Are new Army fitness requirements more “wussification?”

Image: Boris Balaban

Change for the sake of change isn’t always a good thing. I agree a Soldier’s level of fitness must be sustained — but that is a matter of the climate established by the commander. What I see happening here with changing Army fitness requirements is the creep of more social egalitarian standards.

According to a report in Military.com, for the first time in more than 20 years, the Army is gearing up to change its fitness test for every Soldier. Gone is the simple pushup, sit up, and run routine, and in its place comes a battery of sprints, jumps and rows. And the service is also introducing a grueling series of slalom runs, balance beam walks, casualty drags, and ammo carries it calls the Army Combat Readiness Test — a totally new evaluation that simulates the kind of body crush Joes experience on deployment.

To me it seems like we’re going back to the old style test with a new name, Army Combat Readiness Test (ACRT). The new test supposedly stresses readiness over fitness according to Lt. Gen Mark Hertling, Army Deputy Commanding General for initial training. LTG Hertling says that the objective of the new ACRT is to develop a “tactical athlete.” The standard for evaluation for the new ACRT will be excellent, good, or poor replacing the previous standard of passing and failing based upon a point score — hmm, this sounds fishy to me. Could this be just another means of giving everyone a trophy? No more APFT patches earned for superior level of fitness?

This new assessment is supposed to force a Soldier into actually staying fit rather than just getting in shape for the test day. Stupid me, I thought that was what our daily morning PT was all about, along with leadership that ensured its Soldiers were trained and ready, physically and mentally fit to accomplish their mission.

This new assessment will have timed events such as “rowers” (a hybrid crunch using a combination of arm and leg motion), best of three standing long jumps (sounds like something we did in elementary school), and a 60 yard combination of wind sprints. As well, Soldiers will be required to hurdle over gates, negotiate barriers, drag a casualty, balance with weighted ammo cans, maneuver through a simulated shooting course, do 100 yards of wind sprints, and weave through a slalom course, all timed.

Ok, these are all tasks that were part of a diversified unit PT program. I remember days when we had squad level PT and leaders showed ingenuity by having events such as 400 meter runs carrying a Soldier on a litter. I was in an artillery unit and in the old days you have to drive stakes into the base plate for the M102 105mm towed artillery piece. Sections would have stake-driving events for PT. At Ft. Bragg the 18th Airborne Corps standard was a 12-mile ruck march with 45 pounds in four hours, and run four miles in 36 minutes. In Air Assault School, the final road march standard is 12 miles with full combat gear in two hours 59 minutes — not one second more, lest you fail.

The Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) as it stands is a measure of upper body abdominal and aerobic fitness. In my experience, it was successful, and where it wasn’t, it was due to failure of leadership, not of the AFPT. I guarantee you’ll find more soft bellies jiggling around the Pentagon than at Ft. Bragg. And another thing, you don’t need a lot of resources to conduct the current APFT.

Back in the 80’s as a young Cadet at the University of Tennessee, the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) featured events like the run, dodge, and jump, horizontal ladder, inverted crawl, pushups, and a two-mile run. Of course we also did other training events that stressed combat readiness through fitness, such as 10 to 12 mile rucksack marches. As I entered active duty, the APFT changed to three timed events: pushups, sit-ups, and two-mile run. I must admit, my current fitness program is based on those three events.

I agree PT has to be relative to physical readiness — kinda like the three-mile full chemical suit runs we did in our Battalion when I was a commander — to include 800 meters with gas mask. Sometimes instead of taking trucks out to the rifle range, units would road march out and back. At the end of the day, it is the commanders’ responsibility to ensure the combat readiness of their units.

71 COMMENTS

  1. Friend of mine’s son just got out of the army he had gotten hurt and was honorably discharged. We talked he said he was very disappointed in the Army. He said it was more like the boy scouts than it was what he had expected it to be. His father was more strict than the Army was.

