Gendered Scoring, Other Changes to Army Combat Fitness Test Debut April 1

March 23, 2022Hannah Ray Lambert
army fitness test

A wheeled vehicle mechanic assigned to Area Support Group Kuwait performs a deadlift repetition during the Army Combat Fitness Test for the US Army Central 2021 Best Warrior Competition June 21, 2021, at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. True Thao.

The Army revealed its long-awaited Army Combat Fitness Test Wednesday, March 23, replacing leg tucks with planks and setting age- and gender-based scoring scales. The changes take effect April 1, but they won’t affect soldiers’ records or career prospects until October.

Army officials have spent years trying to replace the previous Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), which consisted of three events and has been in use since 1983. Now, after numerous modifications and no small amount of controversy, soldiers will be evaluated using a six-event ACFT that includes deadlift, standing power throw, hand-release pushups, a 2-mile run, plank, and the sprint, drag, carry.

“Proud of everyone who worked hard to make the six-event test a reality,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston wrote on Twitter following the release of the new test. “Gonna give a little more time to adjust to some new changes, then it’s GO TIME.”

One major change is that, despite its name, the test is no longer designed to prepare soldiers for combat. Instead, it’s one step of an Army-wide transition to a holistic health and fitness approach.

Soldiers will start taking the test as a diagnostic after April 1, but administrative consequences for failing the test won’t kick in right away. That timeline depends on which component soldiers are in.

Active-duty soldiers and those in the Active Guard Reserve are set to start taking the test for entry into their service record on Oct. 1. Scores won’t be incorporated into those soldiers’ promotion points or used as grounds for separation until April 1, 2023, according to the Army.

Reserve and Guard troops, meanwhile, will start taking the ACFT for record in April 2023. Failure to pass won’t put them in jeopardy of separation until April 1, 2024.

The changes follow a congressionally mandated review by the Rand Corp., a nonpartisan think tank. The Army originally sought to develop a test that was gender neutral and based on occupation but soon came under fire from those concerned it would impact the recruitment of women. The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act mandated that an “entity other than the Department of Defense” conduct the study and report the results to the secretary of the Army.

army fitness test
A staff sergeant pulls a sled as part of the training for the Army Combat Fitness Test July 24, 2019, in Washington, DC. US Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Ron Lee.

In a study published Wednesday, Rand Corp. researchers found that nearly half of the women in the Army were unable to pass the original ACFT design.

Only 52% of active-duty enlisted women could pass the original design, compared with 92% of men. Only 41% of women in the Reserve and 42% of women in the National Guard were able to pass, according to the study.

“Although some men are not currently meeting the minimums, the available data suggest that women represent the bulk of the workforce that have the potential to go from ‘in good standing’ to ‘not in good standing’ following the implementation of the test for record,” researchers wrote. “As a result, much of the potential impact of the current pass/fail policies will fall on women.”

The final version of the ACFT introduces age- and gender-normed scoring scales, similar to the ones on the old APFT. For example, a female soldier between the ages of 17 and 21 will now have to deadlift between 120 and 210 pounds, while a male in the same age group will have to lift between 140 and 340 pounds to pass the ACFT. Female soldiers will also get more than a minute of extra time in which to complete the 2-mile run.

army fitness test
This infographic depicts the age- and gender-normed grading scales for each of the six events in the Army Combat Fitness Test. US Army image.

Leg tucks have been replaced with planks to assess core strength. Officials worried leg tucks were not a fair measure of core strength, since the exercises also required soldiers to use upper-body and grip strength. Plank times are the same for both genders under the new ACFT.

The Army will also add a 2.5-mile walk as an alternate aerobic event for soldiers unable to run because of a medical profile.

Much of the controversy surrounding the revamped fitness test has centered around whether soldiers would be held to different standards based on their genders. In a letter preceding the passage of the 2021 defense bill, Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Richard Blumenthal raised concerns regarding a “performance gap” between men and women on the ACFT.

“We acknowledge that the ACFT 2.0 is a work in progress, but we have considerable concerns regarding the negative impact it may already be having on so many careers,” the senators wrote.

US Army Command
US Army Command Sgt. Maj. Jack Bowker performs the leg tuck Oct. 7, 2021, at the National Guard Training Center in Sea Girt, New Jersey. Under the new Army Combat Fitness Test, released March 23, 2022, the leg tuck has been replaced with a plank. US Army National Guard photo by Spc. Michael Schwenk.

The Service Women’s Action Network asked Congress to halt implementation of a previous version of the test in 2020, writing that “too many otherwise qualified soldiers are failing elements of the test.”

But several high-profile female soldiers have spoken out against gender-based fitness tests, including Capt. Shaina Coss, the first woman to lead Army Rangers in combat, and Capt. Kristen Griest, the Army’s first female infantry officer.

In a 2021 op-ed for the Modern War Institute at West Point, Griest argued gender-based scoring not only jeopardized mission readiness but also “reinforced the false notion that women are categorically incapable of performing the same job as men.”

“Once the Army determines the right standard to which soldiers should train, the final version of the ACFT should hold men and women in combat arms to it equally,” she wrote. “Failing to do so will further marginalize women in these units rather than protect them, and will hurt the Army rather than prepare it.”

ranger army cft fitness test
Capt. Kristen Griest smiles at friends and family as she waits with her US Army Ranger School Class 08-15 to graduate Aug. 21, 2015, at Fort Benning, Georgia. Griest and class member 1st Lt. Shaye Haver became the first female graduates of the school. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez.

In their review, researchers also sought to determine whether the proposed ACFT would impact critically short career fields. The fields with the highest overall fitness test failure rates included animal care, cooks, ammunition stock control, and human resources. Researchers also found that several medical fields “for which retention issues are well documented” had high failure rates regardless of gender, including behavioral health specialists, pharmacy specialists, and operating room specialists.

Researchers recommended considering changing how the ACFT was scored to align with job-specific physical demands, ensure a mechanism is available to address “exceptional circumstances,” and collect data on the impact of the ACFT on talent management outcomes.

The test’s heavy focus on — often very expensive — training gear also placed burdens on some troops, particularly part-time service members. In response, the Army said it had distributed more than 40,000 sets of equipment, 60% of which was designated for soldiers in the Army Reserve and National Guard. Army officials encouraged units to coordinate and use the equipment for physical readiness training, including on drill weekends, so that soldiers would be familiar with the events before testing.

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Hannah Ray Lambert
Hannah Ray Lambert

Hannah Ray Lambert is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die who previously covered everything from murder trials to high school trap shooting teams. She spent several months getting tear gassed during the 2020-2021 civil unrest in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not working, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading, and talking about authors and books on her podcast Between Lewis and Lovecraft.

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