Army Combat Fitness Test Training - Movement Rx

Army Combat Fitness Test Training

The US Army is making changes to ensure its soldiers are battle ready.  It’s called the new Army Combat Fitness Test and will be fully implemented throughout the Army by October 2020.  Every US Army soldier — active, reservist, and national guard — must pass this test to stay in the Army. The test is designed to challenge the movements and fitness domains needed when a soldier is in battle, and for most soldiers there’s an enormous need for Army Combat Fitness Test Training.

Army Combat Fitness Test Training: How to Properly Prepare and Avoid Injuries

When leading the charge within the Army to create this test, Retired Major General Malcolm Frost and his team considered 11 Warrior Tasks and 10 fitness domains to test and measure what the combat fitness test would entail.

General Frost knew the current physical fitness test didn’t adequately challenge soldiers or fully prepare them for the tasks they’d face in combat. This new test also reflects a larger larger shift in the Army to a new paradigm called Holistic Health and Fitness (aka H2F). This new focus goes beyond physical health and includes the mental and spiritual well-being of the soldier.

“The Army Combat Fitness Test will ignite a generational culture change in Army fitness not seen in four decades. It focuses on all components of physical fitness required for combat, will increase unit readiness, and will help reduce the high rate of muscular-skeletal injuries suffered by Soldiers.”
Malcolm Frost
Major General US Army Retired

Why the Army Combat Fitness Test will better prepare soldiers

https://youtu.be/h84qYHJcuaU

I’m a former Marine, now a doctor of physical therapy and a strength and conditioning coach. I’m excited about this new test because it means there will now be a standard of fitness all soldiers must uphold. This standard requires soldiers to train hard and smart and pay close attention to their recovery to prevent injuries.  (To learn about options for Army Combat Fitness Test Training, click HERE.)

The test has various minimum scores for different kinds of occupational specialties. These are categorized into the following colors and are derived from Department of Labor standards: 

  • Gold (moderate physical demands and minimum Army standard for all soldiers)
  • Grey (significant physical demands)
  • Black (heavy physical demands)

There is only one maximum score for all the tests, with a total of 600. The standards are the same, regardless of gender, age, rank or any other factor except job skills as noted above.  Job requirements don’t change based on a soldier’s age or gender, so every person must be able to perform physically in their military occupational skill. In basketball you wouldn’t put a person who is 5’1” as a post position guarding the basket. The same goes for the service. You want people who can perform the tasks and do their job. This is even more critical given the nature of the mission; performing your job during the crucible of ground combat with the enemies of our nation. 

The test taps into all 10 fitness domains: power, muscular endurance, muscular strength, speed, agility, cardio endurance, flexibility, coordination, reaction time, and balance. This does not mean every part of the body is being tested for each energy domain. The tests look at the actual tasks required of a soldier and ensure the movements test the fitness domains specific to the task in the appropriate body parts. This is the epitome of functional fitness. 

In this test the Army gets specific about the movements needed in battle. They are called Warrior Tasks, and they came out of an Army-wide survey and focus groups. The 11 fundamental Warrior Tasks are:

  1. Move as a member of a team
  2. Perform movement techniques — urban operations
  3. Move under direct fire
  4. React to indirect fire dismounted
  5. Move over, under, around, and through obstacles  
  6. Transport a casualty
  7. React to man-to-man contact (combatives or hand-to-hand combat)
  8. Navigate point-to-point dismounted
  9. Conduct dismounted tactical foot march 
  10. Prepare a fighting position (dig, fill and emplace sandbags) 
  11. Drag a casualty to immediate safety dismounted

The 11 Warrior Tasks encompass all aspects of functional human movements: squatting down, hinging over, pushing, pulling, and carrying in the three cardinal planes of movement: frontal, sagittal, and transverse. They also use all three energy systems: oxidative, phosphagen, and glycolysis. 