    • and the newbies whine about poor pay.. laughable when you google and add up ALL of the pay and allowances. One of the best forms of welfare ever for the junior members

      • It wasn’t pay that he was complaining about. It was when guys screwed up they gt nothing more than hand slaps. The physical fitness was weak at best.
        You must have not read what I said in my post. He said it was run like the boy scouts

  2. My son has had two tours in Afghanistan, and tells me the requirements for physical training have been reduced to accommodate their female counterparts. He found this in basic training some years ago, in MP/K9 training, in general requirement testing while in Germany and now while he’s wrapping up Army Air Assault school. In Germany and MP training he was cautioned during PT to slow down. In AAA the women are washing out because of the obstacle courses and ruck marches. Also, the women are having immense trouble where upper body strength is required in rope or tower climbing.

    • and I would say that the females train to the standard or get out. ALL soldiers are 11 Bravo primarily and must be physically ready to accomplish that mission.

    • You got that right…the military is the Obama administration’s social engineering test bed. I retired a year ago after 30 years in the Army…the repeal of DADT was the writing on the wall for me because I felt that was an indicator of where things were heading. Unfortunately its getting worse than I could have imagined.

  3. I wonder if this is just one more stupid experiment in modifying the Army PT test. There have been so many different versions over the past 15 years of how they have wanted to modify it. The biggest issue is that with some of the different iterations, the couldn’t make it portable, meaning they couldn’t make it where you could just take it virtually anywhere. For at least the last 30 something years they have had the current iteration of the PT test although it started out easier than it is now and was modified in the late 80s. I wonder if they will justify making major changes to the PT test to meet the operational needs of wars that they are winding down, especially now that they are looking to decimate the Army’s endstrength. Cut the manpower and justify building PT courses or whatever.

  4. My nephew was in the Army and 2 tours in Afghanistan he said they give you a stress card to use in basic training if you are feeling stressed you can pull it out and hand it to your TI….are you friggin kidding me.

    • Paul Sheridan is correct. I don’t think that ever got past the concept stage…they tested it on a limited number of Basic Training units but that was it. That was years ago but I still hear people talking about how the Army has “stress cards” in BT now. Regardless, it was an idiotic idea that should never have seen the light of day.

  5. While I disagree with the Colonel on some issues, my first inclination is to always give the benefit of the doubt to a veteran when discussing issues regarding the military. But having read this article three times, I am still at a loss as to what the Colonel’s problem is with the new testing.

    The new tests being put in place are the kinds of things to which he was subjected and are important to combat-readiness (he specifically states both of these things). The sole difference is that these are becoming part of the standard fitness test rather than ancillary exercises they were during West’s service.

    The Colonel rightly notes that the responsibility for combat-readiness (that these tests will help to ensure) falls more squarely on the shoulders of leadership than on those who design testing. But unless one is looking for a liberal plot under every rock, it seems fairly obvious that the re-design of the test is because some of the leadership has not achieved as it ought. West’s suggestion that there is already wussification occurring in our military certainly seems to further point to faults in leadership.

    And so the Army has decided to address this issue by changing its fitness requirements, thereby alleviating itself of the occasional faulty leader and also bringing about a greater uniformity in combat-readiness regardless of the efficacy (or lack thereof) of one’s leadership.

    And this is a bad thing, how?

  6. I can see this as beneficial COMBINED with current PT tests. A lot of these tests are similar to what many law enforcement agencies are requiring, except they still have the old fashioned push-ups, sit-ups and run.

  7. “No more APFT patches earned for superior level of fitness?”

    Who cares? Only POGs wear those things anyway. Hurdling a gate and dragging a casualty seem a lot more relevant to me than pushups. It will depend on what the standards are set at.

  8. Reinvent the freakin wheel . . . bring back the “run, dodge. Jump”, low crawl, horizontal ladders, 1 mile run . . . really?

  9. The new PT evvents seem alot more relevant and useful thab the current events. Dragging a casualty is more useful than a push up and you will be doing alot more Sprinting in combat than jogging for two miles.

