Recent articles—including one by Capt. Kristen Griest published by the Modern War institute and another in the New York Times—have triggered a major conversation about the Army’s continued development and implementation of the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). We commend all soldiers who have participated in this discussion—one that must continue.
The test has evolved since its inception, and it will (and should) continue to do so. Yet, any decision about its future development will only be made based on facts and data. We don’t have all the data yet, and we must gather it. If you are a leader in the Army, at any level, we need your help to get it.
The Army is a learning organization and the ACFT is the biggest Army-wide change to occur in over four decades. It is a far superior assessment of soldier fitness and combat readiness than its predecessor, the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). It will improve soldier and unit readiness, transform the army’s fitness culture, reduce preventable injuries and attrition, and enhance soldiers’ mental toughness and stamina.
The Army has been actively developing the ACFT for over ten years. Early in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, cases emerged of soldiers not being able to conduct critical basic drills—firing their weapons, moving to cover, providing first aid, and others. As a result, in 2003, the Army unveiled the Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills, a series of several dozen basic soldier tasks that everyone—from infantrymen to surgeons—needs to be able to do. In 2009, the Army took further action aimed at ensuring that its physical training program was sufficient to prepare soldiers for combat when it began developing the Army Physical Readiness Training field manual (now FM 7-22, Holistic Health and Fitness).
It quickly became clear, however, that the new comprehensive fitness manual was not enough to change the Army. It also needed to change the way soldiers’ fitness was assessed. Without changing the fitness test, there was no accountability to train according to the manual. As long as you could do the requisite number of push-ups and sit-ups and could run two miles in the specified time, you were considered fit.
In 2012, the Army directed a study, which was later peer-reviewed and validated in 2020, that laid out the warrior tasks and assessed how well the APFT could predict a soldier’s ability to conduct those tasks. The study found the APFT was about 40 percent accurate as a predictor. This study was age and gender neutral because the objective was to evaluate the warrior tasks and battle drills as related to the physical fitness assessment. In that same study, researchers used an eight-event test that increased the figure to 83 percent. From those eight events, the Army designed the six-event ACFT, which yielded about 70 percent accuracy as a predictor of a soldier’s ability to conduct the warrior tasks and battle drills. That is a significant increase over the APFT.
A new fitness culture that builds around the new test will also significantly decrease the musculoskeletal injuries that impact unit readiness. Since April 2017, the Army has seen 10 percent and 6 percent decreases in injuries in basic training among women and men, respectively. This is due in part to how physical fitness training has evolved to better prepare soldiers to conduct warrior tasks and battle drills.
The Army has been learning and adapting the fitness test throughout the entire process. There have been multiple modifications made based on data collected in research and testing. Most recently, the plank was added as an alternative to the leg tuck. Both exercises measure core strength, but the plank isolates that measurement to a greater degree from things like upper body strength—which is assessed by other ACFT events—than the leg tuck does. Soldiers will choose which core exercise they want to do. There will be a scoring scale for the plank. One institutional Army unit saw its female soldiers improve from a 14 percent to a 96 percent pass rate in that event after implementation of the plank. As a measure of core strength, there are no concerns with using this event.
The Army is preparing the way ahead for the ACFT, but at the end of the day any discussion or policy relating to the test needs to be data driven. So far, only 25 percent of the total Army has uploaded scores into Digital Training Management System (DTMS), and only 7 percent of soldiers have taken it more than once. Currently, women account for less than 8 percent of all testing data and a majority of that is from operational units. The Army cannot (and should not) make decisions based on such limited information.
Units must continue to administer and upload test results. There should be no limitations on soldiers taking the test. A range of training resources exist that can assist units in training for and administering the test properly—from the ACFT Training Guide (published in 2018), to the Training and Doctrine Command YouTube page. The equipment is 100 percent fielded. Over thirty-six thousand sets of equipment have been issued across all Army components.
There is no excuse for leaders not training for and administering the ACFT, or for not uploading the test results into DTMS. The Army needs that data. The data will baseline the scoring minimums during the next year before final implementation, which is still on track for March 2022.
