The Army Combat Fitness Test Should Have Just Been a Spartan Race
It’s been a long time goal for my husband to sign up for a Spartan Race. He tells me that I could totally complete the race, and he may not be wrong. But there’s something about doing what feels like 50 million burpees in a day for every event that I can’t do that is just kinda of unappealing to me. I’d rather go for a walk and then read a book. I have zero need to prove my fitness to anyone by earning a race day medal. But after he finished a Sprint this past weekend at Nationals Stadium in D.C., I did wonder why the Army went to such great lengths to overhaul their Army Physical Fitness Test – and not because they didn’t need something new. But maybe instead of the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), they just needed to collaborate with the makers of the Spartan Race to produce a different way of assessing physical fitness. The reasons behind the need for the ACFT may not be 100% wrong – although I know that everyone has a LOT of opinions on this. The issues is that if a new test is needed, why not use something that’s already proven, developed, and available? Why recreate the wheel?
It Costs very Little to train for a Spartan Race
Depending on the level of the race (Sprint, Super, Beast, or Ultra), contestants can keep up physical fitness regiments that require little to no equipment. The Sprint has three miles plus up to 25 obstacles that include carrying heavy objects, climbing a rope, climbing walls, and 15 burpees for every failed challenge. The longer races have all of those obstacles and more, but with a 30 burpee penalty for every failed challenge. The ACFT requires a two mile run, and the Spartan Sprint is right around three miles – a comparable race, but with many different obstacles built in that test competitors capabilities, strength, and stamina.
While some components are helped by owning or having access to things like a medicine ball, which is similar to the ACFT, for most contestants who have some weights or heavier items, they can easily train at home, at a gym, or at a track. In fact, for months leading up to the Sprint, our family went to a local high school track to run, climb stairs (which is a significant portion of a race in a stadium), and do bear crawls through the end zone of the football field. All of the exercises were part of the recommended training plan that the Spartan race makers have put together, and they even have an app for that – all for free.
The point is that for service members out in the field, they can train for a race without ever setting foot in a gym or having access to pricey equipment. While you can allegedly use alternatives for the ACFT, the test has very specific elements that will be required, making it more important to routinely practice things like the sled drag and dead lifts, exercises that require expensive and bulky equipment. Because the ACFT is more specific on techniques for the test, service members need to incorporate those specific exercises into their training regiment – or they won’t get a score that’s consistent with their athletic ability.
A Spartan Race Is Resourceful for the Army
We talk all the time about not creating programs from scratch, but rather using some commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) system and making tweaks where possible. Using the Spartan Race model, the Army could have simply made tweaks or designated certain races for some service members. If a soldier fails a challenge but can still complete 15-30 burpees multiple times, it should tell you their fitness levels. As someone who strongly dislikes burpees, I can guarantee you that I will be practicing my technique or grip strength wherever possible so that I do not have to burpee my way through a three+ mile obstacle course.
The reality is that the races have already been thought out. No need to pay expensive consultants to plan out the events, the exercises, or whether the test is discriminatory. It’s already been done. The Army could simply decide on what components to maintain or adjust. It’s a waste of money to overhaul something when so many programs are already out there – complete with scoring systems, obstacle options, and employees and volunteers who already know how to support the system. No need to purchase and mobilize specific equipment for the ACFT – the Spartan Race already has its equipment process planned and ready to execute. The tests are offered nationally and internationally – providing many ways for soldiers to compete. It’s easy to talk about not recreating the wheel every time there’s a need in the defense industry, but the ACFT was a missed opportunity to stand behind that acquisition movement.
The ACFT isn’t Motivating for Soldiers
This past weekend, immediately after my husband ran the race with a few friends, he began looking for his next race to compete in – with the next one being longer. He’s already evaluating what to change or add in his daily workout routine. When a soldier gets a decent score on the ACFT, are they motivated to start over with training again to get a better score? Are they at risk to injury by completing the same exercise repeatedly? And are soldiers getting combat-ready with the ACFT, or are they just getting really good at completing specific exercises?
If we want a training system that is motivating for soldiers to complete, we need something that makes them want to train harder and enjoy their PT. The problem with the ACFT is that it’s only a fraction of the motivation and fun that service members could be having each year as they get ready to compete. Spartan Races encourage competition and motivate competitors to want to push more during training and race day. And not only that, it would set soldiers up for a lifetime of being more motivated in their fitness goals – long after they leave the military.