    • I believe people are missing the purpose of the article. Rather than change the current pt test and standards, the Srmy need only hold its commanders to the standards of readiness they should already be maintaining. If that is done correctly, you don’t need a new pt test to determine combat readiness.

  10. As the mission changes so does the fitness. What might have been good is not. There is a lot of fitness research going on. It stands to reason some changes would be made

  11. the politicians in/out of uniform told us that the standards for being in combat arms won’t change; they will simply change the entire PFT to fit the politically correct desires of the politicians….the hell with combat readiness.

  12. Sir, While I respect and understand your Opinion ( Lord knows you have the experience Sir) I disagree. While it simply is a fitness exam Sir, I can speak for my brethren when I say I never got into a 2 mile foot race w/ Insurgents nor did I get into a pushup or situp contest. This is simply my opinion based on experience while deployed in Afghanistan-

    There needs to be more of an emphasis on Ruck marching Sir, not just in PT’s and boots- but full Kit. This needs to be especially ramped up in the months leading to a deployment. Based on injuries I have seen (and experienced) and emphasis needs to be put on core/ erector muscle strength. Sir I firmly believe that teaching Soldiers how to properly strength train movements such as the Barbell Squat, “Good Morning”s and the deadlift will help reduce lower body injuries with the lower back and knees. Many Soldiers are literally not strong enough to support Rucksacks, Body Armor weapons and ammo.

    I realize Sir that there is no perfect solution to making the “perfect” PT test But I truly Believe that integrating a solid and well taught strength program will pay dividends for Soldiers in the future. I am by no means saying get rid of running or body-weight movements- conditioning is crucial but I believe it can be achieved by other means that running 50 miles a week. Thank you for your time Sir.

    • This is the truth. The real test of your fitness for combat is how far can you sprint wearing full battle rattle plus an assault pack full of bullets and water. Anyone who can cover 150 meters at a dead sprint and still shoot when they stop can be my battle buddy any day.

  13. How crazy to expect leadership to lead instead of making some ass backward and convoluted APFT.

    $50 says that this has nothing to do with combat readiness and everything to do with lowering fitness standards so that women don’t continue to fail out of Airborne and Air Assault schools at the much higher rates than male soldiers as well as eliminate the fitness requirements for many combat and special forces so we are being fair to the gentler sex.

    When the standard’s to hard lower the standard, that’s why we don’t do PT in BDUs anymore cause it was too hard for the females. Keep weakening the force and Obama won’t have to cut anything we will suck so much our enemies will laugh at us even at our current strength.

  14. I am not really qualified to speak to this directly because I have not been in the military, but I do have some knowledge in a similar area. What the new test resembles is the conditioning regimen of the tae kwon do clubs where I am a senior instructor coming up on 18 years.

    We have many military members and are contracted to train local police officers in hand to hand self-defense of several types depending on who close you are to your opponent and whether you are hopefully on your feet,….. or not. Hopefully you will be on your feet, odds are far better.

    Typically new young police officers come in from a weight training and fitness machine background, and with almost no exception they do not do well at all in our program at first. They can bench press all kinds of big numbers, but have terrible muscle imbalances side to side, front to back, and very poor endurance. The same is generally true of male high school athletes, girl athletes actually do better in the mental and emotional aspects which actually determines how well they do physically in the long run.

    Flexibility and agility is usually poor and their punching and kicking power resembles a 12 year old who has trained for a month or so. No disrespect to 12 year olds who learn very quickly typically.

    Large muscles but little real functional ability with poor endurance. I am not joking or exaggerating. The weights and machines do not train the body to work as a system, in fact can cause muscle groups to work against each other and do nothing for the emotional and mental side.

    What the article describes for the new regimen sounds very familiar to us, sounds balanced in most all respects.

    • I promise Raw strength is functional. The problem you are referring to is when said Joe spends more time in the weight room and not enough time conditioning. Ie- Ruck marches, Prowler sleds, drag sleds, buddy carries, sprits etc. The key to what I outlined is their needs to be a balance of both.