Oxidative: The oxidative system kicks in when a task is longer than two minutes. The test that challenges this system in the ACFT is the two mile run. There are many ways to train the oxidative system. You can work for longer durations on higher rep, low-weight exercises or run, row, or climb. All oxidative type exercises last more than two minutes and revolve around the muscular endurance domain. 

Phosphagen: This energy system is used in the first 10 seconds of all Warrior Tasks, and the first 10 seconds of all sets or reps on the ACFT. Of the 10 fitness domains it applies mostly to muscular strength, power, speed, and agility.  

Glycolysis: The glycolytic system is used in tasks that last from 30 seconds to two minutes. This is the majority of movements tested on the ACFT except the two mile run. In terms of the domains of fitness, glycolysis involves muscular strength, muscular endurance, speed, agility, and power. 

The bottom line is this: there is no hiding your fitness and recovery weaknesses on this new Army test.

How the ACFT works and how you should prepare to avoid injury and improve performance

How to perform the ACFT 3 Rep Max Deadlift

The first test is the three rep max deadlift, using a hex bar.  The hex bar deadlift is not as complex a movement as a barbell deadlift.  This is because the weight is closer to your center of gravity and allows you to use a neutral grip. Nevertheless, it is a great way to evaluate a Soldier’s posterior chain function as well as longevity. The stronger your backside is, the less pain you will feel in your joints over time, generally speaking, thus likely extending your Army career. This hex bar deadlift keeps your shoulders more externally rotated – and therefore stable – which allows the shoulder blades to set back and down along your spine.  It allows your feet, knees, and hips to get adequate torque, allowing the low back to be optimally positioned to lift heavy. Finally and most importantly, you can get a good solid diaphragmatic breath with every lift due to the position of the load.   

From a Warrior Task perspective this is a skill transfer test, relating to lifting and moving heavy loads from the ground (personnel and equipment) and extracting a casualty on a litter.  On a specific fitness domain level, this tests muscular strength in the front and back of the body, balance, and flexibility in your posterior chain. 

Other capabilities you need for this test: 

  1. Neutral spine position.  Can you move your spine – from neck to hips – as one joint from point A to B to A without changing position? 
  2. Global flexion. Can you touch your toes without bending your knees?  If not, you do not have the mobility in your posterior chain to do this test without excessive over-tension stress on muscles that are attached to your pelvis and spine. 
  3. Quarter squat.  Can you do this while maintaining a neutral spine and applying torque to your feet, knees, and hips (thus stabilizing the back)?. 
  4. Neutral neck position when lifting from the ground.  Your neck should remain in a neutral, unbent position. When your neck bends or extends, you are putting a kink in your spinal cord and reducing force production.  When neutral your muscles work optimally. 

army combat fitness test prep deadlift

To learn about WarriorUP, our Army Combat Fitness Test Training app, click the image above.

How to perform the ACFT Standing Power Throw

Once the deadlift is complete, you have two minutes of rest before completing the standing power throw. In this test you’ll throw a 10 lb medicine ball overhead, backwards. This was my favorite test of all because it was a movement that I have not done in a while and  and reminded me of playing ball at recess when I was a kid. To throw the ball directly behind you as far as possible you need a solid power stance in a hinge position and a quick hip and thoracic extension movement, also called braced global extension. 

This test will challenge your lower spine if you can’t effectively extend via your hips and thoracic spine. On my first throw I felt my lower back compress, and realized I needed to really think about what anatomy I was using to extend.   Many people are stuck in spinal flexion (forward rounding) from looking at phones and devices all day and are unable to get quality extension. As a result their shoulders, scapula, low back, and neck will take a beating from this movement.

The fitness domains this test challenges are explosive power in the hips and spine, balance in the lower extremity, and flexibility in the posterior chain.  The specific Warrior Tasks challenged are throwing equipment onto or over an obstacle, lifting soldiers up, assisting a buddy to climb up a wall, jumping across and over obstacles, and employing progressive levels of force in man-to-man contact. 

