Updated: Oct 14, 2019
The Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) isn’t perfect, but it’s far better than the current APFT. Here’s why: by design any test worth giving or taking should evaluate the knowledge, skills, or abilities we expect the test taker to possess. Following that logic, an Army fitness test should assess the fitness of the Soldier based on the components or qualities of fitness we expect that Soldier to exhibit. So what type of fitness does the Army expect? What does it mean to be fit in the Army? First, we’ve got to define fitness in a broader sense. Believe it or not, CrossFit did a great job. And would you believe that FM 7-22, Army Physical Readiness Training, is almost perfectly aligned with CrossFit’s methodology? Coincidence? I think not. The two definitions of fitness are so closely aligned because they represent both common sense and our current understanding of exercise physiology.
For now, we’ll focus on fitness as the Army defines it in FM 7-22: Strength, Endurance, and Mobility. Both strength (Muscular strength and Endurance) and endurance (Aerobic Endurance and Aerobic Endurance) contribute to our mobility, as mobility is the “functional application of strength and endurance” (how we get from A to B during any movement). Possessing strength and endurance alone does not equal comprehensive fitness, however. You probably all know that Manimal in your unit that eats rubber bumper plates with his raw eggs at breakfast.
Is he any good at sports though? Not likely. We call this the “look like tarzan, play like jane” archetype. He’s all show and no go -- strong as an ox but moves poorly. It’s because he lacks one or more of the Mobility Qualitative Performance Factors: Agility, Balance, Coordination, Flexibility, Posture, Stability, Speed, or Power. Sure, getting from the Assembly Area to the Objective IOT fight and win requires strength and endurance; but think of all the times you’ve had to jump a ditch (power), negotiate an obstacle (agility, balance, coordination), or simply carry your ruck for an extended period of time (posture and stability). These are all components of fitness that any test worth taking should measure!
Guess what the APFT measures… muscular endurance and aerobic endurance. That’s it! Here’s the deal -- the Army is doing you a solid. By design the new test measures at least the following components of fitness: Power, Muscular Endurance, Muscular Strength, Speed, Agility, Aerobic Endurance, and Anaerobic Endurance (an argument could be made that it also accounts for balance, flexibility, coordination, and reaction time -- I’m not entirely sold on that argument). So if you train to do well in the 6 events of the ACFT, you’re going to improve your fitness in a much more meaningful way than if you just trained for the APFT. And I’ll write about this later, but forget all the back problems the Anti-ACFT Trolls are claiming the deadlift will cause -- when you train for a comprehensive fitness those problems start to go away. Your back is injured because your training sucked.
Once we start to deliberately train to improve flexibility, posture, and stability, and strengthen our bodies in a meaningful way, the back problems start to go away. The Army did the math -- and in the long run having comprehensively fit Soldiers actually decreases the Army’s bills. What if en route to decreasing the bills, the Army made you a more fit, healthier human? That’s why the Army is doing you a favor, and that’s why you should take this opportunity to start real training today.