This is officially the first post of 2021, and it’s a return to something that’s been on my mind a lot in the past six months: fitness. One of the guiding principles of The Everyday Marksman is that fitness matters and is a vital part of becoming a well-rounded (figuratively, not literally) marksman.
As I started thinking about this article, I couldn’t help go but go back into the many complaints I had about the Air Force’s fitness assessment that I did for years. I’ll reserve the details of my complaints, but they boil down to a phase I remember from long ago, “you are what you measure.”
The Air Force assessment, which was similar to the classic Army APFT at the time, is a one-size-fits-all approach designed to be administered on any patch of dirt in the world, by anyone, without any equipment. The problem, to me at least, was that it encouraged poor form and rewarded certain body types more than capability.
Why Produce a Fitness Test?
So why would a gun blog worry about producing a fitness test? That’s a valid question, for sure, and I’ll talk about it in a podcast episode. But let me touch on this real quick and give you a glimpse of my “Why.”
It’s not a secret around here that I think building a solid base of fitness is an important part of becoming a well-rounded citizen and marksman. It’s also something I’ve neglected over the last nine months because COVID made it too much of a hassle to get to the gym (when it was actually open). I believe too many people in the shooting and preparedness communities neglect the fitness portion of things, instead choosing to spend money on new gear in an effort to make up for (or at least feel better about) their physical shortcomings.
I also like to have specific and measurable targets to aim for. While holding myself to the same standards as a military fitness test like the ones I did every year in the Air Force have a degree of validity to them, I’m simply not bound by the same rules and limitations that they are. So I decided to come up with my own test based on the best research I could find.
Designing a Better Test
One of my earlier interviews for the podcast was with Dr. Whitfield East, one of the key people responsible for the Army’s ACFT. One of the things that stood out to me while researching for that interview, and his answers during our conversation, was how there are several realms of fitness.
With that in mind, I started thinking about fitness assessments in terms of levels and realms rather than raw scores. So rather than a single “do-all” test, I decided to create three of them with increasing difficulty and specificity as we go.
- Level 1: General physical condition
- Level 2: Strength and work capacity
- Level 3: High-stress situational preparedness
You should not progress to working on the next level until you’ve at least met the par score on the preceding level. In other words, don’t go for Level 2 until you pass Level 1.
Also, remember that these are assessments should not be workouts in of themselves. You don’t prepare for any test by taking the test. Rather, you should perform exercises and drills specifically designed to train for each event, and then validate that you’ve done a good job preparing using the test.
The Level 1 Fitness Assessment
Level 1 is all about basic physical conditioning and health. None of these events should be particularly strenuous. But if you are out of shape, then you might find them difficult.
Each event is scored on a scale, and the combined score of all events is used as the final score. Failing any single event is not enough to fail the entire assessment, but scoring very low in any one area does make it more difficult. The goal is ensuring a spectrum of capability rather than specialization. This assessment does not distinguish between male, female, young, old, or disabled. The standard is the standard.
I scaled this test so that passing it is relatively easy, but doing extremely well on it is quite difficult. The maximum possible score is 500. The minimum score to pass is 300 points. Between 300 points and 349 points results in a “marginal” rating. Between 350 points and 449 points earns a “good” rating, and between 450 and 500 points is considered “excellent.”
Before moving on to Level 2, you should make it a goal to achieve at least a rating of “good.” Though “excellent” would be better.
Do not cheat yourself. Unlike my time in the military, passing or failing this assessment has no impact on your career and nobody is going to treat you differently regardless of how you do on it. With that in mind, make sure you use the proper form at all times to complete each exercise. This will become even more important at the Level 2 assessment where failure to use proper form could result in injury.
The Level 1 assessment utilizes the following events:
- Hand release push-ups
- Bodyweight squat
- One-mile run
- Four-mile ruck
I am not a medical professional, nor am I certified as a personal trainer or anything like that. I’m simply an enthusiast who has read a bunch of stuff and written down what I think makes sense. Before engaging in any of these assessments, you should consult with a medical professional.
You should complete all events within a 72-hour period. Ideally, you could do them all in one go on the same day, but I know life gets in the way and it’s not like you’re having to work around an NCO or officer’s schedule to make your PT test appointment.
I’m not setting hard rules about how much rest you’re allowed to have between each exercise, but if you’re going to do this as quickly as possible then I would say you should give yourself at least 5-10 minutes between each event.
I’ve posted a complete summary of the score charts at the bottom of the article to help simplify things for you. You can jump straight there if you would like, but if you aren’t intimately with each exercise, let’s break it down.
Hand Release Push-up
The simple push-up is one of the easiest ways to measure general upper body strength. I first came across the hand release (HR) push-up variant while learning about the Army ACFT. In my interview with Dr. East, he relayed that it has a larger range of motion than the typical military pushup and involves more muscle groups.