      ” The weights and machines do not train the body to work as a system, in fact can cause muscle groups to work against each other and do nothing for the emotional and mental side.”

      – This can be fixed with PROPER instruction and background into strength training. With buzzwords like “functional” I fear you are about to sermonize on the benefits of crossfit…I really hope I am wrong……..

      • Of course raw strength can be functional, and you are correct about proper instruction and all that. Balance of both, correct, I don’t think we actually disagree, we do things like you list, buddy carries, sprints, dragging heavy weights ( like having your training partner grab the back of your belt and you drag him up and down the floor with him trying to stop you, your legs WILL give out at some point)

        Our training is of long duration both in hours and continuous years and is almost exactly that which was taught to the Korean military because our Korean grandmaster was the head of Blue House security for many years as well as chief instructor for the Korean Special Forces in the 50s and 60’s. He still trains us in the same way even though he is 80+ years old.

        We just dont use much equipment because that is the tradition, (heavy rocks and that type of thing sometimes LOL)

        What little I know about cross fit is that it seems to be just another marking program like the dozens before and after it.

        As you refer to , the guy who spends too much time in the weight room is the guy or girl who does not do well with us. Sprinting in my opinions is the best possible form of running. Long distance is very doable if you can sprint, often not the other way around.

        Have a good day, sir!

  15. My hubby just retired a few years ago, and some of the so called fitness stuff they were doing is what was breaking down our soldiers. I remember when I was in we didn’t do muscle failure almost daily, we didn’t run daily. This is because your body needs a break to heal itself after a rigorous workout. Why are these so called leaders changing things? They don’t know fitness! Stupid officers again being out of touch with their troops.

  16. LTC West you have it wrong this time. You were a former Bn Cdr, I was a former BN CSM…..the new program has been in the making for over 10 years! If you take a look at the West Point PT manual circa approx 1907, you will find a very similar program. The current 3 event PT is a POOR indicator of OVERALL agility and fitness. I had guys that could Max or score 280 or better and but performed poorly on Ruck Marches, PT in Kit and on their overall agility. The new program stress agility and COMMON physical movements found on the battlefield. It will now be on the unit leadership to develop a PT program that focuses on those areas. Besides..PT is an NCO Training issue, not an Officer issue. “Officers are here for a season, NCO’s are here for a reason!”

    • CSM, With all due respect, that’s funny. I seem to remember the PT Reg stating very clearly that Physical Training was the COMMANDER’s program.

      Not the CSM’s
      Not the 1SG’s
      Not the PSG’s

      The Commander’s, and as I recall Commanders are usually Officers.

      • That’s funny I dont recall seeing my CO out with us during our harder PT- Always our PSG, 1sg or CSM. You had it right CSM 😉

      • If I have to choose between what you saw, and the AR, I think I’m sticking with the AR being the correct answer. I mean its Just a silly regulation, but I think I’ll stick with it, they’ve served me well so far.

      • TJ,
        The Safety Program, Height/Weight Program, TMDE, Flying Hour Program, ALSE Program, Physical Security, Weapons Training, and almost every other program is the Commander’s Program. However, I think we can all agree that although that silly little regulation infers that commander’s will maintain oversight and responsibility for the program without the need to micromanage the NCOs, WOs, and Os who actually manage those programs.
        Mel

      • Technically correct! Real life SSG, SGT ran APFT functions in the Infantry! Why Development of the NCO. Like always good NCO’s make Commanders look good thus the unit functioning properly!

    • I agree with the CSM in the area of you could have that little PT stud. But have him ruck up for a substantial march or carry heavy ammo cams, drag dead weight he would tend to be out down by soldiers with more muscle mass/build and above average cardio. I would suggest that the they combine the APFT and this new TEST. Conduct one day and the other the next day. This will certain give you a better idea of a combat situation and also show if the soldiers fitness level is true by being able to recover for the second day. Oh yeah that is a bit much? Well in the Military you have nothing but time! This test will also equalize the test scores for promotion and you won’t see just all the little guys making it to E-8 above level. Infantry Retired

  17. Col West,
    I have to agree whole heartedly with Paul here.
    As a former Marine and now with the National Guard, I have to agree that the basic APFT, while helpful in measuring base physical fitness, is nothing compared to what is required in a tactical environment.