The ACFT will remain gender neutral to pass. Every soldier must do the same amount of each exercise to be a soldier. The intent is to have only one scoring table. But that data is crucial to helping us inform policy moving forward.
The Army is also moving forward with independent reviews directed by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act. Those are due to the secretary of the Army in December. There are still a lot of policy questions on how different military occupational specialties will be assessed, how scores will be used for promotion and selections, and how fitness will be weighed against other indicators of performance and potential. The key, however, is that the answers to these questions must be based on the testing data.
The ACFT is vital to changing the culture of how our Army trains. It will ensure our soldiers are fit and ready to fight, win, and return home. We should continue to discuss the test and our fitness culture change, but more importantly we need leaders at all levels of the Army to train for and administer the test, and to enter the data. The American people depend on the Army to provide a force that is physically fit and ready. With the necessary data, we will be able to further refine the ACFT so that it enables the Army to do just that.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston is the 16th Sergeant Major of the Army. He has held every enlisted leadership position in artillery, ranging from cannon crewmember to command sergeant major. He devotes the majority of his time advocating for initiatives designed to develop engaged leaders who build cohesive teams that are highly trained, disciplined, and mentally and physically fit. Follow him on Twitter: @16thSMA.
John Spencer is the chair of urban warfare studies with the Modern War Institute at West Point. A former Ranger instructor, he held the ranks of private to sergeant first class and lieutenant to major while serving in Ranger, airborne, light, and mechanized infantry units during his twenty-five years as an infantryman. Follow him on Twitter: @SpencerGuard.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.
Image credit: Sgt. Jermaine Jackson, US Army
SMA Grinston, Mr. Spencer,
I’m unclear about the validity of the plank as an adequate alternative to the leg tuck. You present data showing that it increased pass rate, but somehow conclude it to be an acceptably equivalent assessment of core strength.
You claim the other physical attributes involved in a leg tuck are assessed elsewhere in the test, but the hand-release push up is already on the test and (if actually held to proper standard) involves what is essentially a moving plank.
There is no other event on the test that involves an overhead pulling motion (a basic movement involved in scaling walls or climbing through windows).
I fail to see how the plank alternative is anything save a means of lowering standards. It is the exact opposite of your assertion that “[t]here is no excuse for leaders not training for and administering the ACFT,” and the physical culture you’re trying to create will be hurt by such.
No one is blind to the fact that politics drive military decisions, it’s just insulting when that reality is hidden behind ham-fisted fluff.
Just took the H2F course at FT Bliss and by far this was the best information I’ve received in my 9 years of service, I look forward to its implementation army wide and letting Soldiers know that our leadership cares about the whole soldier not just on the battlefield but off as well. Might take some extra motivation to get the old heads to recognize it but face it they’re still trying to figure out their iPhones lol
I echo the sentiments of Hate_me… Don’t insult our intelligence for God sake. There’s nothing remotely close within the ACFT in terms of measuring the same physical demand and use of back and core muscles as the Leg Tuck. Anybody who can hold the push-up position for 2 min. can plank for 2 min. If plank are meant to measure core strength maybe a simple pull-up or chin-up (shooter’s choice) would suffice… Oh wait… That would disadvantage a specific group? Well than we mustn’t use it as a viable measurement tool because it doesn’t match our narrative? This either IS based on SCIENCE or it ISN’T… Again, I agree that politics is at play here but you lose the trust and confidence of the force if they see through your comments. At least develop more thoughtful lies or omissions so the force can be blissfully ignorant.
If the ACFT is based on a fixed set of combat tasks, why are there alternate events in the ACFT? There should be one test, period.
If the plank is just as good as the leg tuck, it should be the standard because it uses less equipment to train for.
Consistent standards for all. Gender neutral.
One ACFT standard
One grooming standard
If hairstyle, earrings , and nail polish is acceptable for one soldier, it is acceptable for ALL soldiers.
Why different standards?
