What the possibility of a new Army PT test actually is
The Army has had a love-hate relationship with its PT tests. It seems like every few months, soldiers catch wind of a new APFT that is definitely coming, so they should start getting ready. This has been circulating through the Private News Network for over a decade and has steadily been covered by military journalists since 2011.
While the actual events in proposed tests differ from year to year, each potential revision generally includes adding to the existing three staples (push-ups, sit-ups, and a 2-mile run) some events more consistent with the military lifestyle. They also usually change up the grading system to either being a single, unified scale for everyone in the Army or something so convoluted that no one can easily figure them out at 0530.
Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey has been very open about feedback and answering soldiers' questions about the test, as seen in an article on Army Times. Nonetheless, the ever-looming question of, "will it actually happen this time?" remains unanswered.
Also unanswered: "Is the VA cool with all of the back-problem claims they're about to receive?"
(U.S. Army National Guard photos by Sgt. Brittany Johnson)
The Army Physical Fitness Test was first introduced in 1858 at West Point and has been evolving ever since. In the 20s, it was standardized and the 40s gave us a seven-event system that was bonkers. There were minor changes made to the system until the APFT as we know it came into being in 1980.
The current test focuses on three fitness groups: upper body, core, and endurance. You are then scored according to the average performance of others of your age and gender, giving you a rough idea of how physically fit you are. The test is combined with a "tape test" to measure body fat, but this portion is often skipped if the soldier is obviously not overweight.
The main criticism of the test that's been in place for 38 years is that it doesn't accurately identify if a soldier is fit for combat. A scrawny 18-year old could score a 300 and still won't be able to carry anyone else in the unit should the worst happen.
But at least scoring a 300 gave soldiers their very much owed bragging rights.
(U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Seong Joon Kim)
According to Army Times, here's what the new test will look like. Note that all events are now graded on a "go/no-go" scale. From the moment the first dead-lifts start, soldiers are only allowed brief rests before moving to the next event. The entire test would take 50 minutes.
- Deadlift between 120 and 420 pounds, depending on the individual soldier. You must do three reps in five minutes.
- Two-minute rest.
- Standing power throw. You'll be required to toss a 10-pound medicine ball overhead and backward. You'll have three minutes to make one practice throw and two for a grade. The longest distance is recorded.
- Two-minute rest.
- Hand-release push-ups. You lower your chest to the floor and lift your hands off the ground between each rep. You'll be required to do the most reps in three minutes.
- Two-minute rest.
- Sprint-drag-carry. In four minutes, you will go 25 meters out and 25 meters back five times. Each repetition will include a different activity. Meaning you'll sprint, drag a sled, run a lateral shuffle, or carry two 40-pound kettle bells, and then sprint again.
- Two-minute rest.
- Leg tuck. You will be required to hang from a pull-up bar and, with your body parallel, pull your knees to your elbows. Do as many reps as possible within two minutes.
- Five-minute rest.
- Two-mile run on a track or a paved, level road, with a 20-minute maximum.
See any red flags in there? The overhaul brings about some serious concerns that have been largely avoided with the three-event test. The sit-ups are out entirely and the regular push-ups have been modified into "hand-release push-ups," in which you must clap your hands mid-rep.
There's an obvious risk involved in rushing a company full of soldiers through a mandatory test while instructing them to blindly throw a heavy-ass ball behind them. There's a less obvious risk involved in requiring dead lifts. The fact is, if you don't know exactly what you're doing, an improper dead lift is going to devastate your back. There's also the risk of soldiers slipping up on the hand-released push-ups and eating pavement — which is nothing more than funny if it doesn't involve a trip to the dentist.
In the very likely scenario that this will happen (because my faith in some soldier's intelligence is laughable) please send those photos to US Army WTF Moments.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Army Sgt. Priscilla Desormeaux)
Then there's the cost factor. Only two of the seven events don't require some sort of special equipment to perform. In order to keep up with the "two-minute rest" condition in the test, units are going to need to dish out a metric a*s-load of cash to buy enough equipment to test everyone. Add to that the money needed to store all that equipment when it's not in use and the costs of keeping all the equipment in working order — the bill is starting to add up.
This is all without addressing the most polarizing aspect of the new test: it uses a single grading system for all soldiers. There's a reason for the current grading system — it's based off of averages for each gender and age group. Realistically speaking, a 41-year old female who's been in the military her entire adult life would obviously not do as many push-ups as a fresh, 18-year-old football jock.
The current test compares her to women in her age group. It accurately tells the command that, yes, her 300 score means she's kicking all of her like peers. Pitting her in a dead-lift competition against Mr. Teenage Quarterback just doesn't make any sense.
While it's only in the hearsay-phase, if the test were to be in ACUs, it'd make things even worse.
There are many, many roadblocks ahead for an updated PT test. Since the onset, critics have been vocal and yet many problems remain unaddressed, so don't hold your breath on this one happening by 2020 as projected. Army brass is keen on this test so, if it does happen, expect a lot of backlash, back problems, high costs, and countless classes on proper dead-lift form.
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