The U.S. Army is developing a new, more grueling and complex fitness exam that adds dead lifts, power throws and other exercises designed to make soldiers more fit and ready for combat.
Commanders have complained in recent years that the soldiers they get out of basic training aren't fit enough. Nearly half of the commanders surveyed last year said new troops coming into their units could not meet the physical demands of combat. Many senior officials think that the existing fitness test does not adequately measure the physical qualities needed for the battlefield.
The new test, "may be harder, but it is necessary," said Gen. Stephen Townsend, head of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
Reaching the new fitness levels will be challenging. The old fitness test graded soldiers differently based on age and gender. The new one will be far more physically demanding and will not adjust the passing scores for older or female soldiers.
For example, in the current test — two minutes of situps, two minutes of pushups, a two-mile run — younger soldiers must do more repetitions and run faster to pass and get maximum scores than those who are older or female.
Townsend said the new test was designed based on scientific research that matched specific exercises to tasks that soldiers in combat must do: sprint away from fire, carry a wounded comrade on a stretcher, haul cans of fuel to a truck.
While not adjusted for age or gender, the scoring will be divided into three levels that require soldiers with more physically demanding jobs, such as infantry or armor, to score higher.
The six events in the new test take nearly an hour and are done in order with only a few minutes rest in between:
—a dead lift, with weights between 140 pounds and 340 pounds
—a standing power throw, which requires soldiers to throw a 10-pound medicine ball backward and overhead
—hand-release pushups, completing as many as possible in two minutes
—the "sprint-drag-carry" that includes a 50-yard sprint, a 50-yard backward sled drag, a 50-yard lateral, where soldiers shuttle sideways down the lane and back, a 50-yard carry of two 40-pound kettle bells and a 50-yard sprint
—after a short rest, the soldiers do the leg tuck pullup, as many as possible in two minutes
—a two-mile run
"We needed to change the culture of fitness in the United States Army. We had a high number of nondeployable soldiers that had a lot of muscular/skeletal injuries and medical challenges because we hadn't trained them from a fitness perspective in the right way," said Army Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost, commander of the Army's Center for Initial Military Training and the officer in charge of developing the new fitness test. "The goal is about a having a more combat-ready army."
Frost said that about one-third of the soldiers who come into the service leave before their third year, many because of muscular skeletal injuries. The new test, he said, will help screen out recruits who are less physically fit and mentally disciplined. Those who make the cut are more likely to stay in the service.
Across the country, 63 battalions are working on the final test development and will eventually go back to their units and train others. By October 1 this year, the entire Army will be using the test. By October 2020, it will be the official exam that all soldiers will have to pass.
(In this Jan. 8, 2019, photo, U.S Army 1st Lt. Mitchel Hess participates in a weight-lifting drill while training to be an instructor in the new Army combat fitness test at Fort Bragg, N.C. AP Photo/Gerry Broome)