Fitness

What’s in the New U.S. Army Fitness Test?

The U.S. Army’s traditional APFT (physical fitness test) involved a lot of twos.

Soldiers would perform sit-ups for two minutes, push-ups for two minutes, then run two miles. An exceptional score generally includes some combination of 100-plus sit-ups, 100-plus push-ups and then two miles in under 12 minutes. Rep-heavy strength training and a long-distance time trial — that’s a rather disproportionate reliance on endurance. But for years the practice went unquestioned.

Not anymore. For the first time in four decades, after three years of tinkering, the U.S. Army is set to unveil a new test. It will debut in spring of next year, according to Bloomberg, and it will shift the focus away from endurance alone, towards “strength, coordination and agility.”

The new test calls for:

  • A three-rep max deadlift
  • Standing medicine ball throws
  • Hand release pushups
  • Sprint, drag, carry drill
  • Leg tucks or planks
  • And a two-mile run

It’s called the Combat Fitness Test, as opposed to the Physical Fitness Test, and that distinction is important. Since 2019, military officials have wanted an assessment that actually prepares soldiers for the various body movements they’ll need to perform in training or while out in the field.

Crunches, conventional push-ups and running in a straight line are great fitness fodder for the average Joe, but a G.I. Joe needs to carry heavy loads on his back, knock down doors, lift up injured personnel, throw supplies onto helicopters, leap laterally to avoid enemy fire or shrapnel, jump over obstacles and climb rope.

All of those moves necessitate functional, full-body strength. If it sounds surprising that the wave of sustainable bodybuilding that’s long since swept pro sports leagues, mixed martial arts and even the realm of professional musicians is just arriving at the standardized level in our armed forces, well, keep in mind that over half of American soldiers were injured in 2019. This despite the fact that only one in 10 soldiers actually see combat.

Bottom line: American soldiers need to be better prepared for the rigors of their profession, whether they’re shipped overseas or not. Earlier this year, in a sign that the armed forces are starting to take the health of their service members more seriously, the U.S. Army signed a contract with biometric performance company WHOOP.

Considering that the U.S. Army spends about $2 billion a day on the research and procurement of technological weapons (some of which, mind you are literally heavier for soldiers to carry around in combat), it’s gratifying that military officials have started to spend a bit more money (and time), thinking about the human side of the operation. It isn’t just injuries, after all. Two massive issues plaguing American civilians at an alarming rate — obesity and depression — have also swept through the military. Attention to holistic health is a step in the right direction.

As for the test, there are some early concerns that it could put women at a disadvantage: women have failed it at a 90% rate so far. So don’t be surprised if it’s amended to include gender-specific percentile groupings in the near future. But for now, the marching orders are pretty clear. Check out the minimum requirements for each portion of the test here, alongside helpful tutorials explaining A) how to perform the move and B) exactly what it’s doing for the body.

Below, check out retired American middle-distance Olympian Nick Symmonds try out the full test with a group of service members.

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