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Training for the ACFT: The Standing Power Throw

Updated: May 2

The Standing Power Throw (SPT), commonly referred to as the reverse overhead medicine ball toss, is the primary test for power in the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). Before we dive in, here are a few concepts you must understand in order to best train for the SPT:

  • Power is the product of Force and Velocity.

  • In weight training, force is easily defined as the load lifted.

  • Velocity is the distance the load travels divided by the time of travel (think miles per hour - in this case, meters per second is more appropriate).

  • Relative to training for strength, training for power is done by moving lighter loads rapidly.

Power = (Force x Distance) / Time

Consider the difference between the two lifts shown here. The snatch is an expression of power. Despite a considerably lower amount of weight, the rapid triple extension of the hips, knees, and ankles quickly moves the load a relatively long distance. According to the equation above, this results in the production of a large amount of power. Many of the physiological adaptations that result in the ability to display this sort of power are motor fitness related.

On the contrary, the physiological adaptations that result in "the Mountain's" ability to deadlift a literal ton are the result of training focused on developing his muscular strength (a component of physical fitness, not motor fitness). Unlike training for power, training for maximal strength is usually done by lifting loads greater than 80% of a 1-repetition maximum for several sets of about 5 repetitions.

Measures of absolute strength like the Maximum Deadlift (MDL), event 1 of the ACFT, generally do not take into consideration distance or time and are therefore not traditionally measures of power; the only value that matters in the MDL is the load lifted or force. The SPT is a wholly different measure; performance in this event is determined by how far the ball travels (distance), which is a direct result of how rapidly and forcefully the performer executes triple extension.

Triple extension. Simply put, this means moving from a squat to an extended body position by eliminating the bend in the hips, knees, and ankles. When this is done in a rapid, coordinated manner with the force directed straight down into the ground, the result is a vertical jump. Triple extension is also present in lifts like the clean and snatch and while sprinting. According to conventional strength and conditioning wisdom, improvements in the efficiency, coordination, and speed of triple extension can contribute to increased power production and a boon to athletic performance. While the SPT is one proven way to measure power in an athlete, simply repeating the test, again and again, is not the most efficient way to build power. Instead, the military athlete will need to train like a field sport athlete. Here’s how:

  • Get stronger - conduct heavy-weight resistance training to build the trunk and posterior chain using compound, multi-joint movements like the squat and deadlift.

  • Get more efficient - conduct light-weight resistance training to refine motor patterns and train your body to recruit motor units maximally; move lightweight in a ballistic manner with loaded squat jumps and/or trap-bar deadlift jumps - the weight in these exercises must be light enough to allow for very rapid triple extension. The two contested Olympic lifts (Snatch and Clean & Jerk) and their many variants would also fall into this category but may require a degree of technical competence that makes learning to Olympic lift unnecessary for the purposes of improving ACFT performance.

  • Get plyometric - conduct a broad variety of unloaded jumps to stimulate neuromuscular characteristics that allow for greater force production; start with consecutive broad jumps and tuck jumps and move to depth jumps.