Training for the ACFT: 4 Simple Training Tips to Rapidly Increase Sprint, Drag, Carry Performance
Updated: Aug 29
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A friend recently asked me to review an ACFT-focused training plan. The training plan was sound. Perhaps most importantly, it was designed to address weaknesses identified during a baseline assessment. Due to the ease with which the author achieved an acceptable score on the Sprint-Drag-Carry (SDC) event, he chose not to dedicate time to deliberately training the SDC. That’s when it occurred to me the SDC might be undervalued and underappreciated due to an uncalibrated ACFT point scale. That led to another realization:
The Sprint-Drag-Carry is The Big Lebowski.
It’s just event four of the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). The Big Lebowski is just a movie about bowling. Before a fight breaks out, let me be clear that I hold them both in high regard. The SDC, like The Big Lebowski, should earn immediate “cult classic” status; and over time, I hope it earns the favor of an even broader audience.
According to the draft standards, it’s not that hard to “max” the SDC.
It’s true, according to the current ACFT scoring table, earning 90 to 100 points on the SDC is relatively easy. However, the difference between running the SDC in less than 80 seconds and barely breaking 100 seconds is the difference between crushing a 12 minute two-mile run and loafing in at 16 minutes. As such, Soldiers should not train for this event with a goal of earning an arbitrary 100 points. Soldiers should train for this event with the goal of maximizing their potential in the most mission-focused and physically demanding event on the ACFT.
Developers deliberately designed the ACFT to assess more components of physical fitness than the APFT. Accordingly, the 3-Repetition Maximum Deadlift (MDL) measures absolute strength; the Standing Power Throw (SPT) measures power; the Hand-Release Push-Up (HRPU) measures upper-body muscular endurance; the Leg Tuck (LTK) measures grip strength, trunk stability, and muscular endurance; and the two-mile run measures aerobic endurance. So far, the only major component of fitness missing is anaerobic endurance. Enter the SDC -- it measures anaerobic endurance and then some. Here’s a quick break down of the event and how it measures different elements of fitness:
By now, you should agree that investing wisely in training for the SDC will yield substantial returns. Investing wisely means principled training -- train according to the principle of specificity by stressing the most critical movement patterns and developing the appropriate energy system.
Here are some simple movement-related training tips to mitigate the baby deer legs and rapidly improve your SDC performance:
1. Stay low to accelerate and decelerate - This event covers 250 meters, but does so 25 meters at a time. Your acceleration is more important than top-end speed. Stay low while building speed and get low to decelerate before the turn. Keeping your center of gravity low while changing direction is critical to doing so in the most efficient and safe manner possible. Incorporate the 5-10-5 pro agility shuttle in your warm-up to practice turning and accelerating.
2. Build the posterior chain - Learn to love the glute-ham-developer (GHD). News flash: this machine is not primarily designed for your abs… the best application of the GHD is to develop the glutes and hamstrings! Start with partner assisted GHD negatives if necessary and work to full GH raises. Supplement with heavy sled pushes. A stronger, more powerful posterior chain will go a long way towards increasing your SDC performance.
3. Trunk Work! - Also known as the core or pillar. The SDC will punish Soldiers with weak midsections. “Trunk” is a deliberate word choice -- invoke the imagery of a tree, rooted firmly and solid throughout, when thinking about development of the midsection. This is in direct opposition to the idea of a “core,” primarily found in soft, mushy fruits. Develop a strong, oaken trunk by lifting and carrying heavy loads in a variety of ways: squat, deadlift, zercher carry, and overhead carry; practice leg tucks and use the evil wheel; and do plenty of isometric holds like the deadbug and plank.
4. Rotate and Resist Rotation - having a strong, stable trunk will help you turn and run effectively, but you should also spend some time deliberately training this skill. Incorporate the high-knee, lunge twist in your warm-up. Between sets of other exercises (hopefully your squats and deadlifts), incorporate some banded rotations from the lunge position. Exercises like these will contribute to improving balance and prepare you for the specific demands of the SDC.
More on Energy System Development.
The very best performers will complete all 5 laps of the SDC, 250 meters total, in less than 80 seconds. Less fit Soldiers may require over 3 minutes. All Soldiers putting forth maximum effort, however, are likely to reach their anaerobic threshold (AT). Put simply, when exercising near maximal intensity, the AT is the inflection point at which you’ve depleted the energy readily available for rapid use, but the body’s processes for generating more energy have not kept pace with the rapid demand. The result is that wicked burn that we typically associate with rapid accumulation of lactate. In the case of the SDC, this will manifest itself as the “baby deer legs” you feel while transitioning to the lateral after the backwards sled drag.
Click here to learn more about anaerobic endurance and how to train most effectively for the SDC.
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.