Standardized Fitness Tests for The Military and First Responders; Creating Stronger Units!
The first step to success in any pursuit is admitting where you are deficient and finding coaches, books, or courses to teach you how to turn deficiencies into strengths. Over the last five years, Formal Fitness Training has had a tier of clients who came to us looking to improve their performance for vigorous and dangerous jobs. We have trained military personnel, paramedics, and fire fighters who want to improve their fitness and resiliency for their occupation. In the case of military personnel, they need to pass a standardized test known as the ACFT, which is not easy! Firefighters need to pass a CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test) in many cases.
For many people reading this, fitness is extremely important and should not be taken lightly, but at least in the short term, a lack of fitness will not be a “matter of life and death”. There may not be a second chance to get out of a burning building, crawl, drag yourself, or move someone out of an active firefight (being shot at) in the military. This is why these tests exist, but it turns out they are very difficult for many individuals who want to be involved in these organizations.
Getting fit for your occupation applies to any discipline, but today we will focus on the military and how they prepare for their ACFT tests, which keeps them ready for the rigors of their career of choice.
The current ACFT physical fitness test involves six events. Those events include the hex bar deadlift, sprint-drag-carry, standing power throw, hand release push-up, and plank. They must also complete a two-mile run for time.
Depending on whether the military members are civilians or government employees and what MOS they are, they must complete the numbers, weights, and times to pass the exam. MOS basically means the role or job that an individual has while in the military. This will vary from person to person. Let’s take some time going over each event and what can be done to improve those areas if needed.
The Hex bar deadlift event requires full body strength to pick the bar up off the ground from the squatted to standing position. Exercises helpful in improving a hex bar deadlift would include hex bar deadlifts, bent-over barbell rows, barbell deadlifts, farmer walks (grip strength), and barbell or dumbbell shrugs. This event helps a soldier in the ability to pick things up off the ground that weigh a fair amount (ammunition, heavy equipment, or a wounded soldier).
Sprint-drag-carry involves sprinting, dragging a 90-pound sled, and then carrying two 40-pound kettlebells. Exercises helpful in improving sprint-drag-carry are the same exercises included in the event. Practice sprinting, dragging 90 or more pounds, and carrying 40 or more pounds of kettlebells. The better you practice, the better you will perform on the day of the test.
A standing power throw requires explosive behind-the-back strength to throw a 10-pound medicine ball for distance. Exercises helpful in improving the power throw typically include practicing the form of the standing power throw and also practicing throwing heavier than ten pounds, so when the event comes, ten pounds will seem light!
Hand release push-up involves lowering the body to the ground with hands nipple width (narrow) apart, lifting hands or pushing arms out to your sides, and then returning to the starting position. The body must remain in a straight line the entire time you are completing the movement to count. Exercises to help with hand release pushups include hand release pushups, bench press, bodyweight dips, triceps skull crushers, close grip bench press, and traditional push-ups.
Planks are timed, and the best exercise to improve the plank is planks. Also, learn how to handle planks while under load (weighted planks) so that when you do the plank without load, it will feel easier.
That is the ACFT test summarized and explained! What we have found to work best with clients who are in the military is as follows:
- 3 days a week of strength training specific to the individual, MOS, and weaknesses associated with the test.
- 2 days a week of running to improve for the two-mile run
- Prioritizing high protein intake, quality carbohydrates, and healthy fats to build lean muscle tissue and remove excess adipose tissue
- Drinking 1/2 bodyweight + 16 oz of water daily
- Minimizing stress and maximizing sleep.
If you are reading this while preparing for a SWAT, police, military, or firefighter test, you will find that all of this information is great, but the one thing that separates those who struggle from those who do well is consistency. Complete the training, complete the runs, execute the nutrition and water consumption daily, and consistently work on minimizing stress and maximizing sleep. It will be a work in progress if you are currently struggling, but even if you are already excelling, there is no harm in trying to get even better!