Armed Services Committee Wants to Restore Army Physical Fitness Test

Just when you thought They were done – Is the Senate Trolling the Army?


Perusing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Executive Summary, our eyes stumbled upon a key detail of frustrating interest that impacts every soldier. The Armed Services Committee wants to restore the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). Of, if you are the glass-half-empty type, the Senate Committee wants to kill the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). As a reminder, the ACFT went live across the Army on 01 October 2022. Let’s dive in.


From Basic Combat Training to the Olympics, physical fitness is a key ingredient for a healthy lifestyle, less injury, mental resiliency and accomplishing your goals. However, the United States Army’s Physical Fitness Test (APFT) has been in the spotlight recently as the Armed Services Committee debates a major course change that could result in the cancellation of the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). In a major move, the committee drafted an order to restore the APFT as the test of record and requires a 24-month pilot program, briefing to Congress, and a one year waiting period before the Army implements a new standard. This could mean the end of the ACFT, which started on 01 October 2022. The decision has consequences that reach far beyond Basic Training. As we have seen in recent years, physical fitness is no longer just an indicator of military preparedness. Rather, it is becoming increasingly important in both civilian and military occupations, affecting candidacy and promotion decisions. As such, having an accurate, realistic, and relevant assessment of a soldier’s physical abilities is paramount. As of the date of publication, we found no public comment from the Armed Services Committee on their decision to bring the army physical fitness test back to the forefront. The implications of this move are far-reaching. It will affect not only the way the Army conducts training but also how they measure and evaluate physical fitness. The potential impact of this decision will impact all soldiers for years to come. Only time will tell whether the Armed Services Committee’s decision will become law and benefit the military and its members or cost them in terms of lost opportunities.

A Brief History of the Army Physical Fitness Test

The United States Army’s Physical Fitness Test (APFT) has been around for almost five decades. The Army developed the APFT because of the disbanding of the Army’s Women Corps in 1978 (U.S. Army 2023). Yeah, let that sink in for a moment; women had their own separate Corps. Nevertheless, the APFT became the first standardized test of its kind, designed to evaluate the physical fitness of soldiers in an integrated environment. It was a revolutionary development at the time, as previously physical fitness evaluations varied by gender and time of war. The original APFT consisted of three exercises: the sit-up, the push-up, and a timed two-mile run. Over the years, the test has evolved to include additional exercises such as pull-ups, chin-ups, and a shuttle run. Until 31 September 2022, the APFT consisted of three events: the push-up, the sit-up, and the two-mile run. The APFT was the standard for Army physical fitness since its inception. It experienced a few modifications over the years to reflect changing standards and technologies, most recently in 2013 when the Army introduced a new scoring system to better reflect the current needs of the force.

Why the Senate Arms Committee Wants to Revert to the APFT?

The Senate Armed Services Committee recently decided to restore the APFT as the test of record for the Army, in part because the recently approved Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) has been met with widespread criticism on the Senate floor. The Army implemented the ACFT on 01 October 2022 but the Armed Services Committee wants to cancel it due to issues with reliability, validity, and fairness. The Committee did not provide a statement rationalizing why they believe the APFT is a better option, as the test has a proven track record of reliability and validity.

Specifically, here is what they proposed (Senate Armed Services Committee 2023):

“Restores the Army’s Physical Fitness Test (APFT) as the test of record and requires a 24-month pilot program, briefing to Congress, and a one year waiting period before a new standard can be implemented.”

Senate Armed Services Committee, 2023

One simple reason might revolve around cost. The APFT is more cost-effective to administer than the ACFT, and it is easier for soldiers of all fitness levels. The Committee might believe that despite the increased benefits of the ACFT, the APFT has the potential to accurately measure a soldier’s physical fitness and provide a better reflection of their readiness. One item all Army leaders will agree on is that the APFT is easier to administer and is less time-consuming, meaning that the Army can spend more time training soldiers rather than testing them.

Skimming RAND’s Independent Review of the Army Combat Fitness Test highlights some issues that may not have been fully address with the 2022 launch. Of note is one critical finding that “the authors find that the Army’s evidence base for the ACFT supports some, but not all, aspects of the test. In particular, some events have not been shown to predict combat task performance or reduce injuries, and justification is needed for why all fitness events and minimum standards apply equally to all soldiers (Hardison, et al. 2022).”

It does not take much to motivate others to shut off funding. The ACFT benefits no specific governor, Senator or Representative. The money allocated and already spent is completely agnostic. That said, the ACFT encourages a more holistic approach to physical fitness, as it emphasizes, with correct guidance, more than simple aerobic and muscular endurance.

