Toward Better Military PT Tests

By First Lieutenant Matthew Hoff, U.S. Army, 82nd Airborne Division

In LEO/Mil

June 24, 2009

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First Lieutenant Matthew Hoff delivers a frontline report on why military fitness tests are important and how they might be improved.

I write this from an iffy Internet connection in Iraq at Joint Security Station Loyalty. My vantage point as a U.S. Army Platoon Leader assigned to 5-73 Cavalry (Panther Recon) has caused me to wonder whether current PT tests might be improved to better measure what’s most important: the ability to perform strenuous physical tasks in combat situations.

Current tests don’t always pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. The feedback they provide to service members and their chains of command is not always as useful as it might be. It’s no secret that the basic tests are not designed to measure the fitness of the elites—or even the moderately fit. The tests are an attempt to ensure a minimum standard of fitness for all service members.

Service members must be fit enough to perform constant work for weeks on end interspersed with periods of exertion lasting from seconds to hours. But current tests don’t measure how well a soldier can perform a variety of non-standard physical tasks. These include lifting and carrying unusually shaped and unevenly distributed objects—usually under the weight of anywhere from 40 to 90 pounds of equipment.

What follows are some preliminary ideas about how the Army Physical Fitness Test might be improved. The proposal includes five tests, a 500-point base scale and the elimination of maximum scores. Elite performances could produce scores above 500. The format would also eliminate age and gender grading because gear weighs the same for everyone and the enemy doesn’t discriminate.

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18 Comments on “Toward Better Military PT Tests”


wrote …

Like The Marine Corps Combat Fitness Test on top of semi annual 3mile run , pullups,situps...
Semper Fi brothers!


wrote …

Good ideas throughout! I used to discuss military PFTs at length with one of the members of CFFM who was a Green Beret SGTMAJ. He pointed out something very obvious I had never thought of before, the APFT, USMC PFT, etc are almost completely free of gear (and spending unit money) to accomplish.
Finding the pull up bars needed for the USMC PFT are enough of a challenge for large units, or off Marine bases where they aren't as commonly found. Once we implemented the new CFT at my company (with its demand for ammo cans, dummy grenades, engineer tape, cones, etc) we started to feel the pinch. Lots of 'making it work' happened, and we made it work.
There has been a lot of discussion in the Marine Corps about what will best prepare us for combat. You are right on to take direct attention to realistic measurements of fitness to prepare Soldiers for combat. The discussion needs to be had, lives depend on it and as military officers it is our responsibility to prepare the sons and daughters of the country to come home safely.
Great article!


wrote …

I was in the Army for 6 years as a combat engineer. Remembering my time there (it was a long time ago), a number of people could not even do the modified Murph as suggested. I definately think it has it's place, but it would never fly. As an example, when I was 18 I would have had difficulty with that test and I was still able to peform my tasks as a soldier. But, I'm now 40 and have a better APFT score than when I was 18 (thanks Crossfit). Also, that test seems like it would be hard to coordinate among a company of 160!

I am now on a SWAT Team and we have a new PT test that fits the bill. I can't remember everything we're supposed to do (it is new for us and I've only taken it twice). In it, you go from one station to the other without taking a break, much like a metcon workout. You run 1 mile in full gear, including assigned weapon (sucks being a sniper now), keep gear on and do 10 dips, 5 pull ups, low crawl 50 meters, 100 meter spring with gas mask on holding ram, return with heaviest person on team in buddy carry mode, go over 6 foot wall, and there are three other tasks that I can't remember. Sorry.

It isn't the toughest workout, but if you do not do a CF style workout, your going to have trouble. It is also very easy to administer among a large group.


wrote …

Excellent article. As a former 11B I can attest to the shortcomings with the current testing prcedures. I always scored a 300 on the APFT, but my training oncentrated on doing well for the test (making my workouts pushup, situp and two mile running centric)rather than the physical skills I needed for "soldiering". The testing format Lieutenant Hoff suggests is far more comprehensive and, for soldiers like me that wanted to do well in these tests, would force us to be more comprehensive in their workouts.

I also agree that the testing he advocates in the article would be too cumbersome for many units and most schools. I'm sure however, that with a few tweaks it could be formed into a testing that would make for a better assessed soldier.


wrote …

As a prior FMF Corpsman and now Army medic I too agree. You all are fully aware of how CF prepares you all around to be a better athlete and more prepared for combat operations and those doing it already with or without gear are more prepared than those that strictly train for the APFT, however as stated above the current standards do not gage properly that of a fully prepared and or sufficient service member. In time I'm sure this will all change and CF will be implemented and more utilized by the Army as it has been by the Marine Corps but there are still too many that do not know about CF but that I believe is changing daily.

