We have a new approach to the Army Combat Aptitude Test grading scale

A total of 340 lbs.

This is the weight a soldier must lift to earn 100 points on the maximum ACFT deadlift event. Is this an achievable goal for a soldier who weighs 110 pounds? What about a 13.5 meter power throw? Is that an achievable goal for a 5-foot-3 soldier?

As the Army continues to face challenges to fully implement its new physical fitness test, the measurement of soldiers’ individual fitness levels is no longer front and center. Using the current ACFT rating scale, a 110-pound toy soldier could lift the same 170 pounds as a 170-pound soldier and earn the same score. Are these two soldiers equally fit? It could be argued that the ACFT sets taller individuals up for success, while it remains an uphill battle for shorter individuals, regardless of their fitness level.

We wrote this article because we believe the military needs a rating system that assesses minimal combat readiness while rewarding individual physical fitness.

If the Army wants to continue grading soldiers based on body weight and not physical condition, then the Army has achieved its goal with its potential new rating system. According to a March 22, 2021 Army.mil article, “The potential new rating system may have five performance categories: green, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. The categories will be developed based on the ACFT performance of male and female soldiers.

We can do better! The new scoring system should be normalized for body weight and scored for physiological gender differences.

Our goal is to offer some thoughts to get closer to an effective solution to the ACFT rating system. The Army needs a graphical and easily calculable scoring system. The military needs a scoring system that motivates soldiers to improve their fitness level through achievable goals.

The friction begins with the ACFT’s resistance exercises: the 3-rep max deadlift, the standing power throw, and the sprint-drag-carry events. The Army requires a soldier weighing 110 pounds to lift a minimum of 140 pounds to score 60 points on the ACFT. The Army requires the same minimum standard for a soldier who weighs 170 pounds. Although both soldiers pass the event, the scores do not allow soldiers and leaders at all levels to get a sense of individual fitness. Under the current system, there is little incentive for a 110-pound soldier to maximize the deadlift given the current grading scale. That’s more than three times the soldier’s body weight. To put this performance into perspective, 340 pounds is only 30 pounds lighter than the world record of 370 pounds for a 110-pound woman at one max rep. Remember, the Army requires three reps at 340 lbs for 100 points!

A common notion is “mass displaces mass”. But how do we know which soldiers are the fittest pound for pound? In the deadlift scenario, it appears that the 110-pound soldier is in better shape, as this individual lifted 30 pounds more than his body weight. The heaviest soldier receives a higher score, but lifts only their body weight. Something is wrong and seems unfair when leaders “hoard and pile” according to the current evaluation system.

Our solution is a scoring system that takes into account both combat requirements and individual fitness levels. We propose to divide the 100 points of resistance exercises into two categories: combat requirements and individual fitness assessment. This method would allocate part of the 100 points to combat readiness and part to a soldier’s performance-to-weight ratio (PWR).

PWR is a coined term that describes the ratio of a raw measurement and a weight. Mathematically, the PWR divides the soldier’s weight lifted, distance thrown, or time taken to finish by the soldier’s weight. We believe the result is a fair assessment that addresses combat readiness and individual performance.

The combat requirement score would be awarded as pass/fail. Soldiers should receive full points (50 points) for lifting a required minimum weight, or no points for not meeting the minimum standard. Soldiers would receive the remaining number of points (50) based on their individual fitness. We recommend that aggregated ACFT data be used when determining fitness level percentiles, which will result in points awarded for individual fitness. For the purposes of our MDL example, we used fitness industry strength-to-weight ratio standards to assign individual fitness level points.

The deadlift PWR score works as follows when comparing the physical performance of the 110-pound soldier to that of the 170-pound soldier who both successfully completed the three-rep deadlift at 170 pounds. Under the current scoring system, both get a 64/100. Our proposed scoring system awards 50 points for meeting the Army base requirement of lifting 140 pounds, then distributes the remaining 50 points based on this proposed scoring chart.

In practice, a 110-pound female soldier with an MDL PWR of 1.3 now scores an 88 while the 170-pound female soldier with an MDL PWR of 1 earns a 73. Of course, that’s only an example, but these scores are fair, pass the test of common sense, and should, at the very least, be gender-based. Similar PWRs should be used for standing power throw and sprint-drag-carry events.

Due to the above score, units can fairly “hoard and stack” based more on physical fitness and less on the impact a soldier’s weight has on weighted ACFT drills. The proposed new score reflects readiness and individual fitness. Additionally, soldiers can be more motivated to improve their individual fitness by realistically achieving higher PWR during resistance exercises compared to current ACFT “one scale fits all” standards.

Lt. Col. Robert Craig is an Army infantry officer and operational analyst. He is a Certified Level II CrossFit Instructor and has been training functional fitness at military and civilian gyms since 2008. His operational assignments include platoon leader, company commander, and combat analyst. Its deployments include Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iris Gold, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He holds master’s degrees in civil engineering and operations research.

Major Maria Smith is an army finance and comptroller officer. His operational assignments include Detachment Executive Officer, Brigade Budget Analyst and Detachment Commander. She holds a Masters in Applied Mathematics and is currently conducting research on body composition and ACFT.

Captain Shane Smith is an Army engineer officer and fitness enthusiast. His operational assignments include platoon leader, company general manager, deputy brigade operations officer and company commander. He holds a master’s degree in applied mathematics.

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not reflect the position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.

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