Meeting a new challenge: Fort Leonard Wood Soldiers constantly working to improve ACFT performance
As the Army works to complete its transition to the Army Combat Fitness Test, Fort Leonard Wood units are continuing to provide Soldiers with plenty of opportunities to gain experience and improve their abilities to excel in the six graded events.
At the 58th Transportation Battalion, Soldiers attending Advanced Individual Training are participating in weekly ACFTs, in addition to an adapted physical training regimen.
“We want every Soldier in our battalion to have their best chance to show what they can do on the ACFT,” said Sgt. 1st Class Barron Graunke, noncommissioned officer in charge of operations. “It’s crucial to give them the tools they need to succeed. With regular practice comes a more prepared Soldier fit for the battlefield.”
According to Lt. Col. Ramon Salas, 58th Trans. Bn. commander, the battalion’s efforts are producing results.
“We’re seeing improvements,” he said. “Soldiers who arrived here only able to do one or two leg tucks are now doing five or six. They can see this is a priority and they’re pushing each other to set personal goals – they want to excel and we’re happy to help.”
Room for improvement
Pvt. Isaac Slate said nearly every Soldier in the unit seems to have at least one ACFT event they can improve upon, which is one of the test’s strengths.
“There are more events than the (Army Physical Fitness Test),” he said. “I like it because it tests more of your body in different places. It’s really hard to max it, but that’s the challenge I enjoy.”
Slate’s best score in Basic Combat Training was a 537. His first ACFT score in AIT was also a 537, just 63 points away from the perfect 600.
“For me, the challenge is between the deadlift and the standing power throw because I’m a smaller person and the deadlift seems to be easier for people who have had experience doing squats – weightlifters,” he said. “And then the standing power throw seems to cater to people who have the body structure to catapult the ball. It’s a lot of technicality and skill that you have to combine with a lot of power to get the best score.”
Slate, who’s training to become a motor transport operator, said he wants to keep improving for himself and his parents – who are both Army veterans.
“I like to pride myself on doing things because my parents think that I can,” he said. “They’re the basis of my motivation. I like to imagine that if my mom and stepdad were here and they were watching me, it would make me mad if they were a little disappointed – if they knew that I could do better. That’s what pushes me.”
To improve on his score, Slate said it’s all a matter of practice and repetition.
“I feel like for the deadlift, I obviously just have to do more deadlifting and squats,” he said. “For the standing power throw, it’s just practice. As long as you capture the angle and move your hips properly you can get the distance you need to get the better score. As long as we keep taking some time in our (physical training) to do stuff like that, that’ll really help me out.”
Overcoming a leg tuck hurdle
For Pvts. Matthew Blanton and Ronnie Smith, the leg tuck event has been their biggest hurdle.
“In the beginning of BCT, I couldn’t do one,” said Blanton, who failed his first ACFT but passed his second. “I had to push myself really hard, every day trying to get more and more closer to touching my knees to my elbows. The drill sergeants and my battle buddies stood behind me and pushed me all the way. Now I can do two, and I know that six weeks from now I need to be able to do five. So, I need to keep going.”
Smith agreed that having support from drill sergeants and fellow trainees made all the difference from him in improving.
“I had awesome drill sergeants and battle buddies back in basic who just wouldn’t quit on me,” Smith said. “They pushed me and pushed me – they wouldn’t give up on me.”
Blanton and Smith both said the leg tuck presents a unique challenge for them.
“There are many ways you can do the leg tuck,” Blanton said. “You can either bring yourself all the way up to the bar and you only use a little bit of your legs or you can use a little bit of your arms and it’s all core. For me, it’s finding this sweet spot.”
“It’s figuring out what you have to do – what muscles you have to work to get up there,” Smith added.
They agreed it’s just a matter of time before they can meet their goals, however.
“I need to do what I did in BCT: core workouts, arm workouts,” Blanton said. “We have a pull-up bar in our barracks. I use that a lot. I just keep pushing and remember why I came to basic training: for my family and the country.”
Aiming for the top
Spc. Maxwell Ayeliya grew up in the western African nation of Ghana and wants to score a 600 on the ACFT.
“When I joined the Army, they told me the max is 600, and in my mind, I always want to be on top,” he said.
For Ayeliya, whose best ACFT score so far is a 542, the standing power throw – sometimes referred to as the ball toss – and two-mile run are the most difficult events for him.
“I don’t know if it’s because of my height, but I try my best to throw this ball and the best I can do is 7.8,” he said. “My drill sergeants told me to work on my pushups to gain strength in my arms and work on my timing.”
Ayeliya said he enjoys the challenge and that he’s confident he will continue to show improvement.
“I think the ACFT is good – it’s helped me a lot,” he said. “I didn’t do very well initially, but I told myself ‘I want to be better.’ Every day I try – I practice a lot.”
The ACFT becomes the official Army physical fitness assessment of record Oct. 1. It doubles the number of events and deviates from what the Army Physical Fitness Test measured. In addition to testing physical endurance, the three-repetition maximum deadlift, standing power throw, arm release pushup, sprint-drag-carry, leg tuck and two-mile run test more components of fitness, such as muscular strength, flexibility and balance.