The modified "MURPH" may or may not be the best suitable for this testing but it is a step in the right direction. Not to say that are troops are not prepared but if there is a way to better prepare them (CROSSFIT!!) then you better believe that we should be hitting it from all aspects. Just my opinion...


wrote …

I think you are all going in the wrong direction. This is coming from a guy that has been in for 18 years and counting. I have been in the 11b Victor world the entire time. Did the marine corp PT test when I went through their Scout Sniper course. Being in these units and schools means I was surrounded by those types of professionals. The one thing about the real units in the military is the PT test is nothing but a easy day of PT. You can change all the standers and make them "battle ready pt" or whatever you want to call them and the soft skills and shitheads of the combat arms are still going to do the bare minimum. Let the stupid PT test stay the same and let those who take their jobs seriously do crossfit and enter the battle field prepared. It will save us one more manual to have to store. "RLTW"


wrote …

100% Agreed!!

It says in the FM 21-20 "If we fail to prepare our soldiers for thier physically demanding wartime tasks, we are guilty of paying lip service to the principle of 'Train as you fight.' Our physical training programs must do more for our soldiers than just get them ready for the semiannual Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT)."

The principle is there, now lets see it put into practice...


Russell Berger wrote …

Great article Matthew. I regularly scored 350 on my PT tests in every school and selection I attended in the Army, and yet couldn't clean a barbell with 135 on it as a Team leader. I was trying as hard as I could, working as hard as I could to improve my fitness, and just didn't know what the hell I was doing until someone told me about CrossFit.

Keep up the good work!


wrote …

Great thoughts. Long has been the debate in the USMC (and I'm sure in the other services) that the PFT is not the ultimate measure of physical fitness, but rather an indicator of fitness. After having spent some time in the CF world, I realize even more now that the PFT is, to take that one step further, only an indication of physical fitness in particular modal domains, so to speak, and certainly not an indicator of any level of our "occupational fitness."
Of course, I swear by CrossFit's efficacy of preparing us best for the unknown and the unknowable of combat situations - the ultimate proving ground of our physcial preparedness - and won't be looking for any alternative so long as I wear the uniform, with my goal of being prepared for the rigors of combat. However, my jury is still out WRT making CrossFit a mandate among service PT programs. Not a fan of forcing the CF concept on anyone - I can think of no better way to dilute the community's sense of dedication among its practitioners. However, I believe that as service members, we have a responsibility to recognize that anything less than complete physical preparedness for combat situaions is important - and anything less is irresponsible to ourselves and to the Marine on either side of us. While I don't think a CF mandate among the services is the right answer, I think the combat fitness test is a step in the right direction.


wrote …

Good article but the author misunderstands the role and purpose of the APFT, as well as the constraints of administering a PT program to an organization with over a million members.

The APFT is not a preparatory vehicle for combat. Neither is it meant to conclusively evaluate combat preparedness. The APFT is solely an institutional baseline meant to establish clear minimum acceptable standards for all soldiers. Career, assignment, school, and retention decisions are based on APFT performance. The AFPT is a career management tool, like an NCOER or an MOS exam.

A career management tool must have certain characteristics. It must be objective and uniformly applied. Subjectivity and external variables in performance and grading must be eliminated, so that each event and the test as a whole can be administered and scored uniformly across the entire force. It must be performable anywhere and everywhere that units and soldiers are stationed, without special equipment, training, or facilities.

The tests this article proposes, while clearly superb, are simply not possible to consistently and uniformly administer across the entire Army. The Army long ago concluded this, and decided to delegate administration of functional fitness programs and tests down to lower level commands. Divisions, battalions, even companies and squads are welcome and encouraged to create additional combat fitness programs and tests like the one the article proposes. Such tests were a routine part of the SF units I served in, and should be a part of any combat arms unit.


wrote …

I agree with what Andrew Murphy said about keeping it the way it is, and allowing those who will actually find themselves in combat to do CrossFit and other Battle Focused Training.

In reality the majority of the regular Army is in decent but not great shape and I would guess they would average somewhere in the 225-240 range across the board. Obviously there are exceptions (Inf BN's and RSTA's in 82nd, 101st, 173rd, and other Light Infantry Brigades).. Then PT scores and overall fitness will naturally be higher in units and outfits that have adopted the CrossFit or Gym jones mentallity and who create strenuous and realistic training to perform Battle Focused Training and Physical Training.

