October 2018 marked the official beginning of the one-year field test period for the new Army Combat Fitness Test. The military will move into a preparatory phase in October 2019 and expects to see full implementation — including soldier evaluations — by 2021.
The purpose of the new physical training program is to set a realistic test that draws from real-life lessons and mimics the physical demands of combat, enabling soldiers to better prepare themselves for daily tasks, as well as battlefield situations. To that end, the military is preparing to revamp not only the test but its corresponding daily fitness routines, using a combination of functional fitness and power lifting to increase participation, pass rates and rates of achievement.
The new gender-neutral army combat fitness test (ACFT) features six key elements: the three-repetition maximum deadlift, the standing power throw, the hand-release push-up, the sprint-drag-carry, the leg tuck and the two-mile run. The current implementation phase includes a limited-user field test of the most current revision that will be trialed in approximately 60 battalion-sized units as the military works out how best to administer and score the test.
The functional-fitness-based ACFT will replace the long-standing Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), which consisted of a two-minute timed push-ups event, a two-minute timed sit-ups event and a two-mile timed run. Unlike the APFT, the ACFT also offers Physical Readiness Training (PRT) — recommended exercises that will guide participants toward readiness to complete each challenge. As Eleiko Sport Inc. marketing coordinator Surya Cox puts it, "They're not looking to roll it out to have more failure. They're looking to roll it out with preparation so that everyone feels confident that they can work toward the test."
Teaching to the test
As the Army moves toward a universal fitness program that centers on functional fitness, its fitness centers are evolving to better suit the needs of its constituents. An emphasis on tactical strength training and performance strength training require more varied equipment than the traditional body-weight exercises the Army has focused on heavily in the past, with common exercises requiring a range of barbells, platforms, racks and bars. These tools are designed to build power — not just strength — and are more effective at preparing exercisers for activities that require speed and agility. This will help soldiers be not only more effective, but safer in the field.
Darrell Manuel, Ch. Army Sports, Fitness and Aquatic, IMCOM-G9 Family and MWR Programs, reports that the U.S. Army MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) currently manages 224 fitness centers, all of which have been stocked with functional fitness training equipment. Like other commercial facilities, the MWR fitness centers Manuel oversees are divided into cardio areas populated by non-motorized, resistance-based treadmills, SkiErgs and SPARC Trainers; weight training areas with sleds, weight racks and kettlebells; and functional fitness areas where members have access to mats and boxes to facilitate plyometrics.
Trainers at these centers will also be armed with a new training program designed to help soldiers train to the test. The new ARMYou program by Eleiko is used by first responders as well as military personnel but was developed specifically with the new ACFT in mind. According to Kerri O'Brien, VP of marketing, product development and education at Eleiko, the program takes insight from the daily life of soldiers, whether in times of warfare or in times of preparation, both to increase performance and to decrease the likelihood of injury. "We've taken that, and we've figured out functionally what it is that these folks need to do — what is the highest rate for the most common type of injury, and what type of exercise or movement could prevent that," says O'Brien.
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The ARMYou program also facilitates training to the ACFT at almost any other fitness facility. The program can be shared with personal trainers at commercial gyms, as well as with trainers at MWR centers, bridging the gap between military fitness and the exercise practices recruits may be used to. "This way, trainers are prepared to help someone who's thinking about going into the military or someone who's on light duty due to an injury or maybe a veteran who's come home," O'Brien says. "We're trying to create this connectedness between the needs of the military and the enormous capabilities that fitness facilities have in the U.S. so that one can be a feeder system, or so that folks who are no longer in the military can acclimate back into regular fitness centers."
Mock-up test at AB Show
Manuel says accessing Eleiko distance-learning programming through ClubConnect is one of the first steps military personnel will complete prior to the kickoff training being held this month at AB Show in New Orleans. "Our attendees will log on prior to coming to the show and they will have a couple of weeks to do that distance learning — that's the first phase. The second phase is a briefing by TRADOC (U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command) — this is the entity where military-specific trainers and exercise physiologists have looked at these six elements that directly interact or interface with combat activities. The third phase is Eleiko doing its training."
After meeting with Eleiko, trainers with backgrounds in related areas such as the military, law-enforcement, firefighting and emergency response will receive a functional fitness and conditioning practical application lecture from Anthony Wall from the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Military attendees will go through the prescribed preparatory exercises and then complete a mock-up debut of the new ACFT.
"For our side, MWR will be bringing in a representative from TRADOC who is going to brief our attendees," says Manuel. "We're going to have sports and fitness attendees from Army fitness centers across the world — from Hawaii, Korea, Japan, Germany, Holland and Belgium — they're coming from across the Army to attend this training.
"The instruction that Eleiko is going to provide is going to take those movements from the functional fitness training and relate it back to how the Army Combat Fitness Test works. The purpose of that is, if a soldier who was training for the test is looking for guidance or assistance in one of our fitness centers, they could go to one of our staff members for recommended exercises. We're educating our people to the test, and Eleiko is going to be educating our people to the functional fitness training and what is required to be ready to take the test."
This article originally appeared in the November | December 2018 issue of Athletic Business with the title "U.S. Army debuts combat fitness test with focus on functional fitness." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.