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Training for the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) without equipment: 5 Ways to Build the Foundation

Updated: Jun 14, 2021

Success in any endeavor, tactics, marksmanship, driving a golf ball, or weightlifting, is the “natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” Accordingly, Army leaders set conditions for success by knowing and applying doctrinal fundamentals. The introduction of the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), however, has exposed certain fundamental gaps in physical training knowledge. While the updated FM 7-22 addresses many of these issues, recent experience with the new Army fitness test indicates that we must start training more effectively immediately.


Choose your own adventure...

Option 1

If you’re already fully committed to a comprehensive approach to physical fitness and don’t know where to begin, please consider studying the following four articles:

Option 2

If you’re not quite ready to invest your time in reading each of the articles above, and you’re only looking for a small taste of the medicine, this article is intended to provide the minimum effective dose to get your treatment started.

“I know I need to train for the ACFT, but I don’t know where to begin. "

Start by building a foundation.

This is not a metaphor. Your literal foundation for performing well in any athletic endeavor is the trunk. Often described using the terms “core” or “midline,” the trunk is so much more than our traditional conception of abdominal muscles. In fact, developing the trunk has little to do with uncovering six-pack abs; after all, a visible six-pack only requires a low body-fat percentage and has very little impact on athletic performance. Instead, developing the trunk requires a comprehensive approach to shoring up the glutes, lats, and everything in between.


If not the "abs," exactly which muscles are we talking about?

Dr. Stuart McGill, a leading expert in spinal mechanics and back health defines the trunk this way: composed of the lumbar spine, the muscles of the abdominal wall, the back extensors, and quadratus lumborum. Also included are the multijoint muscles, namely, latissimus dorsi and psoas that pass through the core, linking it to the pelvis, legs, shoulders, and arms. Given the anatomic and biomechanical synergy with the pelvis, the gluteal muscles may also be considered to be essential components as primary power generators.

What evidence suggests developing the trunk is the best way to start training for the ACFT?

  1. Actual experience with the ACFT

  2. Best practices from the field of Strength and Conditioning

As an event that stresses trunk strength and stability, poor leg tuck performance is indicative of underdevelopment and poor activation of trunk musculature. It naturally follows that any activity that requires a stiffening of the torso may be negatively impacted. When lifting or carrying weights (like the MDL & the farmer’s carry during a SDC), a stiffened trunk is a prerequisite for transmitting power from the hips to the extremities. Moreover, in rapid throwing movements and change of direction (SPT & SDC) the rectus functions as an elastic storage and recovery device.

The idea that any power generated in the glutes and hips must be transmitted through a stiffened trunk is so well known in the strength and conditioning field that it is often described by the term “core to extremity.” Core to extremity doesn’t just describe the flow of energy, it also offers a logical order for prioritizing training; start at the core and work to the extremities.

Here's some highly suggestive data from actual ACFT pilot testing:

“I lack the resources to start training now. I’m short on time, I don’t have access to equipment, and I’m not getting any outside support from my unit.”

Harness the power of the M.E.D.

The smallest dose of any stimulus that produces the desired outcome is the minimum effective dose (MED). As Tim Ferriss describes in his book, to boil water, the MED (or temperature) is 212 degrees. Higher temperatures don’t make the water more “boiled.” This concept can and should apply to your physical training plan. Follow the recommendations below to start building your foundation now -- no equipment or outside support necessary -- just the minimum effective dose to become a better athlete.

Method 1: Use front planks, side planks, and other plank variations.

Method 2: Learn to activate the lats and conduct strict pull ups through a full range of motion.

Method 3: Build the glutes and hamstrings with partner assisted nordic hamstring curls.

Method 4: Deadbug!

Method 5: Inchworm

Managing Transitions

Transitioning to the ACFT will present some challenges -- a lack of equipment, trainers, physical therapists, and dietitians are not among those challenges. Most Soldiers that can’t currently pass the ACFT are unable to do so because they can’t perform a single leg tuck. Any Soldier that chooses not to learn to leg tuck in the next 15 months (prior to October 2020) has failed to develop. “Prepares self” precedes “gets results.”

Until next time. Train Hard. Train Smart. Train Well.

“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” - Jim Rohn


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Maybelle Dicks
Maybelle Dicks
Nov 24, 2023


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