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Who Cares if Soldiers Look Fat? Reimagining the Army’s Body Composition Program

Who Cares if Soldiers Look Fat? Reimagining the Army’s Body Composition Program

by  Brennan Deveraux & Katie Haapala

For the past few years, the Army has prioritized a holistic approach to health and fitness, epitomized by the service’s overhaul of its physical fitness test. However, the Army’s establishment of its new Combat Fitness Test, and the subsequent controversy with implementation and equipment, has overshadowed other critical initiatives. One of the most pressing of these is the Army Body Composition Program (ABCP) assessment, sparked by the combination of complaints concerning the effectiveness of the tape test, the relevance of a dated height-weight chart, and the potential for discrimination

While many authors have written on the ABCP, often challenging the service to update its body fat testing methods, an assessment of the program’s fundamental purpose is missing from the conversation. 

Simply stated, why does the Army care about a Soldier’s body fat percentage?

While the answer to this question may seem obvious, an examination of the ABCP’s justifications and human costs highlights a need to reimagine the program.

ACFT 3.5: How the Army can Meet Congressional Guidance without Resorting to Gender Discrimination

ACFT 3.5: How the Army can Meet Congressional Guidance without Resorting to Gender Discrimination

by Kristen M. Griest

I wrote an op-ed through the Modern War Institute in February advocating against the implementation of ACFT 3.0, the latest version of the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). The new updates to this test include the option to choose either a plank or leg tuck as a core exercise, the removal of branch-specific minimum standards, and the addition of a promotion system that will assess Soldiers according to their gender. While the Army is eager to produce a version of the test that will not disadvantage women and thereby gain Congressional approval, the ACFT 3.0 misses the mark.  

Lessons Learned in Large Scale ACFT Testing

Lessons Learned in Large Scale ACFT Testing

by Sarah Ferreira 

Since 2018, my unit has been executing the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) on a large scale, meaning that we test large groups of Soldiers continuously throughout a single duty day. We found that we can test a battalion size element (about 1,500 Soldiers) in a 9-hour time frame given the following conditions:

  • 20 fully equipped lanes
  • Grass/turf field that can accommodate 20 lanes-each lane is 3 meters wide and 60m long
  • 2 x Rogue pull up rigs located at end of the testing lanes (or 20 x pull up bars)
  • 2 mile run course co-located next to testing lanes
  • 80 Soldiers per group arriving in 30-minute increments

With each testing repetition we’ve increased our proficiency in setup, administration, grading procedures, assigning support staff, and Soldier throughput. Below are some lessons learned, advice, and tips for anyone who may be tasked to administer large scale ACFTs in the near future.

How We Evaluate Physical Training

How We Evaluate Physical Training

by Alex Morrow

Was that a good workout? If it was, how do you know? If you were to ask these questions to many of our military leaders, they would tell you that if you walk away sweaty, tired, and sore, you’ve had a good workout. To paraphrase a strength and conditioning mentor of mine, Mark Taysom, if those are the criteria, I can give you the fastest workout of your life. Meet me in the sauna at 0200 and I’ll punch you in the face. You’ll be sweaty because you’re in a sauna, you’ll be tired because it’s the middle of the night, and you’ll be sore because you just got punched in the face. Mission accomplished, right?

Wrong. The issue here comes down to using measures of performance (MOP) when, in actuality, we should be using measures of effectiveness (MOE). 

Army Culture: Make Room for Recovery

Army Culture: Make Room for Recovery

By MAJ Terron Wharton

From January 2018 to June 2020, I served in key development positions as a battalion operations officer, battalion executive officer, and brigade executive officer. My key development time was the hardest I have ever worked in my life. Fortunately, I had great teammates, worked for wonderful bosses, had the opportunity to coach and mentor junior officers and NCOs, and formed lifelong bonds I will cherish for the rest of my life. Despite being part of a great team, stress took its toll, and by the end I was something of a wreck; my personal life was strained, I was mentally and physically exhausted, and, to add insult to injury, I had also gained about ten pounds. 

Rethinking the Standard Battle Rhythm

Rethinking the Standard Battle Rhythm

By Chris Garlick

How many Soldiers do you know who always have an energy drink or coffee in their hand, despite the time of day? That question likely describes many of your co-workers and perhaps even yourself. The Army has started to combat this overreliance on caffeine and other stimulants through an information campaign highlighting these substances’ harmful effects. However, this mitigation focuses on a symptom rather than a root cause of the problem. In truth, Soldiers are not getting enough sleep, and the way we organize the standard duty day may be contributing to this issue. Leaders must be open to adjusting their unit’s daily battle rhythm and when their unit conducts PT, adapting to their environment and the demands of our profession. 

