FORT MEADE, Md. -- While the Army Combat Fitness Test will be the largest overhaul in assessing a Soldier's physical fitness in nearly 40 years, it is just one part of the Army's new health push, says the service's top holistic health officer.
This month, the entire Army will begin taking the diagnostic ACFT -- with all active-duty Soldiers taking two tests, six months apart, and Reserve and National Guard Soldiers taking it once. Then, a year later, the six-event, gender- and age-neutral test is slated to become the Army's official physical fitness test of record.
To best prepare for the test, Army leaders encourage Soldiers to take an integrated health approach to their training regimen.
HOLISTIC HEALTH AND FITNESS
The integrated approach, Holistic Health and Fitness -- known as H2F -- is a multifaceted strategy to not only ace the ACFT, but improve Soldier individual wellness, said Col. Kevin Bigelman, director of Holistic Health and Fitness at the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training.
The well-rounded components of H2F include: physical training, proper sleep and nutrition, and mental and spiritual readiness.
These pillars are "similar to a house," Bigelman said. Meaning that, each element of a house -- the roof, walls, floor, etc. -- are equally essential for its prosperity, like how each aspect of H2F is critical to combat readiness, and having success on the ACFT.
However, the gravity of H2F transcends the ACFT, which falls into the physical aspect, and has become "a culture change within the Army," Bigelman said.
"H2F is changing the way Soldiers view themselves," he added. "It is made up of both physical and nonphysical domains, wrapping them into a single governance structure."
The initiative, originally announced in 2017, was designed to enhance Soldier lethality by rolling up various domains of health to complement each other and prepare Soldiers for future warfare, he said.
The Army's most important weapon system is its Soldiers, he said. So, to overmatch the enemy in multi-domain operations, Soldiers must demonstrate the superior physical fitness required for combat by training properly in all aspects of holistic fitness, including the ACFT.
The ACFT will provide "a snapshot of the strength, power, agility, coordination, balance, anaerobic capacity, and aerobic capacity of a Soldier," Bigelman said. Limited in scope, "the current APFT doesn't fully measure the total lethality of a Soldier how the ACFT does."
Due to this, Soldiers should train the way they'll be tested, Bigelman said.
"The ACFT measures all the domains of physical fitness," said Dr. Whitfield East, a research physiologist at CIMT. "Soldiers should train based on those standards."
BE WELL RESTED
The best training plan is ineffective without adequate sleep, Bigelman said, adding, "You're not going to perform as best you can, physically, on the ACFT if your sleep is incorrect."
Neglecting sleep can take a negative toll on the body. Sleeplessness can affect performance during high-intensity workouts, like the ACFT, he said. In addition, it can affect a Soldier's mood, their hormone and stress levels, and it doesn't let the body fully recover or repair its muscles.
Adequate sleep can improve productivity, emotional balance, brain and heart health, the immune system, and vitality, according to the National Institutes of Health.
For maximum optimization, officials encourage Soldiers to get at least eight hours of sleep.
Nutrition is a vital component of training, said Maj. Brenda Bustillos, a dietician at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. "How we get up and feel in the morning, how we recover from exercise, how we utilize energy throughout the day" is all optimized through understanding, and implementing, proper nutrition.
Proper nutritional habits will "enhance a Soldier's ability to perform at their fullest potential," she added.
Regarding the ACFT, Soldiers "should always train to fight," Bustillos said, and they should do more than "Eat properly the night before an ACFT." Proper nutrition should not be viewed as a diet, but as a lifestyle choice.
That said, nourishment immediately before an ACFT is also important. "Soldiers should never start the day on an empty tank," she said.
CLEAR YOUR MIND
When you toe the line on test day, it's natural to feel anxiety, East said. Before the stopwatch starts, Soldiers should clear their minds, take a deep breath, and try thinking positively.
As common as anxiety is, he said, confidence is built by properly preparing for the ACFT. For example, Soldiers should not start training a week before their test or else their mental fitness can be as affected as any other component of holistic health.
In addition, during the months leading up to a test date, Soldiers should do mock tests to know where they stand. These small steps can be giant leaps for an individual's mental fitness, he said.
Soldiers cannot perform "as best as they can physically" on the ACFT without implementing a holistic approach, Bigelman said.
With Soldiers expected to train harder to meet readiness goals, experts are available to them, he said, noting that physical therapists, athletic trainers, and other professionals can now be found at most brigade and battalion levels to take their training to the next level.