SMA Grinston and Mr. Spencer,
As a junior officer, I’m optimistic about the future of the ACFT. I believe it’s a good call to gather more data to further assess scoring and it’s impact on promotions.
Even through the decision-making process is chaotic, I’m hopeful that we can come to a consensus on the best way-ahead for the ACFT. Thank you for tacking this challenging problem set.
This test is putting alot of people in my unit out. They are hitting the end of their 1st contract and not dealing with it. I was paying out of pocket to train at a crossfit type gym for 9 months and to this day cannot do a leg tuck. This test is not sustainable for 20 years in service. It might work well for younger who have not been broken by deployments or just years of wear and tear. Not accounting for any age/longevity of service is a disservice to those 6 or 10+ years in. I am a guard soldier so nearly half my check goes to training the rest of my check goes to eating right and supplementing. Age and military service has created auto immune response and inflammation that I keep in check with diet. Every time I go on orders it's either per diem, mre or garbage defac. The Army doesnt foster nutrition in a way I have seen on Air Force bases. They are on old nutritional guidelines the sugar and carbs are way too high. Theirs a whole attitude of health that needs fixed on the Army and as a reflection of society.
I am genuinely sorry that you haven’t been able to progress on the leg tuck after 9 months. Assuming you’re still healthy enough to deploy or endure regular training, then the fault is either with your training program or a failure to adhere to it.
What, specifically, is causing you difficulty in the movement?
I agree with the discussion by Hate_me. While I believe the intentions behind the ACFT is positive, the politics of the Army Most Senior Leaders continue to please politicians but not have the best interest of the Soldiers. This is one Army and the language that's coming from the Pentagon, is a Army divided. I'm not the smartest person, but my over 20plus years experience tells me that the ACFT and all the recommended changes is to facilitate weakness and how can a Army execute it's mission with unfit Soldiers (Mentality & Physically). The best way to evaluate SM's members without bias is to use the confidence course as the ACFT, which evaluate physical fitness, muscular endurance, core strength and most importantly HEART. Soldiers need to be motivated and Leaders are responsible to provide that direction and motivation. What better way to do so, but to implement a confidence course with direct events that measure all muscle groups and mental strength.
Note: If the goal of the ACFT is to make it is easier for female Soldiers? Most female Soldiers I serve with does not need the standard lowered but for leaders to understand male and female physical abilities will never be the same.
The leg tuck is very difficult. It is difficult to progress if you can't do one. Therefore what is needed is a ramp-up program. I used an adjustable angle setup board.
I'm happy to see injuries have been reduced. However injuries are an interactive multi-variable problem (diet, nutrient deficiencies, bone status, workload progression, etc.). The re-injury data is huge. We almost need a new medical profession that melts together PT, OT, CAT, and sports medicine with nutrition, exercise, and accelerated healing technologies.
The reality is the Nation's adolescent health is deteriorating (see CDC and USDA data) so (just like in WWI & 2), we ned to adapt our systems to reality.
SMA Grinston, Mr. Spencer,
Never in my 25 years as enlisted or officer have I seen in training or in combat a situation where I needed to jog 2 miles. I question why this was retained in the test when there are other ways to measure cardiovascular capacity that don't lead to so many injuries. Let's be honest that long runs, day after day, probably lead to a huge percentage of injuries in the Army, particularly knee injuries, and other than culture, history, and lazy PT planning, has no real utility in improving Soldier fitness — particularly when stacked up against other modalities. The 2 mile run does not replicate any combat situation and is certainly not representative of the physical requirements of a long patrol or ruck.
Secondly — although I have access at home to the equipment to train for the ACFT, my unit does not. For those of us that do not reside on a Divisional Base and no longer belong to operational units, what is the plan to allow us to actually train for this event?
This article is so upsetting.
I’ll specify up front the old APFT needed updating, and improving fitness across the Army is necessarily a good thing. As Leaders trying to make improvements, I commend the efforts of SMA Grinston and Mr. Spencer. And I really want to be sympathetic with what they’re doing. But this just isn’t good enough, on so many levels:
Making an argument the Army is sciencey and data-driven would be stronger if the Army conducted sound testing, collected fully representative data, had a good think, collaborated with the right people, maybe had another good think, set sound policy, and THEN fielded new programs. In that order, or something like it.
