By, Brad Pasker – O2X On-Site Specialist
Over the last century, the United States Army utilized a variety of physical assessments with the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) being in use from 1980 to 20207. The APFT was a gender integrated, three event test that included sit-ups, push-ups, and a two-mile run7. A technical report conducted by the United States Army Center for Initial Entry Training in 2019, based upon findings from the Baseline Soldier Physical Readiness Requirements Study (BSPRRS) done in 2012, concluded that the APFT was a relatively low-to-moderate predictor of Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills and Combat Tasks performance (R2 = 0.423): p≤ 0.057. This showcased that it was insufficient at measuring soldiers’ abilities to perform WTBD/CSTs at a proficient level7. Upon this revelation, the Army Combat Fitness Test was created, and the Army launched its diagnostic phase in 201913. The initial ACFT was a 6-event test that included the 3 Repetition Maximum Deadlift (MDL), the Standing Power Throw (SPT), the Hand-Release Push-Up (HRP), the Sprint-Drag-Carry (SDC), the Leg Tuck, and the 2-Mile Run (2MR). The initial wave of results from this diagnostic phase showed there were significant failures in the Leg Tuck event, so it was switched out for the Plank (PLK)6. As of October 1, 2022, after revisions were made, the ACFT is a gender integrated, 6 event test that includes the 3RM, the SPT, the HRP, the SDC, the PLK, and the 2MR6. Its organization loosely follows NSCA guidelines of testing order by performing strength, power, upper body muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance, core muscular endurance, and lastly aerobic endurance. The core muscular endurance was put in between the anaerobic and aerobic events to allow for lower body recovery. The events were also put in this order to allow for the set-up to flow smoothly from one event to another.
Event #1: 3 Repetition Maximum Deadlift (MDL)
Starting off the ACFT is the first event, the 3 Repetition Maximum Deadlift (MDL), which is a measure of lower body muscular strength and the ability to lift heavy loads off the ground. According to FM7-22 muscular strength is the amount of force a muscle or a group of muscles can generate, and this is usually determined by a one repetition maximum lift8. Maximum Muscular strength exercises rely on the ATP-PCr energy system for the immediate access to Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) to perform fast, powerful movements within a 5-15 second timeframe. The goal of the ACFT is to assess soldier readiness and avoid injury so the 3-repetition maximum was selected to avoid the potential injuries that could occur with a single rep max effort. To perform well in this event, it is important to include different variations of the deadlift in your training. Movements such as the straight bar deadlift, suitcase deadlift with kettlebells, and sumo deadlift are all important to incorporate in a training program. Progressing from low intensity high volume to higher intensity lower volume will also help in creating solid movement patterns.
Event #2: Standing Power Throw (SPT)
The second event in the ACFT is the Standing Power Throw (SPT). This assessment measures a soldier’s explosive power, which predicts a soldier’s ability to be able to jump across obstacles, execute buddy drags, loading equipment, or employ force in hand-to-hand combat6. FM 7-22 describes power as the application of strength over time8. It is the result of overcoming resistance at a high rate of speed. An assessment based on power relies on the ATP-PCr system to quickly access ATP to perform an explosive movement within a few seconds. With this event being a power-based event, it will be vital to work explosive plyometric movements into your training. Movements that include triple extension (extension of the ankles, knees, and hips) such as the power jump, box jumps, or broad jumps will be beneficial. Incorporating overhead exercises such as the overhead push press and kettlebell snatch will also help improve your ability to perform well. Lastly it is important to know when to release the ball and which position to be in to maximize your ability. Releasing the ball when your arms are in line with your ear is a good starting point. Practice this movement and adjust position accordingly to what works best for you.
Event #3: Hand-Release Push-Up (HRP)
Next up is the third event, which is the Hand-release Push-Up (HRP). The goal of the HRP is to measure a soldier’s upper body muscular endurance, which in turn relates to their capability to push an opponent away or off them during hand-to-hand combat, push a stuck vehicle, or push up from the ground when evading and maneuvering during contact6. Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to perform a movement for an extended period of time8. This type of physical component utilizes the anaerobic energy system to fuel high intensity movements lasting up to two minutes. Training for this event involves the incorporation of press variations. This can include the barbell bench press or dumbbell bench press and their incline/decline variations. It’s also important to note that this is a muscular endurance test so high-volume low intensity is what your training should focus on.
