By Sarah Ferreira
Since 2018 my unit has been executing the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) on a mass scale. We found that we can test a battalion size element (about 1,500 Soldiers) in a 9-hour time frame given the following conditions:
20 fully equipped, 60m lanes. Each 3m wide.
- Grass/turf field that can accommodate 20 lanes-each lane is 3 meters wide and 60m long
- 2 x Rogue pull up rigs located at end of the testing lanes
- 2 mile run course co-located next to testing lanes
- 80 Soldiers per group arriving in 30-minute increments
With each testing repetition we’ve increased our proficiency in setup, administration, grading procedures, assigning support staff, and Soldier throughput.
Below are some lessons learned plus advice and tips for anyone who may be tasked to administer large scale ACFTs in the future.
FIELD SPACE AND EQUIPMENT
Equipment will always be a limiting factor in how many lanes can be established for the ACFT. The number of lanes will dictate how many Soldiers can be tested in a group. For example, we set up 20 lanes for the ACFT which allows us to test 80 Soldiers per group (4 Soldiers per lane as directed by FM 7-22).
1) Set up as many even lanes as possible but no more than 20 lanes total.
Having an even number of lanes is essential for efficient and timely grading procedures, as graders pair up lanes for the Standing Power Throw (SPT) and Sprint-Drag-Carry (SDC). Having an odd number of lanes will throw everything off. Anything more than 20 lanes you begin to lose command and control of the element and voice commands become difficult to hear without use of a bullhorn.
2) Turf vs Grass.
We utilized both surfaces to administer the ACFT and each surface has pros and cons. A grass surface provides the opportunity to spray paint lane lines directly onto the field which saves tons of time on-site setup, spares the use of cones as well as the aggravation of trying to use engineer tape.
The major downside to using grass is that based on the heavy traffic pattern and weather, the grass can quickly turn to mud/dirt which greatly impacts the SDC event. You won’t have that issue with turf.
However, unless the turf field was specifically designed for the ACFT, you are going to be using a ton of cones and a measuring wheel/tape to establish the lanes. This greatly lengthens the setup time as the coned-out field needs to be the first thing established on site. If using a turf field, we found it helpful to place rubber matting underneath the hexbars for the deadlift event. This will help save unnecessary wear and tear, as well as denting of the turf surface.
3) Create 2 separate 25m distances per lane.
We have the field space (both on turf and grass) to create 2 separate 25m distances per lane. Based on space, many units must utilize the same 25m distance for the standing power throw (SPT), hand release push-up (HRPU), and Sprint-Drag-Carry event (SDC).
For our ACFTs, we create a 25m distance for the SPT and another 25m distance for the HRPU and SDC farther down the lane. The ability to create 2 x 25m distances per lane allows us to test multiple groups of Soldiers simultaneously. For example, as a group of 80 Soldiers moves down the lanes to start the HRPU event, another group of 80 Soldiers can start the 10-minute warm up for the 3RM deadlift event since there is enough space between events where the groups will not interfere with each other.
The 2 x 25m distances per lane have been a total game-changer in terms of Soldier throughput.
1) Postpone for anything more than light rain.
Unless your unit has access to an indoor testing facility, the weather can substantially impact test administration. We found that anything heavier than a light rain is grounds to postpone the event, especially if performing the ACFT on a grass field (mud accumulates quickly).
The moisture can also negatively impact Soldier performance on the SPT (power throw). Towels don’t really do much in terms of getting the moisture off the ball. It’s still going to be wet.
Same goes for the kettlebell handles and the pull up bars.
TIMELINE AND SOLDIER THROUGHPUT
1) Plan on 2 hours for set up.
With an experienced setup team, we found we can establish the 20-lane test and 2-mile run (2MR) course in about 30 minutes. This took several reps to achieve. When we first started this process, setup took us a full hour. A good initial estimation for large scale site setup with would be between 45min-1hour.
2) Deadlift Setup Tips.
The station that takes the longest to setup is the 3RM deadlift, due to the sheer number of weight plates needed in order to establish 20 stations that range from 140lbs to 340lbs. I highly recommend starting setup of the deadlift early, as it initially surprised us how long it took to setup.
