If you’re in the army, one of the standards to remain in the organization is the ability to pass their physical fitness test. For many years, soldiers performed the Army Physical Fitness Test (or APFT), which included push-ups, sit-ups, and a 2-mile run. Officially rolling out in October 2022, the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) will replace the APFT, and this updated test better matches the demands on soldiers to get a more accurate idea of their fitness levels.The new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) will replace the APFT, and this updated test better matches the demands on soldiers to get a more accurate idea of their fitness levels, says @Mccharles187. Click To Tweet
To prepare for this test, we will go over programming considerations including:
- Exercise choices
- Sets and reps
- Weekly program structure to improve in the ACFT
The ACFT encompasses five major pillars of soldier fitness that the test measures to ensure a well-rounded, physically fit soldier as referenced in the FM7-22, which details definitions of Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) and programming considerations for the army. You can check it out here:
The five pillars are:
- Muscular endurance
- Anaerobic endurance
- Aerobic endurance
The ACFT uses measurements from the following six events to measure the pillars:
- Three-repetition maximum trap bar deadlift (strength)
- Standing power throw (power)
- Hand release push-ups (muscular endurance)
- Planks (muscular endurance)
- Sprint-drag-carry (anaerobic endurance)
- Two-mile run (aerobic endurance)
Each event has a minimum requirement and maximum score based on gender and age. You can learn more about the ACFT and how each event is performed here.
After so many years of those in the army mostly running and doing sit-ups and push-ups, this new test required them to update their training methodologies with the help of the H2F team. My job is to teach my battalion at Fort Bragg how to train smarter to ensure they can stay injury free and exceed a passing score in the ACFT. The strength and conditioning coaches at H2F have collectively agreed upon the following six movement patterns (in no particular order) to include in their strength training two to three times per week to help improve each of the five pillars of soldier fitness:After so many years of those in the army mostly running and doing sit-ups and push-ups, this new test required them to update their training methodologies, says @Mccharles187. Click To Tweet
The squat can include a number of squat variations including back squats, front squats, kettlebell goblet squats, trap bar deadlift, land-mine squats, etc. This and the hinge pattern will be the best movements to perform to increase the three-rep max trap bar deadlift as well as keep the legs strong and healthy for running and performing other tasks required of the soldier.
Hinge patterns include barbell/kettle bell (KB) Romanian deadlifts, deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, hip bridges, KB swings, and more. Primarily, we are aiming to work on the glutes and the hamstrings for resiliency and to assist in improving the three-rep max trap bar deadlift. I also like to do single leg variations to work on body control so they can feel which side is weaker and work on bridging the gap.
I like to split upper press movements into horizontal, incline, and vertical presses to ensure we are training various areas of the shoulder, arms, and chest to avoid overuse and to strengthen weak areas a soldier hasn’t trained before.I like to split upper press movements into horizontal, incline, and vertical presses…to avoid overuse and to strengthen weak areas a soldier hasn’t trained before, says @Mccharles187. Click To Tweet
The army has used push-ups for a long time as a main exercise, so I tend to use horizontal presses the least and focus more on vertical and incline presses to work on neglected muscle areas; I throw in horizontal presses once in a blue moon (meaning we don’t use the Barbell Bench Press exercise very much). Exercises in this category can include barbell/KB incline press, barbell/KB military press, KB upright presses, barbell bench press, land-mine press (single or double arm), weighted push-ups, and banded push-ups.
For shoulder and back health, I think this movement pattern matters the most compared to the upper press, only because the army has been doing push-ups since the dawn of time and many have neglected training their back—which may have contributed to shoulder and back injuries while training or out in the field. I include as many different back exercises as I can in both horizontal and vertical patterns to strengthen the rotator cuff and overall back strength. Exercises can include rows in their various forms, chin-ups, pull-ups, band pull-aparts, and band no monies.
Exercises can include KB, barbell, or landmine lunges (forward, reverse, or lateral), split-squats, rear-elevated split squats, front-elevated split squats, and pistol squats. Similar to doing single leg hinge movements, these help strengthen the legs for body control and work on the weaker leg individually to bridge the gap from the stronger leg. For me, these are more focused on injury prevention, tendon health, and balance/stability.
In the sprint-drag-carry event, the soldiers have to drag a nylon sled loaded at 90lbs then later carry two 40lb kettlebells for a 25-meter shuttle each. So, we include variations of carries and drags to adapt to the demands of the test. Exercises can include farmer’s carry, waiters carry, KB upright carry, forward sled drags, reverse sled drags, and lateral sled drags.
