How to train for the Army Combat Fitness Test

In July 2018, the U.S. Army announced rollout of its new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) to replace the APFT. The Army has been conducting “not-for-record” ACFTs since October 2019, while finalizing the new score tables. The new ACFT is scheduled to become the test of record in October 2020. Active-duty and active Guard Reserve Soldiers will be required to take 2 tests per year, and Reserve and Guard Soldiers will be required to take one test per year. But no one will be penalized for not passing until 2022.

What does this mean for you? Whether you’ve already taken your not-for-record test or not, you should start structured training so you’re ready when the ACFT scores count. Here are the exercises you’ll want to work on.

3-rep max (3RM) deadlift.

This deadlift measures lower-body muscular strength. To get the 60-point minimum passing score, you’ll need to lift 140 lb, 3 times. To get the 100-point maximum score, you’ll need to lift 340 lb, 3 times. You’ll perform the test with a 60-lb “trap bar”—a hexagon-shaped barbell—as opposed to a standard straight barbell. To excel, you’ll need to practice your deadlift technique for several weeks leading up to the test. You’ll only have 2 attempts at this test, and it will be important to know roughly what your 3RM is, so you can maximize your score. Watch HPRC’s deadlift instructional videos for tips on how to perfect your technique. Even though it’s demonstrated with a straight bar in both videos, the same technique applies when using the trap bar.

Standing power throw.

This event measures both upper- and lower-body muscular power. You’ll need to throw a 10-lb medicine ball over your head, backwards, 4.5 m for a 60-point score and at least 12.5 m for a 100-point score. You’ll get one practice throw and 2 recorded test throws, and the longest test throw will count as your score. Training for the standing power throw requires full-body movements. The clean and overhead-press videos in HPRC’s series on foundational movements will be the most helpful to train for this event, so be sure to watch them.

Hand-release push-up.

This test is the same as the old push-up but with a new twist. After the downward motion of the push-up, you go all the way down to lie on your chest and pick your hands up off the ground. For this muscular endurance test, you’ll need to perform 10 push-ups in 2 minutes to score the 60-point minimum, or at least 60 push-ups in 2 minutes to hit the 100-point max. While lying on the ground, straighten your arms out to the sides, so your arms are at a 90-degree angle with your body (like a T-shape). The best training for this test will be a combination of core-stability and pushing exercises.

Sprint-drag-carry.

This test consists of five 50-m shuttles. The 60-point minimum passing time is 3:00. To get the 100-point max you’ll need to do it in 1:33 or faster. The 5 shuttles require different strengths. Here’s how to excel at each event.

  1. The sprint is a measure of straight-line running speed. Read HPRC’s article on the need for speed for some training ideas.
  2. The 90-lb sled drag is designed to simulate a casualty drag. You’ll perform one shuttle by dragging a 90-lb sled backwards. This event will really burn your quads, so try to add squats, lunges, and deadlifts to your training plan.
  3. The lateral shuffle is a measure of agility and should be done as described in Military Movement Drill 1 of the Army's field manual on physical readiness training.
  4. The 2 x 40-lb kettlebell carry tests muscular endurance. You’ll carry a 40-pound kettlebell in each hand through the 50 m shuttle, similar to carrying ammo and jerry cans. For tips, see HPRC’s article on carry foundational movements, especially the farmer’s carry video.
  5. Repeat the first sprint.

Leg tuck.

This is possibly the toughest new event. You’ll start by hanging from a pull-up bar using an alternating grip. On the “go” command, you’ll bend your elbows, hips, and knees; pull your knees up to your elbows; then return to a “dead-hang” position where your body is hanging straight down and not swinging. During the 2-minute exercise, you’ll also need to touch your left and right knees to your left and right elbows (at the same time) once during that 2 minutes for the minimum 60-point score and at least 20 times for the maximum 100-point score. If you fail to perform a single leg tuck, you will be required to hold a plank on your elbows and toes for 2 minutes in order to pass this event. Training for this event will require a combination of core stability, muscular strength, and muscular endurance. HPRC’s pulling exercises will also be helpful for this one.

2-mile run.

The 2-mile run tests your cardiorespiratory endurance. The only thing that’s changed is the standard: You’ll need to complete the run in 21 minutes for 60 points and in 12:45 or faster for the 100-point maximum. Read part 1 of HPRC’s PFT/PRT series for training tips.

Start planning some new workout routines so you’re ready when the ACFT becomes the test of record. Since the new events emphasize strength and power, try putting together a block-periodized workout plan to help you hit those max scores. Visit the ACFT website for a complete list of events, how-to videos, safety tips, program updates, and more. And good luck!


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References

ACFT Initial Operation Capability Manual. (2019). https://www.army.mil/e2/downloads/rv7/acft/acft_ioc.pdf

Hibbs, A. E., Thompson, K. G., French, D., Wrigley, A., & Spears, I. (2008). Optimizing performance by improving core stability and core strength. Sports Medicine, 38(12), 995–1008. doi:10.2165/00007256-200838120-00004

National Strength and Conditioning Association. (2017). NSCA’s Essentials of Tactical Strength and Conditioning (B.A. Alvar, K. Sell, & P.A. Deuster Eds.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers.

U.S. Army. (2018). Army Combat Fitness Test. Retrieved 12 March 2020 from https://www.army.mil/acft/.