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Army unveils new fitness test with eased standards for women

U.S. Army Master Sgt. Shelley Horner, a member of an Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) Mobile Training Team, demonstrates the 90-pound sled pull portion of the new Army Combat Fitness Test at Specker Field House at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, April 10, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Thomas M. Ruyle)
March 24, 2022

On Wednesday, the U.S. Army unveiled the newest rules for its Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), a fitness exam the service has been working on and repeatedly changing for years.

The latest ACFT version includes sex- and age-based scoring scale, providing different top score requirements for male and female participants in 10 different age groups. The change has eased standards for women and older soldiers.

The test also does away with the controversial leg tuck exercise, which female participants failed much more frequently than their male counterparts.

The newest version of the ACFT will go into effect on April 1, but the service won’t apply those test scores to Regular Army and Active Guard Reserve soldiers’ records until Oct. 1. Part-time National Guard and Reserve soldiers won’t see their scores applied to their records until April 1, 2023.

Last year, the Army announced it would implement “gender-informed performance categories” on the ACFT. That decision came after the Washington Post reported 54 percent of female soldiers failed on gender-neutral standards, as compared to 10 percent of male soldiers. Preliminary results also showed female soldiers performed 100 points lower on the test, on average, than their male counterparts.

The Army explained at the time that the gendered performance scale would be broken into five categories. The top one percent would be in the “platinum” tier, the top 10 percent would be in the “gold” tier, the top 25 percent would be the “silver” tier, the top 50 percent would be the “bronze” tier, and those who meet the minimum standards for the test will be ranked in the “green” tier. The score tiers would then affect how the Army considers physical fitness on promotion boards.

With the gendered scoring scale, male soldiers would generally have to perform better across the same tests as their female counterparts in order to attain the same score tier.

“So it doesn’t matter if it’s Sgt. John Doe or Sgt. Jane Doe, if they score in the gold category, we know that they’re in the top 10 percent of their gender as we move forward,” Gen. Lonnie Hibbard, the Commanding General for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training, said last year. “And then these performance categories may be used to drive promotion points, like for an E4 to E5 promotion, may be used on an evaluation and [order of merit lists] as necessary.”

The Army’s latest scoring scale provides score standards from 100 points (a top score) to 60 points (the minimum passing score) for male and female categories in the age categories of 17-21, 22-26, 27-31, 32-36, 37-41, 42-46, 47-51, 52-56, 57-61 and over 21.

The top score and minimum score requirements for the deadlift varied by up to 140 pounds, in the top-scoring male and female categories for the 47-51 age category. Top-scoring males in that age group would have to deadlift 330 pounds, compared to top-scoring females who would have to deadlift 190 pounds. Across the board, males have to lift a minimum of 140 pounds, compared to females who have to lift 120 pounds to pass.

The standing power-throw event saw the greatest sex-based maximum-score discrepancy in the 37-41 age group, where top-scoring males have to throw a 10-pound medicine ball 12.8 meters compared to top-scoring females who would have to throw the ball 8.2 meters. Sx-based minimum score discrepancies varied across age groups.

The hand-release push-up event saw the greatest sex-based maximum-score discrepancy in the 57-61 age group, with top-scoring males having to complete 46 repetitions in two minutes, compared to top-scoring females having to complete 34 repetitions in the same time period. Across all age groups, participants have to complete at least 10 repetitions in two minutes to pass.

For the sprint, drag carry timed event, the greatest sex-based maximum-score discrepancy was in the 42-46 age group, with top-scoring males having to complete the event in 1:40, compared to top-scoring females having to complete the event in 2:09, a 29-second difference. The greatest minimum-score discrepancy was in the 57-61 age category with males having to complete the event in 3:12 compared to females completing the event in 4:48, 96-seconds slower.

For the two-mile timed run, top-scoring males between in the 17-21 age group have to complete the run in 13:22, compared to top-scoring females who have to complete the run in 15:29, two minutes and seven seconds slower. Minimum passing scores varied by age group.

The only event where score scales were the same across between top male and female participants was the plank. In the 17-21 category, all top-scorers had to hold a plank position for 3:40, with 3:35 for 22-26 age group, 3:30 for the 27 to 31 age group, 3:25 for the 32-36 age group, and 3:20 for all remaining age groups.

The plank event is also completely replacing the leg tuck event. The leg tuck event was originally meant to be the primary abdominal strength event for the ACFT. By the second iteration of the ACFT (ACFT 2.0), participants were being allowed to chose the plank as an alternative to the leg tuck. ACFT 3.0 made the plank a permanent alternate event to the leg tuck, while this latest ACFT version does away with the leg tuck altogether.

Military.com reported last year that 41 percent of female participants failed the leg tuck event.

The leg tuck was removed after test designers determined the event also on grip and upper-body strength, rather than strictly on abdominal strength.

“If I don’t have the grip strength, but have the core strength, I can’t do a leg tuck,” Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston said of the test change, as Military.com reported. “That was the reason for taking that out; we wanted to measure core strength.”

Military.com reported the ACFT (Army Combat Fitness Test) is also no longer meant to prepare soldiers for combat, but instead provide a general fitness assessment.