By Lishamarie Hunter
All things change but are all changes good for everybody? The current Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) has measured the fitness of individual soldiers since 1980. It consists of three simple events. Soldiers must do as many sit-ups and push-ups as they can in two minutes each, with a brief rest in between, and then complete a two-mile run as quickly as possible.
The APFT was designed to measure and incentivize individual fitness by testing muscular endurance and cardio fitness. Scoring scales differ by gender (except for sit-ups) and are graduated for age. They are designed so that any highly motivated soldier, with a substantial amount of training and effort, can excel on the test. This has been a point of pride for many troops and their leaders. Soldiers must take the test twice a year and their scores appear on their fitness reports, thus factoring into any assessments for promotion. This allowed for fair considerations for promotions and schools.
The new ACPFT includes six events and must be completed within 50 minutes in the following order: Deadlift between 120 and 420 pounds (more weight equals better score) and complete three repetitions in five minutes, standing power throw (throw a 10-pound medicine ball backwards over your head and complete one practice and two record throws in three minutes, with the longest record throw counting), hand release push-ups (as many as possible in three minutes, lifting hands off the ground between each repetition), sprint-drag-carry (five repetitions of a 25-meter out-and-back shuttle run in four minutes), leg tuck abdominals or plank (starting from a dead hang on a pull-up bar, lift knees to elbows as many times as possible in two minutes or plank 2-4 minutes), then complete a two-mile run on a flat surface in under 20 minutes.
After a year-long field test of the program the data again raises questions about whether the Army’s attempt to create a more physically fit force is creating barriers to success for women. Internal Army figures from April show 44% of women failed the ACFT, compared to 7% of men since Oct. 1. “Female soldiers continually score lower than male counterparts in all events” according to a United States Army Forces Command briefing obtained by military.com (May, 2021).
Five Concerns with the ACPFT
- It is Too Complicated. Every unit in the Army, no matter how small or large, will be required to train for and administer this elaborate test. The time required to regularly train for it will likely exceed the amount of time currently allocated for unit or individual physical fitness — which means it will come at the expense of other, potentially far more important, combat training tasks. Simply administering the test will require a large chunk of unit time at least twice, if not more, each year.
- It Requires Too Much Specialized Equipment. The new test requires a staggering amount of cumbersome technical equipment. While the Army gamely argues that future service budgets will provide funds for thousands of new deadlift weight sets, pull-up stations, kettle balls, sleds, and medicine balls, the overhead investment in the new test is unfathomable. It’s not enough to have a few sets of the equipment for testing time — every soldier must have access this specialized gear several times a week, if not every day, for proper training. The Army estimates that this equipment will cost around $20 million. Not to mention the logistical challenges distributing it to troops, in over 120countries and at hundreds if not thousands of posts, camps, and stations.
- It Doesn’t Access Well Across the Army. The Army is a massive organization of more than one million active and reserve soldiers who are literally spread all around the world. While active-duty Army units based on large posts may eventually be able to deal with the twin challenges of complexity and specialized equipment. What doe the implementation of this look like to more than 540,000 soldiers in the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard. How many of their 39 annual training days will be devoted to simply taking the test, much less preparing for it? And, since many soldiers in the reserve component live far away from where they drill, where will they find the specialized equipment for regular training? Not every gym in America has a 10-pound medicine ball let alone even a gym located nearby. What about the outliers, Army recruiters, small ROTC detachments, and pockets of soldiers scattered across civilian graduate programs, acquisition offices, joint headquarters and U.S. embassies, not to mention the thousands of soldiers forward-deployed in austere environments.
- It Might Increase Injury Rates. We’ve heard that early pilots of the new test have reduced injury rates. Yet there are at least two good reasons to suspect that injury rates will not significantly decline — and might even increase — when it becomes mandatory for all soldiers. Improper training always leads to injuries. Many of the events of the new PT test are complex. They will require well-trained fitness coaches to oversee proper and safe practice. Second, the apparent standards for maxing the new test, are far beyond what even fit soldiers may be able to strive for. It encourages soldiers to either over-train in pursuit of the maximum score, which will likely cause serious injuries, or perhaps abandon the maximum and do only what is necessary for the minimum score, which results in less fit soldiers.
- It Tries To Do Too Much. The ACFT tries to meld individual and unit combat fitness standards into a single test. But why that is necessary. Unit PT is used to build esprit de corp, how is that goal achieved when the females within the unit are failing at much higher rates than their male counterparts. This issue breed resentment within an unit that already feels that females do not belong or can’t pull their own weight. No one disputes that Army units should be as physically prepared for combat. That has always been the purpose of unit physical standards, not individual fitness standards. It makes far more sense for unit commanders to determine what physical standards make their soldiers combat ready, rather than having the Army staff determine that for them. An realistic universal standard for an individual fitness standard makes more sense (May, 2012).
If Army leaders truly believe that the existing PT test cannot provide a sufficient baseline of individual fitness, they need to go back to the drawing board and design a new test. Army leaders seem to have been so blinded by all the science involved in the test’s development that they have lost sight of what will work most effectively across an incredibly large, far-flung, and diverse organization. If Army leaders truly feel that the current PT test is not adequate for the demands of the 21st century, they need to find a far better solution. Bring back the question is all change good change for everyone?
- David Barno & Nora Bensahel, Dumb and Dumber: THE ARMY’S NEW PT TEST SPECIAL SERIES – STRATEGIC OUTPOST OCTOBER 16, 2018, Retrieved; May 30,2021.
- Steve Beynon, May, 10, 2021, Nearly Half of Female Soldiers Still Failing New Army Fitness Test, While Males Pass Easily, Military.com, Retrieved; May 30, 2021.
- Sean Kimmons, July 18,2018, Army Combat Fitness Test set to become new PT test of record in late 2020, Army News Service. Retrieved; May 30,2021.
Read more articles from VOM Magazine here: https://www.veteransoutreachministries.org/vom-magazine/