Army Changes Fitness Test

The United States Army is radically redesigning its physical fitness test.

The United States Army is radically redesigning its physical fitness test.

AP (“Army’s new fitness tests add taste of battlefield“):

Sit-ups don’t make a soldier, the Army has decided. So its 30-year-old fitness requirements are getting a battlefield-inspired makeover.

Soon every soldier will have to run on a balance beam with two 30-pound canisters of ammunition, drag a sled weighted with 180 pounds of sandbags and vault over obstacles while carrying a rifle. Those were just some of the tests the Army unveiled Tuesday as it moves toward making its physical training look more like combat.

Right now soldiers have to complete sit-ups, push-ups and a two-mile run twice a year within times that vary by age and gender. Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, the general in charge of the Army’s initial military training, said he has been working to change that test for years.

Hertling said the current test “does not adequately measure components of strength, endurance, or mobility,” or predict how well a soldier would do under fire.

A new annual “combat readiness” test includes running 400 meters — about a quarter of a mile — with a rifle, moving through an obstacle course in full combat gear, and crawling and vaulting over obstacles while aiming a rifle. Soldiers also will have to run on a balance beam while carrying 30-pound ammo boxes and do an agility sprint around a course field of cones.

Soldiers also will have to drag sleds weighted with sandbags to test their ability to pull a fallen comrade from the battlefield. The combat test might be given before deployments as well as annually, but that has not been decided.

The Army will keep elements of its old assessment in a “physical readiness” test, which adds such things as a 60-yard shuttle run and a standing long jump to one minute of push-ups and a 1.5-mile timed run. This might be given every six months, said Frank Palkoska, head of the Army’s Fitness School at Fort Jackson.

While it makes sense to have a test to assess the fitness of soldiers, this strikes me as absurd.

I was a cadet the last time the Army changed its PT test, moving from the Army Physical Readiness Test (APRT) to the Army Physical Fitness Test (AFPT) in 1986. The tests were actually identical–2 minutes of pushups, 2 minutes of situps, and a 2-mile run–but the standards radically increased. I went from being able to max situps and the run without much training to not being close on either score.

For the youngest age group (18 to 21), the pushup max went from a reasonable 58 to a holy crap 82. And I went from maxing the run at 13-something to being in wonderment at having to complete it in well under 12 minutes to get the 100 points. I had a couple runs in the low-12s as a cadet but never quite got there.

Apparently, according to various online sources, the standards have since been lowered to something more realistic for those not endowed with Olympic caliber athleticism. Indeed, if the charts I’m seeing on Wikipedia and elsewhere are right, they’ve been lowered so far that I could probably pass them now as an out-of-shape 45-year-old office worker.

But they’re now going radically in the other direction. Seriously, an average soldier is supposed to be able to do gymnastics while carrying ammo? I was never good at balance beams. And I’m trying to fathom the combat condition under which a soldier would simultaneously be firing a rifle and negotiating obstacles. It’s been a long time since my training but it seems to me that you’re either moving or shooting, but never both.

The amusing thing about all this is that it’s moving in just the opposite direction of logic. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of soldiers do  the equivalent of office work. Even in combat zones, they’re not doing Rambo stuff.

It may well make sense to have Rangers and Special Forces types doing feats of derring-do on the PT test. But most soldiers would be better off being tested doing, say, a 5-mile march or other tests of endurance.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bnut says:

    MOS specific PT tests are the way to go. Roll Tide.

  2. steve says:

    I dont know James. Troops are carrying close to 100 pounds while patrolling in Afghanistan. They dont get to take it off to cross stuff like ditches and climb trails. You need to carry your rifle while patrolling.


  3. Matt says:

    Seriously, an average soldier is supposed to be able to do gymnastics while carrying ammo?

    Since I was a competitive gymnast before becoming a soldier, I’m going to go with yes. OTOH, MOS-specific standards, within reason, make some sense.

  4. James Joyner says:


    That’s true of light infantry. Not much of anyone else.

  5. superdestroyer says:

    A two mile run encourages people to run and can be trained for on your own. How is one suppose to practice a balance beam or pushing a tackling sled. How does one get better at a standing broad jump? How does one practice a shuttle run?

    It looks like the generals are tired that people are spending time at the gym.

  6. RM says:

    When I was a cadet 1966-70, I believe we had the low crawl, run dodge and jump, horizontal ladder, grenade toss and a one mile run, all done in fatigues with boots. For one or two years they substituted a 150yd man-carry where you carried your buddy on your back for the grenade toss. I do recall them testing the 12 minute run while I was there.

  7. Franklin says:

    All that said, a strong core is going to help you with all of that. And how to get a strong core? Sit-ups and push-ups are actually two good ways.