Have change plates (5 lbs. and 10 lbs.) centrally located between the stations so Soldiers can quickly add weight to the hexbar if desired.
If possible, have multiple stations of popular weights. For example, many Soldiers in my unit easily max out the 3RM deadlift at 340lbs. To alleviate a backlog at that specific weight, we crated 5 x 340lbs deadlift stations. Be ready to adjust the weights based on where Soldiers congregate during the 3RM deadlift.
3) Space soldier groups 30 minutes apart.
Report times for groups of Soldiers should be spaced approximately 30 minutes apart. For example, if we are testing 20 groups of 80 Soldiers for a specific day- group 1 arrives at 0630, group 2 at 0700, etc.
The 30-minute spacing allows for a group to execute the preparation drill (warm up sequence), 3RM deadlift, and start the standing power throw, before group 2 arrives.
We found that the trigger to start the next group onto the 3RM deadlift station, was when the group that is ahead starts the HRPU.
4) Always strive to get 4 Soldiers per testing lane.
Three is okay, but 5 is a no-go. Having a fifth person in a lane will throw off the entire group’s throughput timeline. For example, having a fifth person in a lane means an additional 2-minute iteration for the HPRU, an additional SDC iteration (up to 3 mins in duration), and an additional leg tuck iteration. In total that could add up to 7 minutes or more. Multiply this by numerous testing groups and you can quickly find yourself behind schedule.
5) Arrange Soldiers from heaviest to lightest (or lightest to heaviest) deadlift before starting the Sprint-Drag-Carry event.
We found that Soldiers who lift heavier on the 3RM deadlift event generally have faster times on the SDC. If you can front load those Soldiers, then it will save time across 4 x SDC iterations per group.
6) Have the 4th Soldier count HRPU reps for the grader.
For the HRPUs, have the last Soldier in the stack of 4 come and count the number of repetitions out loud. This allows the grader to focus on form and give the performer feedback.
GRADERS & SUPPORT STAFF
1) Staff 2 Groups of 20 Graders plus 10 Graders/Support Staff for the 2-Mile Run.
In order to have multiple groups of Soldiers testing at any given time, we needed 2 groups of 20 graders (1 grader per lane), as well as a fully separate 2 mile run grading group consisting of about 10 graders/support staff. Here’s why …..
The lane graders take the groups of Soldiers through the first 5 events of the ACFT. Once complete with the leg tuck event, graders give the Soldier their scorecard and the Soldiers are then escorted to the OIC/NCOIC at the 2MR site. The lane graders then go back to the staging area to pick up the next group of 80 Soldiers to start another iteration of the test. This grader schematic allows for 3 groups of 80 soldiers to be testing the ACFT at any time- 2 groups of 80 Soldiers on the lanes, and one group of 80 Soldiers on the run.
2) Identify 3 Support Staff to Assist with Flow and Organization at 3 Critical Areas.
The first is reception and staging, the second is Soldier movement from 3RM deadlift to standing power throw (arranging Soldiers in stacks of 4 per lane), and the third is the escort from the leg tuck to the 2MR station. The personnel assigned to flow are instrumental in reducing transition time.
COVID-19 MITIGATION MEASURES
All ACFT testing is done outside. Soldiers are required to sanitize their hands prior to starting the ACFT. All Soldiers are required to wear masks during the warmup, 3RM deadlift, SPT, and LTK. Soldiers are permitted to remove masks when actively performing the HRPU, SDC, and 2MR. When masks are off, Soldiers are required to maintain appropriate distancing. If possible, have hand sanitizer or handwashing stations near the staging area and at the end of the 2MR.
We also incorporated the use of sanitation teams to clean the equipment after each group of 80 Soldiers completed an event. For example, once all Soldiers were complete with the 3RM deadlift station, the sanitation team would spray and wipe down the hexbar handles. This was done with plenty of time for the bars to dry prior to the next group starting the 3RM deadlift. Sanitation was repeated for SPT, SDC, and LTK stations.
Sarah is an Army Major taxed with early implementation/testing of the ACFT.
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