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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.

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.

A Leader’s Guide to Training for the ACFT: Part 2

A Leader’s Guide to Training for the ACFT: Part 2

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By Tyler Inman

In Part 1, you learned that overload must occur to increase fitness.  Overload drives adaptation by creating enough stress to elicit a response. The key is a slow, smooth progression commonly referred to as progressive overload.  Part 2 will describe both the types of movements we should overload and the appropriate prescription to train each component of fitness.

Underlying Theory 2: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID Principle)

The body’s optimal response to stress is to increase the resistance to the initial stress so that we are more prepared the next time we face it.  This favorable adaptation is specific to the stimulus.  In other words, the training effect correlates directly to the type of training. Great endurance runners typically train using some combination of long-distance, aerobic training.  Their physiology is fine-tuned for aerobic endurance work in the modality of running.  Great endurance runners, despite good, hard training, are probably not great long jumpers because they do not frequently train in the power domain.  Likewise, despite a great aerobic engine, they may not be great long distance swimmers because they do not train frequently in the swim modality.

This brings to light two key applications of the SAID principle:  We must train specifically for the types of movements we intend to perform (the movement modality) and for the specific component of fitness we desire to exhibit (the fitness component or domain).

A Leader’s Guide to Training for the ACFT: Part 1

A Leader’s Guide to Training for the ACFT: Part 1

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By Tyler Inman

The Army will officially replace its current physical assessment, the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), with the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) in October 2020.  Soldiers that currently earn 300 points on the APFT by focusing on aerobic and muscular endurance training (high volumes of running, push-ups, and sit-ups) are left with a choice: languish in mediocrity by scoring well in only one or two ACFT events, or drastically shift their approach to physical training by incorporating current strength and conditioning principles. This is not another opinion regarding the Army’s new fitness test. Instead, this is an Army leader’s attempt to distill the basic principles of exercise science into a palatable guide for planning Physical Readiness Training (PRT) that is effective, sustainable, and ultimately contributes to increased readiness for combat.

A New, More Demanding Test

The ACFT is a six event, 600-point, comprehensive physical assessment.  It is comprehensive because unlike its predecessor, the ACFT measures each major component of fitness: aerobic and anaerobic endurance, muscular strength and endurance, and power.  Scoring very well on the ACFT will also require coordination, balance, and stability. The six events, in order of execution are the 3-Repetition Maximum Deadlift, Standing Power Throw, Hand-Release Push-Up, Sprint-Drag-Carry, Leg Tuck, and 2-Mile Run.  Each event is scored on a 100-point scale, for a total of 600 available points.  Unlike the APFT, even very physically fit Soldiers will fall short of “maxing out” this new test and the ACFT is age and gender neutral.  One test, one scale, one challenging standard.