To perform the exercise, begin in the prone position with your chest flat on the floor. Your feet should be flexed with toes pointing into the ground. Place your hands just outside of your chest and roughly even with your nipples. For proper width, consider placing your index fingers so they are just below the fronts of your shoulders as you lay on the ground.
Your arms should angle back about 45 degrees from your shoulders (so no flaring out). Press and raise your body off of the floor while keeping your back straight. After reaching the maximum height, return to the floor and then lift your hands slightly and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
That is one repetition. Here’s a video explaining the movement.
Administering the Push-Up Exercise
You have two minutes to complete as many correct repetitions as you can. The maximum amount of points is 100, which you can achieve with 60 repetitions. The scoring scale changes as you do more repetitions.
While the push-up is a good test of upper body strength, the classic squat is a good measure of lower body strength. As the Level 1 assessment is about general conditioning rather than strength, this particular version is performed without any additional weight.
The squat is an easy movement to mess up, especially when we put the priority on speed over quality. I want to you to focus on correct form now, because squats with weight become more important in later levels and improper loaded squat form is a recipe for injury. I’m including two videos here. The first shows you good instructions for a solid bodyweight squat, the second demonstrates a good drill for developing proper form.
Administering the Squat Exercise
You have two minutes to complete as many proper repetitions as you can. You must start in the standing position with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width and toes pointed slightly outward. Lower yourself until your hips are below your knees and your thighs just pass parallel to the ground.
You do not need to go all the way down (so-called “ass to grass”). Return to the standing position. Your back should remain as straight a possible the entire time, and that means you’re going to have to “sit back” into the squat- otherwise known as the proper squat form.
Up until very recently, the military loved to test abdominal strength by using the classic sit-up. I was actually quite good at this during my active duty PT tests. That wasn’t because I had particularly strong abs, but because the form they made us used allowed me to “cheat” and use my hip flexors to assist. At the same time, many people had back problems and other issues that got them out of doing sit-ups all together.
I’ve noticed a shift away from sit-ups, and that’s a good thing. The Army uses knee-tucks, which is a more complicated movement, and the USMC starting allowing planks in 2019. I prefer planks for this assessment because it tests the deep core muscles responsible for stabilizing your torso and lower back.
Performing the exercise is relatively simple, but here is a video showing pointers on the correct form.
Performing the Plank Assessment
The starting position is on the ground but resting. When the timer starts, you must assume the position and hold it for as long as possible while maintaining the correct form. If any other part of your body (i.e. hips or chest) touches the ground, then the timer stops and the assessment is over.
If the back arches up or sags down (without touching), then a spotter will remind you to assume the correct form. If the correction does not immediately happen, then the timer stops and the assessment is over. The spotter may give up to three reminders, but upon the fourth occurrence of bad form, the timer stops and the assessment ends.
This likely requires no introduction. Find a level area to fun a mile without stopping. This could be using a local track, where you could perform the previous three events all in one go, or a mapped out 1-mile route around a neighborhood.
Begin running when the time starts, and stop the time when one mile is complete. You may walk if you need to, but running or walking doesn’t change the score.
Unlike the other components of this assessment, this one requires you to use some equipment. It could be a ruck, weighted vest, or something else, but you need a way to carry weight as you walk.
For this test, you must carry 35 lbs of dry weight, so that does not include any water or something that you might consume during the test.
I’ve written a lot about rucking in the past, and even have a challenge or two about it. Moving distance under load is a foundational human skill, and so it appears at every level of Everyday Marksman fitness standards.
Performing the Ruck Assessment
As with the run, you will need a relatively flat path to walk four miles. This could be a loop that you perform multiple times, a single route, or an “out and back” to a set point. No matter the method, it must be four miles.
You must already be wearing your weight before the timer begins. When the timer starts, begin the route and stop the timer when you reach four miles. I suggest a GPS monitor or some other method to help you keep an established pace.
Maximum points are earned by maintaining a 13 minute per mile pace for all four miles. This is difficult and I do not suggest you try this unless you are well-conditioned and practiced at rucking. For a target, a solid rucking pace to shoot for is 15 minutes per mile, which will earn you 84 points in this portion.
This concludes the details for the Level 1 Everyday Marksman fitness assessment. I’ll also have a podcast episode talking about my thinking and “why” behind these assessments, so stay tuned.
Again, once you’ve achieved a good combined score on this assessment, step up to the Level 2 fitness assessment and see how well you do there!
As promised, here’s the complete scoring chart. With this format, you can target a certain score range and see what it would take from each event to get there. For example, shooting for a score of 70 on each event (the minimum to be considered in the “good” range) requires 30 push ups, 50 squats, a 1:30 plank time, an 8:40 1-mile run time, and a 4-mile ruck time of 1 hour 4 minutes and 40 seconds.
|Points||Push-Up Ct.||Squat Ct.||Plank Time||Run Time||Ruck Time|