We’re frequently asked about ACFT improvement. While the work you have to put in to achieve a goal is never easy, the process in this case isn’t too complicated.
It’s important to remember that there is more to tactical fitness than the ACFT. Just because you do well on a majority of the events, doesn’t mean you’re fit enough to do your job. However, it may be a decent indicator (after all, it was designed to be). Regardless of that, the workouts you execute should focus on more than just the ACFT. Your fitness focuses should be a blend. This is explained more fully below:
“What are the end goals you’re working towards? First, consider the “test” that is most relevant towards you or your formation. It’s probably the ACFT, but are you also working towards something like a 12-mile ruck, a Ranger Physical Assessment (RPA), another tested event, or multiple tested events? Second, consider the specific requirements of your units’ tactical job. For example, a light infantry company may constantly need to travel by foot with heavy rucks. In this case, heavy rucking would be an important part of their training.
Once you determine the test (or tests) that you’re working towards and your unit’s tactical role, you will know generally what to focus on during PT. You don’t need to exclusively focus on these areas. But with only 5 time-slots per week to conduct your training, these specific areas will likely help you conduct your most effective training. This concept of specificity can be applied to all training (link). If your MOS doesn’t have specific physical requirements, just focus on ACFT and overall fitness improvements.”
This is a blurb from our free Leader’s PT Guide. The free download goes into further depth about what makes an overall program effective, and how to build a culture which utilizes basic principles of effective physical training.
All this being said, we know why you care about the ACFT. It’s tested, and the scores can matter a lot. This blog will explore some simple training tips for each event and how you can think about integrating them into your weekly workouts. Before you continue reading, make sure you’re familiar with all the ACFT events. It’s hard to train correctly and best prepare yourself if you don’t actually know what the events look like. Here’s a link which explains it all. That link also provides some useful exercises to help you improve on each of the tested events.
3 repetition max deadlift - This is a strength event. Check out our free Deadlift Focus guide which is fully devoted to helping you with this event. It also has additional workouts you can add on to what you’re currently doing to help your progress. We often see strength training ignored at PT due to lack of knowledge regarding it and/or lack of equipment.
Standing power throw – This event is hard for a lot of people. We suspect that the lack of high scores has more to do with form than actual fitness. A recommendation we always make is to just practice your form. Get in the gym, grab a medicine ball (it’s tested with a 10-pound ball, but you can start lighter) and work on your form. Get comfortable putting all your power into releasing the ball. Have a friend keep an eye on you or record yourself on your phone. Where is your release point? Are you throwing the ball straight into the ground? Or are you throwing it straight up? You want to find that nice middle point which maximizes distance. Some great exercises to also help are the overhead push-press and kettlebell swing. With both of these exercises, work on that explosive movement (watch the video links if you’re unsure with what we mean). That will directly help you on the standing power throw.
Hand release pushup – There is no magic solution here - you just need to do a lot of push-ups. The push-ups you do in your workouts should be the executed using the same form as the test. If you only practice with regular push-ups, of course you’re not going to be prepared to do hand-release. While there are many ways to strengthen and build endurance in the chest and core, we’ve personally found the best results in this event coming from just doing more push-ups. We really like the 100 push-up workout. It’s a free online program that gives you 3 workouts per week (take a rest day between each workout), for 6 weeks. When you start the program, start with a week that looks do-able. We’re guessing you’ll probably start at week 3 or 4. Do you best with the workouts using the far-right column. Once the week is over, you’ll only advance to the next week if you fully completed each of the 3 workouts. It’s okay and expected for you to need to do the same weeks workout several times before advancing. Just ensure you’re using acceptable ACFT form, and you’re bound to improve. When you are fully burned out, don’t be afraid to go to your knees and keep pushing.
Sprint drag carry – This is a tough event! It has two components to consider. The first is the muscular endurance. It’s easy to get worn out during this event. Specifically, when you’re moving while holding the kettlebells, and when you’re pulling that sled. You can feel the burn. The second factor layered on top of that is the anaerobic demands. This is the type of cardio demand that is seen in short bursts of activity which can take up to about 2 minutes. Consider how much different the cardio challenge of running the 2 mile is, compared with the cardio challenge of running hard for 400 meters. They are both hard but feel a bit different.