Stating “The Army has been actively developing the ACFT for over ten years” isn’t a good thing, given the state of the program now. And Congress feeling the need to intervene in yet another Army program isn’t a good indication either. Designing and fielding a new physical-fitness test simply should not be this complicated or take so long. This isn’t our biggest or most complex challenge. The Army faces too many uncertainties and changes in even the near future, and there must be some realization the Army has to manage change more nimbly and effectively.
Finally, just admit the ACFT roll-out has been a mess. Everyone knows this already. So being more real with people than "…still on track for March 2022" seems to be a necessary step toward ultimate acceptance of the ACFT, among Soldiers and in Congress.
Is the issue truly a lack of data or unhappiness with the results? I defer to others on the specific tasks measured in the ACFT and their respective merits, but surely over four decades worth of performance data – from all branches of the service – plus civilian athletic data make clear the reasons why men and women have different levels of success. And, also the degree to which those differences – which are huge – make it extremely difficult to design a truly gender neutral test. In this instance, all of the public response, however, has been about the unequal scores, not the test being biased towards men. Well, if that is the problem one either faces the fact that the sexes are different and accepts significant imbalances in their representation, or one does not. The latter is likely to be self-defeating.
– 2 mile run
– 4-6 mile ruck with 25lbs to the range and
– Qualify with your assigned weapon
– Finish range with a radio function check with a call to report your scores
Knock out a PT test and weapon qual by 1200. Some physical events for the sake of being physical and some that are combat applicable. If you cannot PT AND shoot AND communicate, your value in the battlefield diminishes drastically.
Just go back to the same APFT from the 80s and 90s. If it aint broke, don't fix it. Push-ups, Sit-ups, 2 Mile Run. Minimal equipment needed. It aint hard.
The APFT was stupid – nobody does their military job in sneakers and shorts, and the 2-mile run is completely irrelevant to anything.
It’s only redeeming quality was that it was simple and required no equipment beyond a stopwatch, a pen, and some paper. However, the ACFT seems to have swung the pendulum too far towards overly complicated and it STILL retains the stupid 2-mile run in sneakers.
One task that almost every Soldier for 5,000 years has had to do is walk long distances, carrying a lot of stuff, as fast as practicable, and still be prepared to fight at the destination.
Somehow, the “brain trust” never seems to include that fundamental job requirement in physical fitness tests, except for certain schools.
"The more things change, the more they stay the same"…the Army is hopelessly entwined with social experimentation. Just get over it, as long as women are going to be an integral part of the Army there will either be different standards for women or a lowering of standards across the board. At Basic Airborne training there was an often repeated phrase…"Gravity ain't your friend, it doesn't care about you, it doesn't care what you want or what you think…it just goes to work everyday". Physiology is a lot like that and female physiology doesn't care what you want or what you think, it just shows up everyday at work. I'm all for women being in the military, I'm all for women being in Combat Arms, I'm a big fan of women and I think the world of them. I want to treat women like equals in all respects…which includes physical requirements for any particular MOS. You want women to be equal then you have to treat them as equals.
Trim it down to two minutes of push-ups, two minutes of sit-ups, and a timed two-mile run. Simple and effective as long as leaders hold their soldiers to the standard.
My son is a former 82nd Airborne 11C E-5, presently taking a break from the Army at college on the "Green to Gold" programme. Not long ago, he commented to me about the lousy physical fitness of the ROTC students. t might be worth the Army's time to put more emphasis on the fitness of future officers.
Gender is not neutral, and there will never be a “gender neutral” physical fitness test. The plank is not a substitute for a completely different exercise – in fact, the plank is about as easy as something can be and still be called an exercise. The world record for the plank was set by a 62 year old male who held it for over 8 hours. Not only is the plank ridiculously easy, it also has zero relevance to any task.
It is painful to have the SMA and a former Army officer say falsehoods because of political pressure even though they know it isn’t true.
