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How to Train for the ACFT's 3-Repetition Maximum Deadlift (3RM MDL) without Equipment

Updated: Aug 29, 2020

Physical Demands of the Hex-Bar Deadlift

The Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) will assess Soldiers’ absolute strength using a three repetition maximum hex-bar deadlift (MDL). This compound lift requires leg strength, a strong, stable trunk (which includes the upper-back), strong hip extensors, and an effective grip. In short, this lift requires total body strength. Most training facilities have a myriad of options for developing total body-strength, and you don’t need an advanced degree to conclude that leg curls develop the back of the leg and leg extensions develop the front of the leg.

Training for the ACFT with No Equipment

But what if you don’t always have an adequate training facility available? How can you appropriately stress each of the aforementioned body parts to train for the ACFT MDL without equipment? Try these 5 training methods to develop total body strength with little to no equipment:

Front of the leg: Single leg pistol squat or skater squat.

Multiple repetitions of single-leg pistol squats on each leg is a great goal for healthy humans seeking increased fitness. Most healthy humans will need to work hard to get there, though. Start with single-leg skater squats and progress through a range of depths until you’ve mastered the skater squat. Mix in some assisted pistol squats using the scaled version suggested in the video below.

Back of the leg: Nordic Hamstring Curl

This exercise is a game-changer. You control the intensity by lowering the body (eccentric) as far as possible before using the hands and arms for support. Assist the concentric portion of the exercise by pushing with the arms and chest until you can engage the glutes and hammies. Precise execution with a generally straight body-position from the knees to the head should be the goal. Start with 3 to 4 sets of 3 repetitions (3 really hard repetitions). Build to a few sets of 5 of 6 repetitions.

Glutes: Glute Bridge

Grip: Hang

Find something to hang from using your hands. Two-handed hanging is the obvious first step, but practice some single-hand hangs too. How many sets and for how long is highly individualized, but here’s a practical recommendation. Warm-up a little and test your maximum hang-time. Divide that number by 3 and practice 3 to 4 sets. Do this 2 to 3 times per week and retest your max hang-time every few weeks. Straight-arm pulls (scap retraction) and strict pull-ups will assist in building the upper-back strength necessary to maintain proper posture while performing the MDL.

Trunk: Plank and Plank Variations

A great plank, aka static pillar hold, is a powerful tool. But, with great power comes great responsibility. Your responsibility is to squeeze every muscle you’ve got as intensely as possible for the duration of the hold. Sloppy, arch-backed holds likely do more harm than good. If a 60 second, full-body contraction is no problem, it’s time to make the exercise more difficult. Practice the hollow-body as shown in the video below, and add in the pillar hold with alternating hand reach.


If you’re still wondering why you’re using a hex-bar instead of a straight-bar as in the conventional deadlift, check out our analysis here.

For more on the MDL and how to properly train for the MDL with loaded movements, check out Parts 1 and 2 of the 3RM MDL.

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