Other capabilities you need for this test:  

  1. Global Extension.  Can you put your arms over your head and extend back, driving your hips forward and extending in your mid back versus lower back? This is a very important position for your body to have, specifically to protect your lower back health for the long haul. . 
  2. Thoracic Rotation.  Rotation helps test side to side the thoracic spines ability to extend and flex. It is an easy way to see the health of your shoulders, neck, and lower back quickly from a unilateral perspective.  
  3. Hinge position.  Can you bend over, shifting your hips back to load your hamstrings and glutes, while keeping a tight neutral spine (sacrum to neck)?   This is a key position for maintaining and improving the health of your spine, especially when lifting heavy things off the ground. 
How to perform the ACFT Hand Release Pushups

Three minutes after you complete your throws, you start the third event – the maximum number of hand release pushups you can complete in 2 minutes.  The hand release pushups challenge midline strength and upper body endurance in the horizontal pushing position.  

This is the most challenging of all the tests for people to reach the max, which is 70 pushups. It is important to note that this exercise is just as much a midline muscular endurance test as it is a shoulder endurance test. Your ability to maintain a plank while pushing involves strong pelvic musculature, along with strong abdominals, spinal stabilizers, and scapula stabilizers.  While people are often stronger in pushing than pulling, a strength program that helps with building a well balanced upper body for muscular endurance has a ratio of 1:2 pushing to pulling exercises. It will be important for the soldier to not get caught up in only practicing horizontal pushing but also horizontal pulling to ensure a more balanced body for the long haul. 

This challenge tests muscle endurance in your midline and upper body, as well as flexibility in your anterior shoulder. The Warrior Tasks it is related to are moving obstacles, pushing an opponent away during man-to-man contact, pushing a disabled vehicle, getting to and from the ground during evasion and maneuver, and reaching out from the prone position when shooting, taking cover, and low crawling. 

Other capabilities you need for this test:  

  1. Anterior shoulder mobility.  The ability to release your hands on the bottom position of your pushup takes flexibility in your pecs and short head of the bicep. If you are tight in anyway here it is going to cause your elbows to flair out, which impacts your ability to maintain adequate torque in the shoulders. 
  2. Plank position.  Building up muscular endurance in the plank will be key. To be able to hold a 4 minute plank would be an ideal time frame to shoot for. 
How to perform the ACFT Sprint, Drag & Carry

After three minutes of rest you will start the sprint, drag, carry test.  This test starts with a 50 meter sprint, followed by a 50 meter 90lb sled drag, followed by a 50 meter lateral run, followed by a 50 meter farmer carry with 40 lb kettlebells in each hand, and finishes with a 50 meter sprint. 

This test seemed like it would be fun but it got hard really fast. our ability to move quickly and efficiently is key. At this point in the ACFT the posterior chain is taxed, and you feel it during the 90 pound sled drag. This is where holes in your preparation will become clear. If you not do any kind of aerobic capacity type of work with load, then you will likely suffer. Most of what you do in battle will take aerobic capacity, so it is essential to have programming that includes it. 

The fitness domains challenged by this test are as follows:

  • Your agility – getting low when touching the lines and turning around quickly;
  • Your anaerobic capacity – the first 30 seconds of the test;
  • Your muscular endurance – the entire test as a whole;
  • Your muscular strength – dragging the sled, followed by lifting and carrying the kettle bells and carrying them.

The Warrior Tasks this test relates to are reacting quickly to direct and indirect fire, building a hasty fighting position, extracting a casualty dismounted or from a vehicle and dragging them to safety, and carrying ammunition to a fighting position or vehicle. 

Other capabilities you need for this test:  

  1. Ankle stability.  Running and cutting is hard on the ankles so practicing balancing on one leg with reaches will be helpful to being successful on this test.  
  2. Neutral spine position.  Keeping your spine neutral when dragging the sled and carrying the weights will keep your movement more efficient and be less taxing to the  nervous system. 
How to perform the ACFT Leg Tucks

Leg tucks come next after four minutes of rest.  By now your heart will be humming. For this test you hang from a pull up bar with a neutral grip and have to pull up to a 90 degree elbow position and lift your knees to your elbows and return to a hanging position. No kipping is allowed and the point is to see if you can achieve 20 leg tucks in 2 minutes without dropping off the pull up bar

This is a tough test as pulling is not a strength for many, especially when your midline is working against gravity. This test requires hip joint mobility as well as a considerable amount of upper body vertical pulling muscular endurance.  This test will also challenge your grip strength as well as your hip flexor strength in ‘open chain’ – which is not a movement people are used to. Oh, this test will also challenge your will.