    I have found Crossfit and other interval training to be far better for my performance be it in recreational activities like paintball or in tactical training environments. And it seems as if this shift in Army physical fitness training is in line with that.

  18. Am I reading this wrong, or does the writer actually think that pushups, situps, and jumping jacks are more important than dead-body weight drags, heavy lifting, and full gear marching and running?

  19. Surprise was an enlistment into ARNG 2001, and finding the current AFPT , timed push ups, sit ups and 2 mi run in PT uniform and tenny’s, also in the active force. Compare that to the AFPT of 1974 -78 in utilities and combat boots, active Army. Even an enlistment into the active AF in 1982-86, the AFPT was tougher than what I found in 2001. What was worse, I was much older, and still performed better over all than most of the soldiers in the Detachment, and a good many of the active during deployment. I also knew a select few passed the AFPT with the stroke of a pen, that couldn’t complete the minimum, nor keep up during the morning PT run. That was obviously both an NCO, and CO problem.

    • I would think is to to make it easier for women, to pass the physical requirement 🙂 I mean the services would be politically incorrect with to many rejected women at entrance 🙂

  20. I was a Master Fitness NCO and this test will cause more injuries than prove readiness in my opinion. CrossFit was thought to be an answer, but has been banned by some Commanders in each of the branches of the Armed Forces because of the amount of injuries and discharges that have been caused by it. I watched this one Soldier doing CrossFit style pull ups fall to the floor off the bar because she completely ripped her right lat muscle…Medical Discharged Then watched another Soldier lose his grip will doing Olympic style lifts at a fast rate and dropped the bar on his head…brain injury…medical discharge. These are 2 incidents that lead us to ban CrossFit from the gym.

  21. I have worked as a PT instructor for over 15 years in LE , and have served as a Infantry soldier for over 28 years. Both sides are right in this case. You need running for cardio. You need to carry the ruck with gear and weapon. You need to do sprints in full gear. Body weight exercises are best for military people to develop strength.(makes all sides equal) You need to practice, for fitness, the things you will do in your military job(combat).
    I am afraid this push for a new test, while I agree with some things(test geared toward combat tasks) is only to lower standards to allow a few very fit women into the infantry.
    Excellent, good or poor ? No FAIL ? TRADOC will have a new test, with new tasks and standards , to replace the REAL things grunts do every day, and these new tasks will be easy enough for a few fit females (5 out of 100. maybe) to pass and be infantry. They know right now that your female soldier cannot: do 5 chin-ups, ruck with a 85 lb ruck for 12 miles, scale walls/ladders, climb ropes on par with the men.
    If the military was serious about NOT LOWERING standards they could say, okay, task: conduct a road march with 65 lb ruck, all gear, weapon in 12 hours. do 5 chin-ups, run 2 miles in 15:18( 18 year old standard) do pushups/situps on par with 18 year old male. In other words , do all the things the grunts do, in real life, once assigned to a line company.
    But….. this will never happen.

  22. Sounds like there’s gonna be a whole lotta training injuries and medical discharges due to the new regs. Perhaps that is method by which Hagel intends to thin the ranks so as to “fundamentally transform” our military into a kinder, gentler organization. “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.” -Will Durant