  8. John Peabody says:

    Obviously, with such a complex course, testing will have to become centralized. But we don’t have enough information here. Is it timed? In total, or in segments? Can you fall off the beam once? Twice? Heck, I was a measly musician in the Army, but these tasks are useful to anyone on patrol, so I think they’re fair game to all MOS’s. But we really need more details…I’m sure that they can be found by anyone interested.

  9. matt b says:

    Given the trend since the start of our missions in Afghanistan and Iraq to lower recruitment standard , might this be seen as the beginnings of a larger effort, as we disentangle ourselves from those military actions, shrink/reduce the size of the military (in part through raising standards)? If they decide to do it annually, or before deployment, that sounds like it could become a tool for attrition.

  10. epistorese says:

    @ matt b: I think you’re may be on to something. Especially considering that the military recently announced concern that many potential recruits can’t meet the current fitness requirements.

  11. Wayne says:

    Seems like a decent pt test to me. Yes not everyone is light infantry but everyone should know and be able to do at least some of basic infantry task. That is one of the main focus behind basic training and the cadet “advance” course. In reality they barely scratch the surface of what it takes to be a good infantryman. Cadet “advance” course was such a joke fairytale version of reality. In IOBC they told us to forget that fantasy stuff. Of course they didn’t use those words.

    The APFT was not that tough. I max it several times. Sit ups was what usually caught me most of the other times. In the end it shouldn’t be easy.

    Re “ And I’m trying to fathom the combat condition under which a solder would simultaneously be firing a rifle and negotiating obstacles.”

    I take it you have never assaulted an objective or cleared a room. It happens all the time. They don’t exactly clear the area of obstacles before an assault. You also don’t run in swinging your rifle side to side like some first year cadet. Carrying heavy weights while maintaining your balance isn’t uncommon either. Crossing a creek using a fallen tree or tying down loads come to mind. Please don’t give me the “three point of contact” office worker reply.

    I agree a large amount of soldier do the equivalent of office work. However they should be able to fulfill at least basic infantry task if needed. I don’t expect them to be crack troops but at least be able to do the basics, decently.

    Sidenote. It cracks me up how many including some former military that don’t have a clue what it takes to be a good infantryman. Yet they often try to come off as experts and are quick to say how things are or should be. Some believe the B.S. that all an infantryman does is pull a trigger and be willing to be in harm’s way.

  12. Boyd says:

    I think you’re becoming an ol’ doughnut belly, James. :p

    These standards strike me as being reasonable for someone stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan going on patrols. Is that the minimum that all of our soldiers should be able to achieve?

  13. sam says:

    I’m trying to remember what the PT requirements were when I was in the Marines. As near as I can recall, we had to do 64 situps in 2 minutes; zip up a 20-foot rope full gear with rifle (M1) in X seconds; run 2 miles in full gear with rifle in Y minutes; and fireman carry some 200 pound dude 100 yards in some seconds. This was back in the early 60s (1961, I think) when the PT reqs were first started. I passed them all (hell, I was only 20 then). My only real clear memory is of the goddamn pisspot hitting me in the bridge of the nose on the run, maybe I should have tightened the strap….

  14. superdestroyer says:

    The question is not whether the test is fair. The question is how does one train for it and practice. One can run two-miles almost anywhere. One can do push-ups and sit-ups in your own home. Practice a casualty drag or an ammo-can carry looks like something that will be easy for AIT students at Fort Benning to practice but virtually impossible for those assigned to DC to practice.

  15. Todd Malone says:

    How is one suppose to practice a balance beam or pushing a tackling sled. How does one get better at a standing broad jump? How does one practice a shuttle run?

    You practice a broad jump by jumping and a shuttle run by running. No special equipment needed. As far as a balancing beam and a tackling sled, only minimal equipment is needed to at least simulate the tested event.

    I realize I’m probably biased since having a decent level of fitness and athleticism is important to me, but I think this a positive move. The push up/sit up/run style PFT was a very narrow way of training that not only wasn’t very athletic as far as controlling one’s body, it also wasn’t very soldier-specific.

    (Yes, I realize soldier-specific is ambiguous and, as others have pointed out, most soldiers have very white collar style jobs. But isn’t the point of a soldier to at least be able to grab a rifle and do basic infantry work? Or is that just a Marine Corps concept?)

  16. michael reynolds says:

    I hear the new test for bloggers is to be able to lift a full coffee cup ten times in ten minutes.

  17. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds

    I can do that! With a very large cup, in fact.

    I’m also in training for Scotch lifting, both in the lowball and Glencairn categories.

  18. stuhlmann says:

    One nice thing about the “old” PT test was that it could be given almost anywhere. All you needed was a flat area for push-ups and sit-ups and then of course, somewhere to run. I have run the two miles in a straight line, and I once did my PT test on an indoor track where it took 11 laps to make a mile. It was no fun, but it could be done. This new test lacks that mobility. It requires too much equipment and too much prepared field. If anything, combat should be teaching us to keep things simple and flexible. OK, add some pull-ups or something.