The fitness domains tested here are muscular strength and muscular endurance in your shoulders, hip flexors and core, endurance, plus flexibility in your hip joint and lower back. The Warrior Tasks tested are surmounting obstacles and walls, rope climbing, and descending or traversing. 

Other capabilities you need for this test:  

  1. Open chain hip flexor muscle endurance.  This is a pretty weak area for most, particularly lifting your legs past the 90 degree mark, so working on open chain hip flexor strength will be key. 
  2. Midline endurance.  The best way to train this is by practicing hollow holds on the ground and on a pull up bar. Working your way up to 2 minutes would be ideal. 
  3. Upper body vertical pulling endurance.  This will take working on pull ups in pronated, supinated, and neutral grip positions.
  4. Hip capsule flexion mobility.  Your hip capsule mobility can limit up to 50% of your range of motion, so it will be important to do specific banded capsular mobilizations that improve hip flexion.
How to perform the ACFT 2 Mile Run

After five minutes of rest comes everyone’s favorite test, the two mile run. While I find running more fun when there is an obstacle every ¼ of a mile, this was a great test of pure aerobic capacity and muscular endurance.  Particularly after being tested in other fitness domains over the previous 30-40 minutes. It was not a fun test, however a solid one to see how much oxidative gas was left in the tank.

I do not see the run being the largest issue for most.  There is a running test on the current Army fitness test, so most Soldiers will be accustomed to this movement.  However, if you do not train by running AFTER weight lifting work, then you will struggle with this run as your nervous system will already be taxed from the previous tests. 

The fitness domain this tests is muscular endurance and the Warrior Tasks challenged are dismounted movement, ruck march, and infiltration.  

Other capabilities you need for this test:  

  1. Higher cadence.  Over 180 steps a minute is proven to be the most efficient, so shorten your stride.
  2. Proper stride length.  Shorter, faster stride lengths is key.
  3. Lateral hip strength.  Single leg strength is really important because when you run you are literally on one leg at a time, not both. Often times poor lateral hip strength is what causes up stream (low back) and down stream (knee, feet) issues.

The entire test must be completed within 70 minutes.  For those with permanent injuries, the Army is working on an alternate test with alternate events.  However, I think this is a solid, comprehensive test for overall functional fitness levels. The Army did a good job creating a varied test that hits multiple fitness domains that also cover the Warrior Tasks needed for being prepared for battle. 

Solutions for Army Combat Fitness Test Training

“WarriorUp is an important holistic fitness tool for commanders and leaders at all levels. It provides innovative, interactive and fun methods to improve total body, mind and spirit fitness in direct support of the Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness system. More importantly, it provides leaders with a tool to lead, monitor, support, incentivize and improve fitness across their units and organizations.”
Malcolm Frost
Major General U.S. Army Retired

Your physical health is key to your longevity in the Regular Army, Army National Guard, or Air National Guard.  If you are deconditioned or have any pain now, start with one our digital rehab programs: https://movement-rx.com/digital-rehab. If you are a Commander looking for a customized program that has workouts that are scaled effectively with injury prevention tactics as well as performance focused training coupled with mindset exercises,  then contact us to learn about our upcoming WarriorUP app solution at [email protected]

It is up to you, the Soldier to hold the standard now, and watch as the quality of your life unfolds as a secondary benefit to the changes you need to make in your life because of the ACFT.  It is up to you as a Commander to give your Soldiers what will be effective to help them avoid injury and improve their performance on the Army Combat Fitness Test.

Get access to our digital rehab programs.


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