  23. The PRT standards are just different, and people fear that. As an organization we tend to cling to “the way it’s always been”. When conducted properly, the PRT is both challenging and flexible enough to exceed any commander’s goals. The Army spent a lot of time and money, consulted A LOT of experts in physical readiness, and out came PRT. The ACRT isn’t getting published until they can PROVE (through testing and research) that it adequately assesses a Soldier’s ability to prove they are capable of performing similar duties on a battlefield better than the current APFT. While some units took initiative and did PT the way they were supposed to, many units and leader’s were either doing too much and breaking their Soldiers because they didn’t know any better, or didn’t do enough. The PRT program helps to fix that by spelling it out to folks that don’t get it. For those that DO get it, there is a lot of things that can be done to fine-tune units and increase the challenge level. Mr West sounds like he was on top of it while he was in. But he was the exception (unfortunately) and so a new and better standard had to be published to help the less educated implement better fitness in their units by giving them tools to do better PT with less injuries. Any of the new MFTs in your units will be able to explain in-depth why this is happening. This change really is for the better. Anyone who says that it is not I would bet isn’t using PRT correctly. So no, it’s not wussification, or to lower standards to get females into combat arms units, it’s simply to make our fitness training more relevant. I’ve had 14 years of PT before going through the MFT course and being shown why PRT is better.

    • anytime someone uses the term “folks” my skin crawls and I think of an obama supporter.. SSG, thanks for your input.. what was your last score? How long have you served and how many elite courses have you attended?

      You are just a bit naive on how and why things are done in the Army,

      • I scored a 276 on my last PT test, and while I’m not sure what you mean by “elite” courses I assume you mean Ranger, SF, and the like. The most physically strenuous school I have been to is MACP Lvl III. I have served for 16+ years. Maybe I misread this post but I thought it was about PRT and the ACRT, not my accomplishments in the Army. Nothing I wrote is untrue (as of 1 year ago when I graduated the MFT course). But I appreciate your classy remarks. Condescension from folks like you makes me chuckle.

  24. It’s almost as though an enemy of America is in charge of the U.S. Military … the objective seems to me, to be this:

    make the Protector of America as WEAK AS POSSIBLE!!!

    We need a ‘Moses’ figure to appear … and soon …

  25. The new standards sound (at least superficially) an awful lot like what the Marine Corps already does… lot less fatties in MARPAT than ACU, just saying.

  26. I think this is slightly more forgiving than UBRR, but they seem to be pushing everyone to special operations standards which is ridiculous. If anything this will weed out more people rather than enabling mediocrity.

  27. As a retired NCO, it was my duty to make sure my soilders were in shape ( 82nd) even if it meant coming in on weekends and doing extra PT ( a nice rack run , OB course run, or just a nice long road march). But , if they failed thier test i was on it. I needed healthy, strong, both in mind, and body even in their family life ( home, belive system) . How could we complete our mission ? I never lost a man …we all came home!!

    This new standard may come in , but it is the duty of NCO’s to keep thier troops in combat shape!!!

    U.S. Army Ret.
    Gold star dad

  28. For those bashing the Corps for having a combat fitness test, you should know that it is in addition to an annual physical fitness test requirement.

  29. I join the Marine Corps 3 Feb 1975 and finish 2 Feb 1977 Now we had push-ups and set-ups and 3 mile run under 24 mins. Army May 1977 at Loose in the woods like the LTC said that ladder you had to do 33 bars to pass. Active duty just two mikes push-ups and set-ups. Now my Army when we did PT and the Marine Corps still did it this way. We took off our blouse did jumping jacks, set-ups and push-up, mountain climbers and run in COMBAT BOOTS at lease 2 miles. When I was station with A Company 34th Engineer 1977-78 we ran Custer Hill and if I am right that is 5 miles around. Moreover, when I was A Company 3/47 Infantry 9th ID Ft. Lewis Wash 1982-83 We had this run every day where half way into the run we had this hill we had to climb to the top then down and back to the Company and every Friday the LTC would have use run. We even came end from the field from training and Friday LTC would have his run. Yes 1980 we started to not run in combat boots. I have my 20 years Retired Sgt Army 18 years and 2 years Marine Corps. Now today Army is a joke when it come to PT yes I was Guard MO but I was at Ft. Sill 03-04 for Home Land Security and Iraq and I was 49 05-06

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