In all reality it is up to the leaders at the Company and Platoon levels to ensure young leaders are receiving this training and that they are the complete package when it comes to fitness..

But believe me, I spread the love wherever I go. I would say I have probably started close to 50 people on Crossfit at Bragg and now Benning.. and they are all hooked now and love what it has done for their overall fitness as well as their APFT scores..


SSG Owen Davis


wrote …

Very good article. I agree that the APFT does not show the total picture of one's physical fitness capacity. But it is a simple measuring tool that does not require a lot of logistical support. The problem truly lies with Soldiers and leaders not conducting physical fitness in a manner that will IWCABTAMD. I have always been told that physical fitness is a responsibility of each Soldier. I believe this to a point. But where do Soldiers learn to conduct physical fitness? From their leaders. This is where the problem is. Leaders do not know how to create and run a good physical fitness program that will produce tough Warriors. That is what I love about Crossfit. It produces solid results for the rigors we encounter. I hear many folks talk about the WOD or doing the WOD at Bragg. I think it is awesome. Matt, we are gonna have to meet up and do a little 3-2-1...GO.


replied to comment from Charles Haywood

You are exactly right Charles!


wrote …

The author makes some great points; points those of us in the military have been stressing for years.

The real issue is that in the Army, the APFT is tied to promotion points and evaluations; forcing people to train for it to a degree. It is a gate to get in and then graduate schools. This results a mentality that is loathe to alter PT because Soldiers might not perform well enough on the APFT. Leaders have to look at the capability they require in combat and train for that and let go of the APFT. CrossFit obviously addresses those needs very well and if you apply yourself to the WODs, the APFT will take care of itself.

The Ranger Regiment developed and adopted the Ranger Athlete Warrior (RAW) program a few years ago to address these very concerns. I think the Ranger Physical Assessment Test (RPAT) portion of RAW is a practical model to look at adopting, as it focuses on functional, combat oriented tasks during its test. I think a test like this could be run quarterly or semiannually and should hold more weight than the standard APFT, which is really a test of a minimum capability.

The RPAT assessments as well as all RAW assessments are below:

TASK 10: Ranger Physical Assessment Test (RPAT). The purpose of this test is to measure all components of fitness (strength, endurance, movement skills), using tactically relevant tasks.
CONDITIONS – Given a 3 mile course, RBA, MICH helmet, Skedco w/ 160-lbs load, 20-foot fast rope apparatus, 20-foot caving ladder apparatus and an 8-foot wall.
STANDARDS – Complete a 3-mile run and combat focused PT course in less than 1 hour. The event will be conducted at squad level, with the mindset that the Ranger is competing against himself. Each time the event is conducted, each Ranger should see constant improvement in his time and ability to negotiate the course.
• Conduct a 2-mile run wearing ACUs, boots, RBA and MICH helmet. The run will begin and end at a 20-foot fast rope.
• After the completion of the run, immediately climb the 20-foot fast rope and do a controlled descent.
• When the rope climb is complete, drag a 160-pound SKEDCO litter 50 yards, turn round and drag it back 50 yards to the start point.
• Immediately following the SKEDCO pull, climb a 20-foot caving ladder and climb all the way back down.
• At the bottom of the Caving ladder, sprint 100 yards, turn around, sprint back 100 yards and climb over the 8-foot wall.
• Conduct a 1 mile run wearing ACUs, boots, RBA and MICH helmet. The run will begin and end at the 8-ft wall. Time stops when you cross the line at the 8-foot wall.

RAW Assessments

TASK 1: Illinois Agility Test. The purpose of this test is to measure quickness and agility.
CONDITIONS: Given a flat, paved surface, with a length of 10 meters and width of 5 meters, four cones marking the outer boundaries and four other cones 3.3 meters apart in the center.
STANDARDS: Begin in the prone position behind the start point, outside the first cone. The grader will give a preparatory command, “Ready.” On the command “GO”, Ranger jumps to his feet and negotiates the course around the cones to the finish (see the diagram below). If during navigation of the course a cone is bumped enough to move its position, the test must be repeated. The grader records the total time taken from the command of “GO” to when Ranger passes the last cone. Individuals that slip are given one other attempt to improve their score. Individuals that fail to navigate the course properly may repeat the assessment either immediately or after others in the squad have finished.
No rest period is required before moving to TASK #2.