Move Your Performance from the Industrial Age to the 21st Century using Wearable Tech

By Tyler Inman

On October 1st, 2020, the Army released the Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) Operating Concept. The document’s foreword, signed by the Army’s senior leadership team, describes H2F as an investment in Soldier readiness and lethality, optimal performance, and increased overall effectiveness. Instead of merely mandating readiness, the H2F Operating Concept represents the Army’s investment in a strategy that provides the means and ways to produce better performance outcomes. For example, unit-level certified strength and conditioning professionals will develop periodized physical training programs; certified athletic trainers will help rehabilitate injuries; performance psychologists will contribute to a peak performance mindset. H2F is an exciting vision for the future of Soldier performance, but full implementation of the H2F concept may take several years. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait to begin your quest for peak performance. Instead, take a cue from professional golfer Nick Watney.

Do Soldiers Need Sleep?

Do Soldiers Need Sleep?

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By Tyler Inman

Practice makes perfect.

Perfect practice makes perfect.

Perfect practice while routinely sleeping 8 hours per night makes perfect.

Lethal squads and platoons are forged through hard, realistic training.  To that end, my boss used to say that Infantrymen learn via two mechanisms: “repetition and blunt force trauma.”  I was on the receiving end of blunt force trauma training events more than once. My boss was correct; those lessons are stamped on my brain.  Attempting to decode why exactly the artful method of “blunt force trauma” is so effective might prove difficult for science. Repetition, on the other hand, is well-studied.  Thanks to tools like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers can tell us a great deal about repetition and the science of memory, concentration, motor-skill, and reaction time.  One of the facts researchers might tell us is that high-quality sleep vastly improves all of the aforementioned qualities.

Precision in Training for the ACFT (Part II): Developing a Training Plan

Precision in Training for the ACFT (Part II): Developing a Training Plan

By Tyler Inman

Any attempt to develop a comprehensive physical training strategy must begin with a basic understanding of the scientific underpinnings offered in “A Leader’s Guide to Training for the ACFT.”  With those foundations in mind, the next step is to conduct a “mission-focused needs analysis” and assess how well the unit can meet those demands.   If the physical demands of the mission are well-defined and prove vastly different than the physical demands of the ACFT, it may be appropriate to develop additional assessments of physical and motor fitness. If the physical demands of the mission are broad or unknown, the Army has already conducted a scientifically-based needs analysis and the ACFT is an appropriate fitness assessment.

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Figure 1: Representative Individual or Unit Average Performance.

Figure 1 is a graphic depiction of ACFT results that could represent an individual performance or unit averages. Visualizing the results in this manner may assist in determining the focus of a comprehensive training program. In this example, performance in the leg tuck event indicates that trunk strength and/or stability is significantly lacking.  This weakness in the kinetic chain not only impacted leg tuck performance, but poor trunk stability likely contributed to weak deadlift and power throw performances as well.  When compared to 2 mile run performance, sprint-drag-carry scores indicate a less-developed anaerobic energy system. Given this insight, this Soldier or unit should focus on stabilizing the trunk and increasing anaerobic endurance.

Precision in Training for the ACFT (Part I): Preventing Injuries

Precision in Training for the ACFT (Part I): Preventing Injuries

By Tyler Inman

Preventable musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries plague Army readiness.

Among Active Duty Soldiers, MSK injuries result in over 10 million limited duty days each year and account for over 70% of medically non-deployable Soldiers.  Described by health experts as the single biggest health problem in the U.S. Military, almost 50% of service members experience one or more injuries each year, resulting in over 2 million medical encounters, and requiring 90-120 days of lost duty for each injury.  Most of these injuries are a result of overuse strains, sprains, and stress fractures to the lower leg and foot; more than half are exercise or sports-related. Of note, available statistics and literature identify running as one of the major causes of MSK injuries.  Recruitment, societal, and cultural issues aside, most health experts and senior Army leaders agree a “balanced fitness program” is a critical component of the prescription required to diminish preventable MSK injuries and increase Army readiness.  What does a “balanced fitness program” look like?  Who will develop, implement, and supervise these efforts? What Army doctrine should we look towards to further understand how to optimize fitness while simultaneously reducing risk of injury?

Current Army doctrine does not sufficiently address these issues.  It is incumbent upon platoon-level leaders to plan, prepare, and execute physical readiness training that logically and systematically generates the type of comprehensive physical readiness capable of reducing preventable MSK injuries.  To achieve this end state, leaders must understand the fundamental principles offered in “A Leader’s Guide to Training for the ACFT;” more importantly, leaders must empower subordinates to develop and implement training strategies that look vastly different than the physical training that produced success on the APFT.  What follows is a practical, evidence-based template intended for use by junior Army leaders to develop physical readiness training strategies representative of the “balanced fitness program” the Army needs.