Army approves reduced physical fitness standards for women, older soldiers

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Following a three-year review, the Army has scrapped plans to use the same physical fitness test for all soldiers, choosing instead to have some reduced standards to allow women and older soldiers to pass, the service announced Wednesday.  

The decision follows a RAND-led study that found men were more easily passing the new, more difficult Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) compared to women and older soldiers, who were “failing at noticeably higher rates.” That six-event test developed in 2019 was an expansion from the three events — pushups, situps and a run — soldiers had done prior.   

“This test is an essential part of maintaining the readiness of the Army as we transform into the Army of 2030,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said in a statement announcing the changes. “The revisions to the ACFT are based on data and analysis, including an independent assessment required by Congress. We will continue to assess our implementation of the test to ensure it is fair and achieves our goal of strengthening the Army’s fitness culture.” 

The Army first changed its fitness test to include dead lifts, power throws, pushups, planks, a run and a sprint-drag-carry event, as well as a leg tuck that was eventually eliminated.  

Service leaders hoped the newer test — the first such change in more than 40 years — would better replicate tasks needed for combat while reducing the risk of injuries. 

But the new fitness curriculum was quickly criticized after it became clear women, older male soldiers and National Guard and Reserve troops had difficulty passing it.  

About 44 percent of women failed the test from October 2020 to April 2021, compared to about 7 percent of men, found at the time. 

“ACFT scores collected during the diagnostic period show some groups failing at noticeably higher rates,” the RAND study states. “The biggest impacts are observed for women, but we also see differences in pass rates across components, with the U.S. Army Reserve and the Army National Guard lagging behind the Regular Army, and across military occupational specialties.”  

RAND also found the test did not accurately predict job performance and was better used to assess physical fitness. That distinction is important as a low fitness score can affect a soldier’s ability to be promoted. 

Wormuth herself had expressed concern about whether the test was affecting the retention of women in the ranks. 

“I also have concerns obviously about the implications of the test for our ability to continue to retain women, which we obviously want to do,” Wormuth said at her nomination hearing in May. 

The revised test uses new scoring scales and updated test events, which will allow women and older male soldiers to do slightly less in some of the events and still pass, such as in the deadlift, where they will pick up less weight. Women and older men also get slightly longer to complete the run. 

The maximum score for each test event is 100 points, and soldiers must get at least 60 points on each event to pass. If a soldier fails, they will be able to retake the test after several months but will be discharged from the Army if they fail twice.  

With the changes, the Army will join the other military services, which also have tiered event requirements based on gender and age for their tests.  

The new standards will only be applied to the regular fitness test given to all soldiers annually and will not change the tests troops need to take to qualifying for certain Army jobs such as combat positions or specialties.  

The new plan will also be under a trial period, with active-duty soldiers to begin taking the test in April but not penalized if they fail. The test will then officially take effect in October, to be taken twice a year. 

National Guard and Reserve soldiers, meanwhile, will have until April 2023 to take the test without penalties, and will take the test once a year. 

Tags Army female soldiers

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