TASK 2: 4kg Medicine Ball Toss. The purpose of this test is to measure total-body power.
CONDITIONS: Given a 4kg medicine ball, a tape measure, and a line to mark foot placement. Ranger will have three attempts to throw the 4kg medicine ball maximum distance, using a backward/overhead throw.
STANDARDS: Stand behind the line, with the back facing the direction of the throw. On each repetition, up to three preparatory movements are allowed. There is no penalty for stepping or falling beyond the line after the ball is released. The grader records the farthest throw to the nearest ft/in.
No rest period is required before moving to TASK #3.

TASK 3: Metronome Push-up. The purpose of this test is to measure the muscular endurance of upper body pushing and core muscles.
CONDITIONS: Given a solid, level surface and a metronome set to 1 second intervals.
STANDARDS: On the command “Get Ready,” assume the kneeling front-leaning rest position. On the command “Get Set,” assume the front-leaning rest position. On the command “GO,” lower the body until the upper arm is parallel to the ground. On the next metronome sound, immediately return to the front-leaning rest. On the next metronome sound, immediately return to the lower position as described above. When Ranger can no longer stay with the metronome cadence, the test is terminated and the last number of correct reps is recorded. There are no rest positions for this test. The body must be maintained in a straight line throughout. If Ranger maintains the metronome cadence, but fails to meet other performance standards (does not extend elbows fully on rising, fails to bring the upper arms parallel to the ground on lowering, sags/arches the pelvis/trunk at any point) the grader will repeat the number of the last correct repetition and tell Ranger to make the proper correction. Alternately, the grader may give a tap on the arms or back to indicate the need go lower or keep the trunk straight.
A five-minute rest period is required before beginning TASK #4.

TASK 4: Pull-up. The purpose of this test is to measure muscular strength and endurance of grip and upper body pulling muscles in relation to body weight.
CONDITIONS: Given a pull-up bar that allows full body extension without the feet touching the ground.
STANDARDS: On the command “Ready”, move to a free-hang position with arms straight and elbows locked, using an overhand grip, with the thumbs placed over the bar. On the command of "GO", pull the body upward until the chin is over the bar. Return to the straight-arm hang position with his elbows locked. Repeat this pull-up movement as many times as possible. The body must maintain a generally straight plane from head to toe. If Ranger kicks his way up, the pull-up involved will not be counted. The grader may slow the speed of movement to ensure the elbows extend fully upon lowering. The score will be the number of correct repetitions performed.
A five-minute rest period is required before beginning TASK #5.

TASK 5: 300-yard Shuttle Run. The purpose of this test is to measure anaerobic endurance.
CONDITIONS: Given a flat, paved surface with line markings 50 yards apart.
STANDARDS: Line up in the sprint, crouch, or standup start positions with both feet and hands behind the starting line. The grader will give a preparatory command, “Ready.” On the command “GO”, run to the opposite end of the course and make a direct turn by placing at least one foot on or over the line, return to the starting line, makes another turn, and continue in this way for three round trips, sprinting past the finish line on the last trip. Do not take a circular path to make any turn. The grader records the total time taken from their command “Go” to completion of the course. A one-minute rest period is given, then the 300-yard shuttle is repeated. The rest period begins after the last Ranger in a group crosses the finish line. Leaders should organize the men so that there is minimal time separating the first and last Rangers in a group. The grader averages the two repetitions to calculate the overall score for this event.
A five-minute rest period is required before beginning TASK #6.

TASK 6: Heel Clap. The purpose of this test is to measure muscular strength and endurance of grip, pulling, and core muscles.
CONDITIONS: Given a pull-up bar that allows full body extension without the feet touching the ground, and is long enough to allow the movement to standard.
STANDARDS: On the preparatory command, “Ready,” Ranger moves to a free-hang position with elbows bent to approximately 90 degrees, using an alternating grip so that the body faces along the length of the pull-up bar rather than toward the bar. On the command "GO", Ranger lifts his lower body upward and raises the feet over the bar to tap the heels together (repetitions will not be counted if only the toes touch over the bar). He returns to the starting position, maintaining the elbows at 90 degrees throughout. He repeats this sequence as many times as possible. The body must be held approximately straight in the lower position. Ranger cannot rest the legs on the bar or swing past the starting position on lowering. If Ranger extends the elbows to less than 90 degrees, that repetition does not count. Ranger must return to and pause at 90 degrees before attempting the next repetition. Ranger’s score will be the number of correct repetitions performed.
A ten-minute rest period is required before beginning TASK #7.