Event #4: Spring-Drag-Carry (SDC)
Following the HRP is the fourth event, the Sprint-Drag-Carry (SDC). The SDC is a 250-meter shuttle that measures a soldier’s anaerobic capacity, muscular endurance, and even muscular strength. This event is excellent at identifying the ability to react to direct and indirect fire, quickly build a fighting position, and extract a casualty6. Anaerobic capacity is the focus of the SDC showcasing the ability to exercise large muscle groups for short bursts of high intensity8. It relies on the anaerobic energy system to fuel these high intensity movements lasting up to two minutes. Incorporating forms of anaerobic training such as 300 yd shuttle runs, or 400-meter intervals will help achieve event success. This is a unique event that also allows you to break up and train for its individual parts. Sprinting, sled pulls, and farmer’s carries are all movements that can be incorporated individually into training programs allowing for improvement in multiple areas.
Event #5: Plank (PLK)
After completion of the SDC comes the fifth event being the Plank (PLK), which is an isometric movement that measures core muscular endurance. Our core plays a vital role in our body’s movement mechanics, balance, stability, posture, injury prevention, and others. Having a strong core is the driving force behind being able to execute any military movement. The energy system used in this event can either be anaerobic or aerobic depending on how long it is maintained. Improving your plank ability can be done with doing the plank itself more or including variations of the plank, such as side planks. Incorporating dynamic core movements such as the leg tuck and twist and bridge variations will also help with plank improvement.
Event #6: Two-Mile Run (2MR)
Last of the events in the ACFT is the two-mile run (2MR) being a measure of aerobic endurance. FM7-22 defines aerobic endurance as the ability to exercise large muscle groups for sustained periods of time longer than a few minutes6. With the 2MR lasting a maximum of 22 minutes the body uses its aerobic energy system for sustained energy over this longer time period. Performance in the 2MR is a solid predictor on how well soldiers will do in long foot marches, patrols, or unit runs6. Improving your 2-mile run time will require you to incorporate aerobic training days into your program. These can be long slow runs, tempo runs, or even interval runs. Incorporating a mixture of both aerobic and anaerobic days of training will be beneficial in building sustained success when taking the ACFT.
The United States Army has spent a considerable amount of time and resources on creating a tactically relevant, well rounded physical fitness assessment to ensure soldiers can perform the tasks required of them. As of October 1, 2022, the Army Combat Fitness test has been officially implemented and is the new fitness standard. With these new fitness standards comes a responsibility to achieve and maintain them. To do this one must understand how to effectively train their bodies to achieve progressed levels of fitness, all while avoiding injury to maintain readiness. This article has laid out an understanding of what each of the event’s purpose is and how to train for each of them. With limitless amounts of resources to refer to, everyone should be able to uphold the standard.
1. Department of the Army. ATP 7-22.01 Available online at Army Publishing Directorate.https://armypubs.army.mil/. Accessed December 4, 2022.
2. East, Whitfield B., David DeGroot, and Stephanie Muraca-Grabowski, Baseline Soldier Physical Readiness Requirements Study, Fort Eustis, Va.: U.S. Army Center for Initial Entry Training, Technical Report T19.041-13.1, November 2019. As of June 22, 2021: https://www.iadlest.org/Portals/0/AD1097586%20Baseline%20Soldier%20Physical%20
3. Field Manual 7-22, Holistic Health and Fitness, Washington, D.C.: Headquarters, Department of the Army, October 2020
4. Independent Review of the army combat fitness test: Summary of key findings and recommendations. 2022. doi:10.7249/rra1825-1
About O2X On-Site Human Performance Specialist Brad Pasker:
Brad Pasker is an O2X On-Site Strength and Conditioning On-Site Specialist, and Human Performance Advisor for the 81st Readiness Division H2F Program. Brad attended the University of Northern Iowa where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science in 2012. In 2013 Brad joined the United States Army serving for 8 years and acted as an Instructor for the Army Physical Fitness School at Fort Jackson SC.
About O2X Human Performance:
O2X Human Performance provides comprehensive, science-backed programs to hundreds of public safety departments, federal agencies, and the military. O2X works with clients to elevate culture, improve mental and physical well-being, support healthy lifestyles, and reduce healthcare costs associated with injuries and illnesses. Driven by results and cutting-edge research, O2X programs are designed and delivered by a team of Special Operations veterans, high-level athletes, and hundreds of leading experts in their respective fields of human performance