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Training for the ACFT: The Hand-Release Push-Up (HRPU)

Updated: May 1, 2021

UPDATE: FY20 ACFT Standards confirm the Hand Release Push-up now includes arm extension instead of a hand lift. This is also known as the "T Push-up."

The Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), scheduled to replace the current APFT in the fall of 2020, is a six-event test with a 600 point scale that does not change based on a Soldier’s age, gender, or MOS. Unlike the Army’s current physical assessment, which only measures aerobic and muscular endurance, the ACFT will also assess anaerobic endurance and muscular strength. Here’s a look at the 6 ACFT events:


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Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) Events and Physical Demands

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Same push... but harder

One of the events most similar to the current APFT is the HRPU. Like the standard push-up, the HRPU also assesses upper body muscular endurance; unlike the current test, maxing out the HRPU is very difficult! This event is more difficult for several reasons.

  1. The standard is more clear and easier to enforce. The performer must begin in the “down” position of the front leaning rest with chest on the ground and index fingers within the frame of the shoulders. Like the traditional push-up, the performer must reach full extension at the “top” of the movement and then return to the starting position. UPDATE: To complete the first repetition, the performer must now fully extend both arms laterally (forming a T) and return hands to the starting position. Also similar to the traditional push-up, the performer must maintain the body in a generally straight line in order for a repetition to count. While this may not seem like a significant difference, the arm extension at the bottom of each repetition requires the performer to execute the movement with full range of motion. This slows the pace of the exercise to a cadence at which graders can more easily identify and correct deficiencies. Bottom line -- it is far more difficult to slide sub-par repetitions past a committed grader.

  2. Closer grip. As mentioned above, the index finger of both hands must remain closer to the midline of the body. Some may call this a “close-grip” push-up or “tricep” push-up. We’d prefer to call it the only push-up worth training. The hand positioning on this push up requires the performer to push with the triceps tucked in closer to the body in a more biomechanically sound movement pattern -- it is more efficient and creates less undue stress on the shoulder joint. Since the traditional push-up is typically performed with the hands wider and the triceps “winged” out to the side, most Soldiers will find the closer grip more challenging due to the change in motor pattern and muscle recruitment.

  3. Upper back and trunk stability requirements. The hand lift at the bottom of each repetition, however slight, does create additional fatigue in the muscles of the upper back. This creates an additional need to train the muscles of the upper back for the HRPU. Since “peeling” off of the ground is not allowed, many Soldiers will also need to spend considerable effort to increase their ability to stabilize the trunk and move the body in a straight line. Peeling is characterized by moving the chest and shoulders first, with the midsection and butt lagging behind.

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Training for Muscular Endurance

Performing well on the HRPU requires high levels of muscular endurance. One should train for muscular endurance using 4 to 5 sets of 12 or more repetitions. If external loads are used, the load should not exceed 75% of the performer’s 1-repetition maximum.

But which exercises should I train?

The HRPU is an upper-body pushing exercise primarily focused on the chest and triceps, but preparing the upper-back and improving trunk stability are also critical. Properly integrate the following exercises for better HRPU performance:

Chest and Triceps

  • Close-grip Bench Press

  • Plyo Push Ups

  • Dumbbell Bench Press

  • Tricep Extensions and Push Downs

  • Dips

  • Ring Dips and Push Ups

Upper Back

For Trunk Stability

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How do we integrate these exercises to create a comprehensive training plan? How often should we train specifically for upper-body muscular endurance? What’s the best way to train concurrently for the different components of fitness assessed during the ACFT? Check out for answers to these questions, ACFT standards, ACFT scoring, and the training principles you’ll need to dominate the ACFT.

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