TASK 7: BEEP Test. The purpose of this test is to measure aerobic endurance.
CONDITIONS: Given two points, marked 20 meters apart, and one beep test audio file/CD.
STANDARDS: Wait behind the start line and begin the event at the direction of the audio file/CD. When prompted, run continuously back and forth between the marked points, attempting to touch the line with at least one foot at the recorded beeps. It is not necessary to touch the line with the hands, nor is it necessary for both feet to cross over the line. When Ranger fails to make it to the line on the beep twice in a row the test is terminated. The score given to the Ranger is the last level he successfully completed. This score can then be used to estimate VO2 Max, a measure of aerobic fitness.

TASK 8: 185-pound Bench Press. The purpose of this test is to measure upper body push strength.
CONDITIONS: Given a flat bench with a 45-lb Olympic bar with both one 45-lb and one 25-lb plate loaded on each side for a total of 185 lbs, and at least one spotter.
STANDARDS: Lie on the bench with feet on the ground and the head, shoulders, and buttocks in contact with the bench. Grasp the bar using an over-hand grip. Remove the weight from the rack. Help from a spotter is authorized when removing the weight from the rack but is not allowed once lowering of the bar begins. Ranger will then perform repetitions by lowering the bar completely to touch his chest and pressing the bar until the elbows are completely extended. Repetitions are counted every time the elbows are locked out while maintaining all contact points. Repetitions with correct form will be performed until Ranger can no longer complete a repetition, at which point the spotter will help rack the weight. There is no time limit. The event is terminated in the following ways: 1) Ranger stops or fails to maintain upward movement once a lift is started (hits a sticking point in the middle of a lift), or 2) Ranger violates execution standards for two consecutive repetitions despite prompting from the grader after the first violation. The score is the number of correct repetitions performed.

TASK 9: 225-pound Dead Lift. The purpose of this test is to measure total-body lift strength from the ground.
CONDITIONS: Given a 45-lb Olympic bar with two 45-lb plates loaded on each side for a total of 225 pounds.
STANDARDS: Standing behind the bar with foot and hand placement of preference, lift the bar until standing erect. At the top of the lift, the body is perpendicular to the ground, without bend in the hips or knees. The grader states the number of the repetition at this point. If Ranger lowers the weight before achieving the fully erect stance, that repetition does not count. A pause of up to two seconds at the top of the lift is allowed. Ranger then lowers the weight to the ground in a controlled manner. No rest is allowed while the weight is on the ground. Repeat as many repetitions as possible. There is no time limit. The event is terminated when Ranger exceeds the two-second time limit at the top of the lift, drops the weight or fails to maintain upward movement once a lift is started (hits a sticking point in the middle of a lift). The score is the number of correct repetitions performed.


wrote …

All of these are great ideas and at least we have young leaders now that can hopefully make a difference or a change. A part of me also aggrees with with Andrew M. though; most soft skilled MOS peeps will do the min. I think what is important is that we are now seeing the flaws and eventually the right people will end up in the right position to make the changes. I think education is the important thing here, and at least "arming" our military with the knowledge of better physical fitness.

Excellent article sir.
SGT Meldrum
D Co 2/505


wrote …

Great article, some really good ideas.

I'm in the navy and I don't think that there is many people in my service that could even complete those tests.

However I do think that this sounds like it could be a sort of test that could be conducted annually (sort of like the crossfit games) where members of all branches of the military sign up and compete. I think that would be really fun.


wrote …

I've read some good points here, but I think some are missing the bigger picture.

Whether right or wrong, we have to 'play the game.' The APFT might not be a good evaluation of fitness, but it is an evaluation. Soldiers who want to promote and want the good schools can show their dedication by exceptional performance during the APFT. As leaders, we need to think about the APFT as our soldiers showing their drive and dedication to getting the job done.

Genuine physical fitness in combat tasks has to be done at the lowest level possible, without Army regulation. As soon as the Army provides the small unit leader with a regulation, those leaders will start complaining about how ineffective it is. Leaders at the lowest levels have to take charge of their physical fitness plans and ensure their soldiers can do what they need to.

-2LT Silva


wrote …

Good thoughts LT. I love my Crossfit and serving my country. This is test however is completely unimplementable in the reserve component. I have 2 days a month in which to train my Soldiers. Physical fitness is important, but I can't sacrifice my entire training schedule to implement a PT test. Plus I am 6'3 and 250 lbs and in pretty reasonable shape; a 6 minute mile is goal of mine, but impossible to maintain for 5 miles.
Your plan might work in a Ranger unit, but you have to be realistic and scale it to the needs of the total Army.

SFC Gassner

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