WASHINGTON — Major changes are coming to the Army Combat Fitness Test.

The changes, locked in for fiscal year 2020, include the official testing standards for all Soldiers, each one tailored to an individual’s military occupational specialty. The ACFT will also become a graduation requirement, and an arm-extension pushup will replace the hand-release pushup.

The ACFT is expected to be the standard fitness test for all Soldiers by October 2020.

Since its roll-out earlier this year, Army officials have assessed ACFT standards, making tweaks and changes as needed to ensure the fitness test precisely targets readiness and combat-related skills for a new era of Soldiers.

“Physical fitness is fundamental to sustained Army readiness,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston said. “We must have highly trained, disciplined and physically fit Soldiers capable of winning on any battlefield. The ACFT, specifically linked to common warfighting tasks, will help us assess and improve the individual readiness of the force.”

In the beginning, Army leaders based their standards on “scientific data, and the need to revolutionize the culture of fitness in our force,” said Maj. Gen. Lonnie Hibbard, commander of the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training. Now, as new data becomes available, the Army is “looking at ways to refine how scores meet what Soldiers are accomplishing in the field.”

The new changes come from specific battalions who were selected to provide a sample from across the Army, with Soldiers from nearly every MOS, who represented the Active Duty, National Guard, and Army Reserve components, Hibbard added.

Phase two of implementation

As the ACFT enters its second phase of implementation, all Soldiers are scheduled to complete the modernized fitness test. However, they will not be held to any of the standards during this diagnostic testing phase.

Although the new ACFT standards are “locked in for next year,” Megan Reed, Spokeswoman for U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training said, they “are viewed as a living document and are subsequent to change after the larger and more diverse phase of training” in fiscal 2020.

The larger service-wide test consists of every Soldier, with active-duty members taking the test as a diagnostic twice, six-months apart, and Reserve and National Guard Soldiers scheduled to complete the diagnostic test once.

The strategy, Maj. Gen. Hibbard said, will expose Soldiers to the ACFT, help them strategize the best way to train themselves and give the Army a wider demographic of data for decisions in fiscal year 2021.

Next year, Soldiers in basic training, advanced individual training, one station unit training, warrant officer basic course and the basic officer leader’s course, will take the ACFT as a graduation requirement. Doing so allows IMT Soldiers to “train realistically and develop physically in the earliest phase in their career,” Hibbard said. “This sets them up for success.”

Holistic health and fitness

The ACFT is just one part of the Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness system (H2F) that empowers the force to be strong, well-rounded Soldiers: mentally, spiritually and physically.

The non-physical elements of H2F are vital for Soldiers to succeed on the ACFT, Hibbard said. These components include sleep and nutritional readiness, as well as spiritual and mental readiness. They all work together into a single, comprehensive health system.

The ACFT is a part of an overall modernization focus on near-peer competition by measuring explosive power and speed, while also focusing on events such as dynamic balance, flexibility, and agility.

The science behind the ACFT is a systematic study to imitate real-life scenarios, but it also helps prevent injuries.

“Overuse injuries have been a tremendous problem in the Army, with a significant number attributed to musculoskeletal injuries,” said Dr. Whitfield East, director of the Department of Physical Education at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. “As we increase strength, and reduce the number of repetitions (with the ACFT), we should see some concomitant decrease in injuries.”

To decide test scores, every MOS in the Army will be given a color code -- either gold, gray or black -- to correlate with the frequency of the high physical demands within their respective careers. The three categories will then determine ACFT passing scores, regardless of age or gender.

The standards, broken into color-coded categories is similar to the Army’s Occupational Physical Assessment Test, or OPAT, which is administered to all recruits to assess their fitness for various careers, with black typically reserved for combat arms careers.

Based on feedback received from Soldiers, Hibbard said Soldiers are “excited” about the ACFT, because every Soldier in their career field will compete along the same standard, adding “that standard is what is necessary for them to be successful in their occupational specialty.”