often will 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 fitness elements applicable to the job of being in the Army.
There are many articles on the Military.com fitness pages to help with preparing for timed runs. See a few of the list below:
- Beginner Running Program and getting ready for boot camp, starting from zero.
- Adding Weights to a Group Running Plan. Does your department like to run for group PT? You may need to add weight lifting on your own to build the strength you need for scoring well on this test.
- Preparing for Timed Runs. Here's a mix of running workouts to help you build speed, maintain goal pace and run longer.
- Learning Goal Pace Running. Any running over a mile typically requires some practice in understanding your goal pace. If you want to run faster, practice running faster -- at that pace -- and build up to the timed run distances over time.
- Drop Two Minutes Off Your Timed Run. It can be done. From a 10-minute mile pace to an eight-minute mile pace and from an eight-minute mile pace to a six-minute mile pace, though the time is the same, the effort is much more. The method to increase speed in timed runs is the same.
- Getting Back into Training After Time in the Field. Often, work keeps us from training consistently in the tactical professions. Here is a way to maintain and rebuild after time off hard work cycles.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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