Army implements new fitness test; general says soldiers won’t be able to max score like before

Command Sergeant Major Tabitha Gavia does the sprint-drag-carry exercise which is part of the new Army Combat Fitness Test Wednesday August 1, 2018, at Fort Eustis. The new test was being demonstrated to leaders from across the Army in preparation to roll it out for testing.

Dave Ress, Daily Press

It’s been a decade in the making, but the Fort Eustis-based Center for Initial Military Training’s rethink of soldiers’ physical fitness and the test it developed has won a green light from Army Secretary Christine E. Wormuth.

She has issued an Army Directive outlining a time-phased implementation of a revised ACFT as the Army’s general physical fitness test.

The Army Combat Fitness Test will replace the old Army Physical Fitness Test with its focus on how many situps and pushups soldiers can do, as well as how fast they run 2 miles.

The six elements of the new fitness test are to complete three deadlift repetitions of a heavy weight; to throw a 10-pound medicine ball backwards and overhead; pushups; a series of 50-meter laps of a sprint, dragging a 90-pound weight, moving sideways and then carrying two 40-pound weights; the “plank,” or holding the body in the upright push-up position for as long as possible; and a 2-mile run or 2.5-mile aerobic walk.

And key to it, said CIMT commander Brig. Gen. John D. Kline, is the need to regularly do the six exercises or exercises that parallel them.

“You’re not going to get up one day and max the ACFT, the way a lot of us could with the APFT,” he said.

That need to train regularly is what connects it to another initiative coming from Fort Eustis’s Training and Doctrine Command, the Holistic Health and Fitness program.

It’s a new mindset that looks for an Army not just of soldiers, but of soldier-athletes, Kline said.

Some of it is modeled on initiatives that professional sports teams adopted decades ago, so an element of the effort is assigning physical and occupational therapists to Army brigades in order to streamline treatment for injuries and help keep soldiers in top physical condition. Now in place in more than two dozen brigades, the plan is to assign them to all the Army’s brigades.

The Holistic Health and Fitness program focuses include sleep and nutrition as well as the less tangible domains of mental life and values.

“If you really want to improve your ACFT score, start with those other four domains of fitness,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston, the Army’s top enlisted soldier.

Kline said CIMT’s initial thinking about a fitness test aimed at linking exercises with specific tasks in combat. Starting with 25 exercises, the center winnowed them down to a half dozen — and in the process of listening to soldiers’ feedback and monitoring how they did on various exercises, realized it was actually developing a more general measure of physical fitness.

The ACFT provides a better measure than the old test does of the basic elements of fitness: muscular strength, endurance, flexibility, agility, balance, coordination and reaction time, Kline said.

As developers refined the test, and the scoring system for measuring how fit soldiers are, there was also a focus on fairness, he said.

The new scoring system, key to the Army decision’s to go ahead with the ACFT, takes account of soldiers’ age and sex. The final revisions to the ACFT approved by Wormuth also replaced the leg tuck with the plank for a core-strength assessment and added the 2.5-mile walk as an alternative to the 2-mile run.

“The revisions to the ACFT are based on data and analysis, including an independent assessment required by Congress,” she said. “We will continue to assess our implementation of the test to ensure it is fair and achieves our goal of strengthening the Army’s fitness culture.”

The Army’s own analysis and a study by the RAND think tank found that a gender-neutral test might not accurately measure general physical fitness levels. The leg tuck, for instance, required upper body muscular strength that not all soldiers have, and so might not actually measure core strength as well as the plank does.

The test’s new scoring scales are based on nearly 630,000 scores from soldiers who already did the ACFT events, as well as performance rates from the APFT, and scoring scales used by other military services.

Army units started seeing how well soldiers do with the ACFT beginning April 1. The tests and scoring for retention, graduation from basic training and evaluation reports begin Oct. 1, to give soldiers six months to train.

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