The Army is now lying to itself to avoid acknowledging that well documented physical differences between males and females precludes gender neutrality. Be honest and simply state that women statistically have lower upper body strength then men, and the test was adjusted for women because too few women are physiologically able to pass the knee tuck, and we can’t handle the heat of bouncing all the women out of the Army.
Don't lie and claim that the plank is measuring anything meaningful, because it isn’t, unless you are 62 and hold the plank for 8 hours. And then all it is measuring is that some 62 year old has nothing else to do.
The worst part is, all healthy women ARE physiologically able to pass the Leg Tuck; maybe not right now, but in a relatively short time with the proper training.
The fact that we have such a high failure rate in this one event is exactly why we need this event. Nothing says, “don’t bother training” like basing the standard on what the lowest common denominator can do without effort.
The worst part, while the minimum one (1) Leg Tuck is less time-consuming than a 2:09 Plank, the max 20 Leg Tucks is much more strenuous than a 4:20 Plank. Soldiers competing for points are going to opt for the less-rigorous event that leaves more in the tank for later events.
Respectfully, as a SNCO who genuinely cares about the mission and those who must carry it out….
I beg of you, SMA, show us that you’re still an NCO at heart and not the political shill this ACFT evolution makes you seem.
There is no place for sycophancy in the NCO Corps.
Hate_me, good comment.
After some thought, I've come to believe all the noise and bluster about the Leg Tuck failure rate is a red herring. As Hate_me pointed out below, the exercise isn't impossible for females WHO HAVE DONE SOME TRAINING to pass. The abysmal 60% some-odd failure rate typically quoted was based on soldiers taking the ACFT for the first time, and its highly likely most did no prior training (no command emphasis, no soldier effort) to ensure they would be successful. Rather than implement an ACFT training program, giving soldiers time to actually train to improve, and then conducting another test to measure the impact specific training had on soldier performance, Army senior leadership merely cruised along with the false narrative pushed by Gillibrand and other cancel-culture feminists to focus on the left hand (Leg Tuck failures) while the right hand did the real work of completely revamping the scoring model as senior leaders quickly noticed that women would almost always score lower than men on EVERY EVENT of the ACFT, and by doing so would lag behind most men who through their actual performance would outshine women, and earn higher rankings on promotion cut offs, OMLs for schools, and evaluation reports (again, affecting promotion). The same feminists that insisted women could do everything and anything a man could do, just as well (and therefore deserved a shot at direct combat jobs such as infantry, armor, and SOF) suddenly saw their house of cards falling and that the vast majority of women that simply would not be able to even compete to reach mediocre male standards under a much ballyhooed "gender neutral" approach quickly mobilized to ensure women would always and forever receive an artificial 'boost' so their actual performance could be adjusted to equal or exceed actual male performance.
Again, the Leg Tuck is merely a red herring to take everyone's attention away from the new, gender-normalized, artificially adjusted scoring tables. Well done, CSA McConville, SMA Ginston, and all other senior leaders that lacked the backbone to stand up to radical feminists who first demanded equal opportunity, and now that reality has shattered that illusion scream for equal outcomes. You've proven your moral cowardice and truly exposed your true intents. Know that your legacies will be rightfully grouped with Leon Panetta, Martin Dempsey, Scott Miller, Dave Fivecoat, Mark Milley, and all the others so-called leaders that ignored truth and science to pander to the fantasy of gender-neutrality, which is in fact Newspeak for “artificial female advantage”.
80's and 90's physical fitness tests was simple. When service members decided to come in service there already prepared for old physical fitness tests. The ACFT for alternatives events is to difficult for SM who's age 47 and older. Roll 5,000 meters or bike 12,000 meters in 25 minutes. SM can't make gym in morning or evenings, because not allow to go the gym in the morning, gym is full time get there, in the fields, on detailed, 24 hours duty, and ETC's.
"The ACFT will remain gender neutral to pass. Every soldier must do the same amount of each exercise to be a soldier."
So, that was a lie.