Army Physical Fitness Test Kills Army Combat Fitness Test
Photo Credit: US Army

Our Thoughts on the ACFT

The Army Combat Fitness Test is the way forward and provides leaders and soldiers a well-rounded assessment of their physical readiness. Additionally, the test encourages soldiers to get in shape and live a healthy lifestyle. We will save our critical comments on why the plank replaced the leg tuck, but that’s for Reddit. The APFT served its purpose but did neither challenge many soldiers nor promote a soldier-athlete mentality. Is the new test difficult? Yes. Is there a higher risk for injury? Yes. Does the Army have the training and resources? Almost. Like most Army project, the ACFT is a work-in-progress and has the potential to be a breakout success or a run-of-the-mill exercise in futility. Here are the challenges Army leaders face in proper implementation:

  1. Developing a soldier-athlete state-of-mind: many recruits entering the Armed Services do not have a fitness-oriented background. The Center for Disease for Control and Prevention published the benefits of physical activity. Sadly, the lack of funding at public schools to support and encourage physical fitness leads to most teens not getting enough exercise which is beyond the scope of this article (American Heart Association News 2020). Many soldiers learn how to “PT” from their leadership; which is not always the healthiest and safest. Add to this that doing PT is different from having a fitness state-of-mind. The good news is that the Army is moving in the right direction via the Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F).
  2. Avoid the Peter Principle (manager incompetence): “Everyone in an organization keeps on getting promoted until they reach their level of incompetence. At that point they stop being promoted. So given enough time and enough promotion levels, every position in a firm will be occupied by someone who can’t do the job (Ovans 2014).” Soldiers who are good at PT do not necessarily make good fitness coaches. The Army instantly puts rank in charge of fitness. It is okay for a leader not to be a subject matter expert (SME) of everything. The Army needs coaches. Want to improve your running or lifting? Why not leverage some of the homegrown Division I athletes that have years of experience wasting on the vine? Sometimes, the Army throws too much, too soon, with too many people who think they are SMEs.
  3. Have a plan. From our polling, many soldiers do not know or follow a well-thought-out physical training plan. When there is no plan, there are no resources. When there are no resources, soldiers get to see creativity, or the lack of it, in action. This ad hoc approach leads to many soldiers becoming less engaged, prone to injury, and not reach their physical fitness goals.
  4. Have a left and right limit and challenge your soldiers. The Army is not a tough man competition. There are many stories of leaders throwing in a crazy PT session to “break off” their soldiers. Too many units lean one way or another which leads to soldiers becoming discouraged or loathing PT. We have heard stories of units that run too much or have a Workout of the Day (WOD) four of the five days. Combine loose limits with the lack of planning and find yourself with an injured soldier. For reference, a college football coach may add extended drills during the pre-season, but the goal is to improve their overall cardiovascular ability in preparation for the upcoming season. Another example is running coaches who might add in a long-slow-distance (LSD) run to push their athletes to improve their mileage. There are many examples, but the goal is clear, the plan is clear, and the resources align with the workouts. Army, you are on notice.

Benefits of the APFT

The reintroduction of the APFT has numerous benefits for the Army. It is a cost-effective test that and many soldiers are familiar with the standards. The test allows the Army to measure a soldier’s physical abilities in a simplified format, which is essential for evaluating readiness and promoting physical fitness in the military. Returning to the APFT means that soldiers can train for physical fitness in a way that is tied directly to the testing standard.

Sadly, as we stated above, we do not believe the APFT encourages a culture of physical fitness in the Army. And the scoring system will re-incentivize soldiers to stay in just enough shape to take the test. Last, the APFT might improve morale as it was an easy test to train for and execute.

Challenges that Could Arise from Reinstating the APFT

The reintroduction of the APFT could also present some challenges. For one, the test requires a certain amount of time to administer, which could hamper the Army’s ability to quickly deploy soldiers. Additionally, there could be issues with translating the APFT’s scoring system into other languages, as some countries may not be familiar with the test. There could also be issues with the new scoring system, as some soldiers may not be familiar with the concept of weight classes or body mass index. This could lead to confusion and frustration among soldiers, which could lead to lower morale. Additionally, returning to the old scoring system may lead to gender or age discrepancies, as some soldiers may be at a disadvantage due to their age or gender.

The Possible Outcomes of the Latest Action

The Armed Services Committee’s action could have several potential outcomes. The most likely scenario is that the Army will reinstate the APFT as the test of record and the ACFT will be delayed or even canceled. However, this could lead to a period of adjustment as soldiers transition from one test to the other. This period could be difficult for some soldiers, as they may struggle to adjust to the new test or have difficulty with the new requirements which also impact promotions. Another potential outcome is that the Army could decide to keep the ACFT but make changes to it, such as tweaking the scoring system or adding more exercises. This could be beneficial for the Army, as it would allow them to keep the ACFT and still address the concerns raised by the Armed Services Committee. However, this could also prolong the transition period, as soldiers will need to learn a new test before they can take it.


The Armed Services Committee’s decision to restore the APFT as the test of record is a major move that could have a lasting impact on the Army and its members. The reintroduction of the APFT will save leaders time at the cost of encouraging a culture of physical fitness in the military. However, there could be some challenges, such as a lengthy transition period and confusion regarding the new scoring system. Only time will tell what the ultimate outcome of the Committee’s decision will be.

Sources / Credit

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