I thought I’d given up playing Army around age nine. But in July, I found myself alone at a high school track on the outskirts of Las Vegas, trying to pass the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT).
I worked my way through five exercises: a set of three deadlifts, a behind-the-head medicine-ball throw, two minutes of hand-release push-ups (rest your torso on the ground and lift your hands at the bottom of each rep), a timed sprint-drag-carry, and pull-up leg tucks. The test wrapped up with a two-mile run. I hit a button on my stopwatch and sprinted into the Mojave Desert, finishing in 13 minutes 10 seconds. Each exercise is worth a maximum of 100 points, and I scored 547 out of 600. Not bad. For infantry the minimum to pass is 420. But the soldiers with the hardest jobs—Rangers, Night Stalkers, and Green Berets—often score close to 600, according to multiple sources within the military. To find out if I was Special Forces material, I hatched a plan to train for four weeks and crush the test.
The Army is currently experiencing a fitness crisis. New recruits are often in bad shape, and more than half of U.S. soldiers are injured each year, often because they grind through boot-camp workouts without formal exercise training. As a result, the branch is now rethinking its approach. Step one: overhaul the test.