With these considerations, we have a couple of ways we like to prepare for the event. The first is by doing the actual event. In the past, we’ve personally done it 3 times in a row, with about 2 - 4 minutes rest in between. This is really hard, but it closely mirrors the demands of the test. Another method is to include the different portions of the event in some circuits. For example, we could design a circuit where we do 2 minutes full effort on the rower, then 15 push-ups, 15 squat jumps, and a 50-meter sled pull. Here, we’re mixing a part of the sprint drag carry (the sled pull) into a challenging circuit that clearly will have us out of breath and help improve our aerobic conditioning. A third method could be to take the cardio component of the event out of the equation and instead focus on muscular endurance. We could do 4 rounds of 50-meter sled pulls, with a couple minutes of rest in between, with no other events involved. You could do the same with the kettlebell carry. As you can see from the 3 different methods we spoke about, you can get after training for this event in different ways. However, you must find a way to train each of the specific events, and you must find a way to work on that all-out cardio.
If you aren't comfortable with the side shuffle, make that part of your pre-workout warm-up routine. It's an effective dynamic exercise to get your body going, and you'll get more comfortable with the form. This in turn will allow you to execute faster as part of this event.
Plank – This one is about the endurance of your core. A great way to prepare for it is by just doing the plank. Other good variations include side planks, 6-inch holds, slow paloff presses, hanging knee raises and holds, and slow bird-dogs. The key to these exercises is to do them slowly and emphasize the hold - this mimics the endurance need for the plank. While there are many great ab exercises, ones that focus on the endurance of your abs rather than strength are likely your best ways to train. However, ensure planks are a central part of your ACFT training.
2 mile run – We’ve observed many people suffer on this test because they are carrying a lot of fatigue from the deadlift event and especially from the sprint drag carry event. So, if you’re suffering on this event and not sure why, those are two reasons to consider. As you get in better shape on those events, you’ll start to feel more and more prepared to excel on the run. As for improving your running, you’ll need to do some running! While it’s okay to go out for some longer runs occasionally, you can best make speed improvements by heading over to the track. Doing some repeat 100 meter – 600-meter runs can help a lot.
For example, here’s a quality track day that can help your two-mile time:
- 10 minutes, easy pace
- 4 x 400 meters, repetition pace
- 2 x 200 meters, repetition pace
- 10 minutes, easy pace
Use this calculator with your most recent 2-mile time. Click “calculate” and then select “training”. Utilize the assigned time for the distance you’re running (either 400 or 200) at the “repetition” pace. For breaks in between each run, take as much time as you need to fully catch your breath, so you’re ready to run at that same pace again. You’re training for speed, so you need to recover in order to run fast again.
The value of this calculator is that it helps to find a pace that is best for you. It creates the paces based on how fit you are, which is demonstrated in your most recent 2-mile time. If you don’t have a recent 2-mile time, or you think your recent 2-mile time wasn’t great as a result of how fatigued you were at the end of the ACFT, go run another one so you have this new number to train with.
If you want to go more in-depth with your running, check out our Running Advanced guide. This programs teaches you the concepts of effective run training and provides both a 2-mile running program and a 5-mile running program.
Now what do you do? If you’re in charge of PT for your element, it’s on you to create a great program that takes these notes into consideration. Our free Leader’s PT Guide can help.
If you’re following someone else’s PT program, consider what areas of the ACFT are worked on and which aren’t. For example, maybe at PT you never deadlift and never work on the ball throw. Take the mental note. When you hit the gym after work, get after deadlifting and ball throwing. Take personal responsibility to prepare for the test. If you keep covering every event each week, you're doing yourself a favor.
Need more help in figuring out how to improve? Send us an Instagram DM. We’re here to help you succeed. If you’re curious about any of the guides on our website, they are all written in this manner. No nonsense, just the actual information to help you see the results that you want. We also always discuss physical recovery and eating, because they each play an enormous role in increasing your likelihood of making progress.