Weekly Program Structure
Within a 5-day period, my goal is to be able to train each of the five pillars at least one to two times to drive consistent progress and avoid soldiers running excessively and to reduce overuse injuries. Each company I assist with programs a month at a time sends me their PT plans or has me in the room to guide how the week should look.Within a 5-day period, my goal is to be able to train each of the five pillars at least one to two times to drive consistent progress, says @Mccharles187. Click To Tweet
My general recommendation is that we strength train two times per week, do a long run one time per week, and do a speed and anaerobic conditioning session one time per week. Thursdays are an enforced “warrior/tactical PT” day led by our Division Commander, so the soldiers have to either go on a ruck (carrying a 25-35lb ruck sack with full gear and hike/walk for 2-6 miles) or do a tactical PT session using logs, tires, battle ropes, sleds, etc. in a circuit or competition-based event.
Bear in mind that we strength train in a small, Beaverfit gym-in-a-box that has four squat racks with five barbells, 10-20lb medballs, 6-24kg kettlebells, four metal sleds, and some bands—and this is shared by three companies (in my battalion, each company has about 25 soldiers). We can only have two companies training at the box at a time, so each company has a similar training schedule with all the elements in the table but the workouts are moved around to different days. For example, my Alpha Company strength trains at the box Monday and Wednesday, while my Head Quarters and Bravo Company strength train at the box Tuesday and Friday.
Normally, I would like to have the long run on Fridays since I consider that a high volume day, but that’s just how the schedule worked out. The army jokingly likes to call Monday a “detox” day anyway after the weekend’s shenanigans, so they don’t mind running on Mondays.
Strength Workout Example/Sets and Reps
From the table, you can probably tell that, outside the strength training days, the workouts are more endurance/high volume. Because of this set up, my workout volume when we strength train is extremely low because they are getting plenty of volume from the other days. Often, they come in to training with some level of fatigue from the day before, so I do my best to account for that to keep the effort and quality of movements high.Often, athletes come in to training with some level of fatigue from the day before, so I do my best to account for that to keep the effort and quality of movements high, says @Mccharles187. Click To Tweet
After a dynamic warm-up, we’ll do 3-5 sprints at 20-40 meters on Tuesdays and do 1-3 agility/change of direction drills on Fridays to wake them up and get the nervous system firing before we lift. When we are training the squat and hinge movements, I tend to stay under 25 total reps, as their legs are pre-fatigued from running/rucking. I’ll lean the upper press toward the higher volume side on the Prilipen chart, in the 70-85% range. The upper pull I’ll do very high volume and do >24 total reps, as most soldiers back muscles are very weak and underactive unless it’s a chin-up or pull-up and give a range of 3-10 reps depending on strength ability.
I’ll stick to 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps at a moderate weight for lunges/single legs to target strength/hypertrophy. Finally, we’ll do drags/carries from 25-50 meters to adapt to the demands of the sprint-drag-carry test. Below is an example workout we’re doing in the month of July on Tuesdays. Keep in mind that I have been training with these soldiers for seven months and have progressed movements and exercises slowly and safely to get to this point and do not recommend doing this on Day 1 of training.
3-5 Sprints at 20-40 Meters resting 1-min for every 10 meters of sprinting
A1. 5s Eccentric Back Squat 5×3
A2. Depth Jumps for height 5×3
A3. Kettle Squat Jumps for height 5×3
A4. Band Assisted Drop Jumps 5×3
B1. Land-Mine Explosive Pull to Press 4x4e
B2. Med Ball Alt Slam to Single Arm Chest Pass 4x4e
B3. Incline Plyo Push-Ups 4×4
C1. Kettlebell Front Elevated Split-Squat 3×8-12e
C2. 5s Isometric Pull-Up 3×3-8
C3. Barbell Zercher Carry’s (with elbow padding) 3×25 meters down and back
Our Brigade alone has 14 total strength coaches working down to the company level and every coach sets up their weekly schedule and workouts differently based on equipment, number of soldiers per session, schedule, etc., but we all strive to train each of the five pillars throughout the week and stick to the six main movement patterns when we are strength training.
Evidence of Effectiveness
Below is a before and after ACFT data sheet from one of my companies from Jan/Feb to March of 2022. For reference, I started working with this battalion in January. In short, they improved in every category and are sitting better than they were before, going from approximately 80% passing to 100% passing the test. On the second test, they replaced the leg tucks with planks so I was only able to look at the plank scores compared to the leg tuck.
Each event is given a score from 0 to 100 based on how you perform in each event that is adjusted for gender and age. You can look at a copy of the score sheet for each event here (need a minimum of 60 points in each event to pass).
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