“Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.” – Woody Guthrie
When the Army decided to overhaul its Army Physical Fitness Test, everyone suddenly became very interested in the branch’s fitness. Most people hadn’t noticed who was passing or failing the old APFT. But the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) was everyone’s business. Before you feel bad for the Army, the reality is that it often takes a few iterations to get the product just right. And all the thoughts and opinions that were shared have led to a different (and hopefully better) end product. Time – or another congressional review – will tell us if we made it.
Five Common Questions on the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT)
So, what do people typically want to know about the ACFT these days?
1. Why? Why did the Army overhaul their test for a costlier end product?
This is the biggest question that has kept the press up at night – and people are still asking it. The reality is that the equipment needed to prepare for and administer the APFT was a lot less. The APFT just required a timer to track two minutes of push-ups and sit-ups, as well as, a two mile run. The difference between the requirements has left many scratching their heads, wondering why they have to find a sled to push around now. But the Army has held firm on their point that the old test wasn’t making soldiers combat ready. Body armor and ammunition loads are heavier to carry – and that requires a higher level of physical fitness.
The Army looked at issues that popped up from prior wars. They got feedback from scientists, doctors, and physical therapists. And they designed the new Army Combat Fitness Test. Will the overhauled test continue to change? Since the ACFT 3.0 last spring, the Army has added performance-normed scoring standards, scaled to age and gender. They’ve also included the plank as the only core-strength event, as well as the 2.5-mile walk as an alternate aerobic event. Feedback from the independent study by Rand and test results from sample ACFT test scores led to the adjustments. Bottom line? The Army didn’t think the old test cut it. Instead of making incremental changes, they went for a complete overhaul.
2. Does the Army hate women?
This question has surfaced for the Army for a variety of reasons. But with the ACFT, when 84% of women were failing the test initially, it was a valid question. Since that low moment, the Army has adjusted its scoring AND removed the much discussed leg tuck event. Of course, as the new results come rolling in, time will tell if all the adjustments have made a difference. Will the fail rates of women continue to far exceed the men’s? Perhaps that narrative will change. And for those wondering if the Army hates women, they just need to check out all the images on the ACFT website, proving that women can do all of the events – with a bun OR a ponytail.
3. What about the National Guard?
The National Guard has a few differences for the test, compared to active-duty soldiers. However, differences are focused solely on frequency and implementation of testing – not actual test components. That means that Guard and Reserve units have until March 31, 2023 to get diagnostic testing, and then test results go on record starting April 1, 2023. They also only need to take the test once a year – compared to active-duty who need to take it twice a calendar year.
At a virtual town hall on April 7, Sgt. Maj. John Raines, the command sergeant major of the Army National Guard admitted that the ACFT is more intensive. Raines said, “Guard units will have to look at how big their units are and whether or not they’ll have to break down their units’ testing days so it doesn’t take up an entire drill weekend.”
Essentially, leadership knows that administering this test for the National Guard and Reserves will be more challenging. Training will need to be addressed too. However, the ACFT will still get implemented.
4. When does everything go into effect?
The Army added the ACFT into personnel policy in April 2022, with active-duty soldiers taking a diagnostic test by September 30, 2022. Starting October 1, 2022, tests go on record. For those in the National Guard or Reserves, diagnostic testing began at the same time as active-duty. However, soldiers in the National Guard or Reserves have longer to get diagnostic testing completed, and official test results begin April 1, 2023.
Active-duty soldiers who fail a record ACFT after October 1 will get flagged. Those who fail the test have to wait 120 days to retake it again. After April 1, 2023, active-duty soldiers who have two consecutive fails will face consequences at the discretion of their commanders.
5. Are other branches going to implement the same test?
While other branches are not racing out to find a similar combat fitness test, there has been a shift in holistic health and individualized fitness approach for the military. Space Force is looking at incorporating wearable fitness trackers instead of incorporating annual tests. The Air Force has made a few tweaks and adjustments to their fitness test, but they have not overhauled it. Adding alternative strength and cardiovascular testing options has been a piece of the Air Force fitness strategy, as well as, updated scoring.
Following the trend of others, the U.S. Navy is also focused on better tracking data and providing fitness options. This past year, the Navy implemented new software for fitness tracking, and they introduced the forearm plank and 2,000-meter row as options in their fitness test. And starting next year, the Marine Corps will jump on board with other branches, using planks in their test instead of sit-ups or crunches. And while the Coast Guard hasn’t overhauled its test, they have adjusted body composition measurements – just like other branches. The theme behind many recent fitness changes for all of the branches has been a focus on balancing readiness with individual health.
ACFT at Genius Level Yet?
Maybe future generations will thank the voices of Twitter for yelling about the ACFT so much. Whether that drove Congress to require more review or the Army to implement a longer-phased approach, we may never know. But multiple iterations of the ACFT (what number are we on now?) have gone a long way in creating a better product. Is it simple enough to be genius level yet? Proof will be in the results over the next few years.