Beating the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT)
Updated: Oct 14, 2019
What gets measured, gets managed. Best described as a business management proverb, this idea applies to far more than maximizing profit from the production of widgets. In fact, the Army hopes that by measuring combat-focused fitness tasks, individual Soldiers and unit commanders will better manage Soldier fitness. This is the thought process behind the Army’s new six event Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT).
"What gets measured, gets managed." - Peter Drucker
We’ve measured Soldier fitness using the three event APFT since 1980. Accordingly, since 1980 we’ve managed our Soldier’s aerobic fitness and upper-body muscular endurance -- the two primary components of fitness measured by the APFT. As a result of both extensive scientific exploration and practical experience in combat over the past 17 years, we know Soldiers also need to manage other components of fitness like muscular strength, power, anaerobic endurance, agility, and coordination.
Enter the ACFT. Supported by both science and practice, the ACFT measures each of the aforementioned components of fitness and more.
Using the results from this test, individual Soldiers and unit commanders can prioritize their physical training efforts to get after the areas in most need of improvement based on mission demands. What does this look like? Results from the ACFT can be graphed for an individual or using unit averages as follows:
Based on the results of the initial assessment, this Soldier (or unit) performed well on the push up and 2 mile run -- indicating a fair amount of upper body muscular endurance and an adequate level of aerobic endurance. Other measures of fitness (muscular strength, power, anaerobic endurance, and trunk strength and/or stability) are lagging far behind as indicated by below average performance on the remaining events of the ACFT. Perhaps of most concern is the abysmal performance on the leg tuck. In addition to trunk strength, the leg tuck also requires a fair amount of coordination, grip strength, and trunk stability. Poor leg tuck performance could be the result of weakness in any of the aforementioned qualities or a combination of the three. Further assessment may be necessary to determine the limiting factor on the leg tuck event, but this weakness must be addressed -- inadequate trunk strength and/or stability puts the Soldier at risk for injury when under load.
After careful consideration of the initial assessment, the Soldier (or unit) must develop a plan to correct deficiencies and improve overall fitness. Clearly, trunk strength and stability should be a priority while aerobic endurance is not as much of a concern. Performance on the deadlift, sprint-drag-carry, and power throw are also lagging behind, so the new plan should attempt to improve overall strength as well. According to the principle of specificity, this Soldier’s training should include: loaded, multi-joint, compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, and lunge in the 5 repetition range; unloaded or lightweight exercises that require extension of the hips, knees, and ankles like standing broad jumps, depth jumps (very low platform), and hip raises; and isometric holds and carries like planks, farmer’s carries, and dead bugs. We should probably also throw in some partner glute ham raises, evil wheels, scap pulls, loaded step-ups, and horizontal rows just for good measure. If you intend to use these exercises in your own training, don’t forget to incorporate the principles. Learn precise movement patterns, progress appropriately, and integrate the proper amount of training in each of the domains (aerobic endurance, anaerobic endurance, muscular strength, and muscular endurance).
After dedicated training based on your needs, your 8-week assessment might look more like this chart. Notice significant increases in strength and leg tuck performance and a mild decrease in aerobic performance. Despite a small drop in 2 mile performance, this Soldier (or unit) is likely more physically prepared to execute tasks associated with their unit mission. The 8-week assessment is also a great indicator of whether or not the training plan was effective. Modify your training based on this new baseline and set new training goals.
Measure what matters to you; whether it’s your weight, the types/quantities of foods you’re eating, amount of sleep you're getting, or how much time you spend studying for the board. Simply taking the time to measure what’s important and keeping a record will help you trend in the right direction. If you’re a small unit leader, work with your subordinate leaders to establish meaningful goals and measure your unit’s progress towards those goals. Display those records prominently in the platoon or company area. If you’ve chosen meaningful goals (perhaps ACFT excellence), Soldiers will rally around the record board and begin to manage their own progress towards comprehensive physical fitness... because what gets measured, gets managed.
Know the difference between training for power and training for muscular strength? How do you push your anaerobic threshold higher so you can work harder for longer periods of time? How much recovery is required during and after a workout to maximize your gains? ArmyCombatFitnessTest.com can help you learn the training principles you'll need to dominate the ACFT.