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Exercise execution for your test prep

This is an excerpt from Preparing for the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) by NSCA -National Strength & Conditioning Association,Nathan C. Palin & Robert Hartman.

Prior to each training session, follow the warm-up guidance within chapter 13. It will ensure you are prepared to maximize the potential of your session. Typically, whether your session is solely strength, solely conditioning, or a combination of the two, your warm-up will segue immediately into some sort of power movement such as a jump, throw, or weightlifting variation. These exercises should be executed with the intent to develop force rapidly. The goal of the strength-focused exercises afterward is force production, so you want to achieve as heavy a load as possible for the repetitions assigned, without uncertainty as to whether you will complete all the assigned repetitions. For all exercises within your selected program, proper technique is paramount. Do not let your need to produce speed or strength compromise the quality of exercise execution. Some days are conditioning focused, while others finish with a shorter bout of conditioning work.

Keep in mind that not every single session is meant to be performed at maximum intensity. Follow lifting intensity guidelines where provided within the program, and, especially when performing a high number of sessions in a week (four to five), only perform one of them at an absolute all-out effort. However, most sessions should still require just shy of maximal effort, and you might leave 1 to 2 repetitions still in the tank each set. For conditioning exercises, follow the prescription given because it is purposely polarized, with some days being extremely uncomfortable and others being easier than you are used to.

For the resistance training exercises, here are some things to note:

  • Italicized versus nonitalicized sets × repetitions. When an exercise has both italicized and nonitalicized sets × repetitions listed next to it, the italicized sets are warm-up sets, and the nonitalicized sets are working (training) sets. When there are only nonitalicized sets listed, they are all working sets.
  • Percent of an ACFT event. Sometimes when the push-up or deadlift exercise is listed in a program, the assigned intensity is based on a percent of an ACFT event such as the number of HRP repetitions (for the push-up) or the MDL weight (for the deadlift). Ideally, you would have taken the ACFT recently so your HRP and MDL scores reflect your current fitness level for those events. If you have never taken the ACFT, go back to chapter 10 to determine your current state of readiness.
  • Work up to an RM. When the program requests that you work up to a 1, 3, or 5RM (i.e., a repetition maximum, meaning the most weight you can lift for 1, 3, or 5 repetitions), you will take several sets to do so. These sets should be preceded by the warm-up set or sets listed with the first attempt to determine your maximum for the number of repetitions listed being a conservative first RM attempt. If the conservative attempt is easy, add weight and perform a more aggressive second attempt. Allow at least a two-minute rest between attempts and do not perform more than three RM attempts. Exercises that include a work up to an RM often include additional subsequent sets using a weight that is at a certain percentage of the RM. Simply multiply the RM load you achieved by the assigned percentage to determine the weight to use in the subsequent sets.
  • Supersets. You will often perform two to three exercises in a paired or small circuit fashion. These supersets will be depicted by the number preceding the exercises. For example, “2a” and “2b” should be performed in an alternating fashion, while “3a, 3b, 3c” should be performed in a circuit fashion. Some exercises will not be supersetted, but many, if not most, will be.
  • Rest. Unless otherwise stated, rest enough between exercises to allow for a strong effort on all repetitions. This is especially important for the heavier exercises that fall immediately after the power exercises. As the workout transitions from heavier compound exercises that use multiple joints and muscle groups to accessory exercises that are less taxing on the system, you can reduce your rest between sets and exercises.
  • Deload weeks. The fourth week of most phases is a deload week, when volume is reduced compared to the preceding weeks. Resist the urge to do more sets and repetitions than the program prescribes because the deload purposefully helps your body recover from the progressive overload applied during previous weeks. You still want to maintain fairly high intensity this week, but it is OK if you want to take a little bit of the edge off with a slight intensity reduction.
  • Abbreviated sessions. Ideally, you will execute each day in its entirety throughout the program; however, sometimes time does not allow for completing every exercise, set, and repetition. In these cases, try to complete the power exercises and the heavier strength exercises. After those are complete, you need to decide whether to prioritize the accessory exercises or conditioning. Look to chapter 10 for what to dedicate your remaining time to. Typically, you will address your weakness first. If you scored poorly on conditioning events, you should prioritize conditioning, but if you scored poorly on strength-based events, you should prioritize the accessory resistance training instead. Keep in mind that maintaining current strengths takes a smaller dose than trying to move the needle positively on your weaknesses.

Program Acronyms

The program is full of acronyms to help guide exercise equipment selection and execution.


BB: barbell

DB: dumbbell

KB: kettlebell

MB: medicine ball

SB: stability ball


Alt (alternating): Alternate repetitions between one side and the other side of the body.

AMRAP (as many repetitions as possible): Perform as many repetitions as you possibly can for that set.

ECC (eccentric emphasis): Move intentionally slowly when moving the same direction that the resistance is trying to move you (typically down with gravity). ECC will typically be followed by a number that represents the number of seconds to control the movement eccentrically. For example, “ECC3” means to control the eccentric portion of the lift for three seconds.

EMOM (every minute on the minute): Perform the corresponding circuit or exercise at the top of each minute for the prescribed number of total minutes.

ISO (isometric): Hold in the transitional position for the number of seconds prescribed. For example, “ISO3” means to hold the transitional portion of the exercise for three seconds. The transitional position is either between the eccentric movement and the concentric movement, such as the bottom of a push-up, or between the concentric movement and the eccentric movement, such as the top of a pull-up. It is the transitional position that requires the most work to fight against gravity and is typically the bottom portion of an exercise.

SA (single arm): Perform the exercise on one side before transitioning and performing the exercise on the opposite side arm.

SL (single leg): Perform the exercise on one side before transitioning and performing the exercise on the opposite side leg.

MR (multiple response): Perform the repetitions continuously without a pause in the landing position.

RDL: Romanian deadllift

RFE: rear foot elevated

RG (reverse grip): Perform the exercise with a supinated (palms-up) grip.

SR (single response): Perform the repetitions one at a time with a pause in the landing position.

Wtd: weighted

Table 12.2 Two-Day Program, Phase 1

Table 12.2 Two-Day Program, Phase 1

More Excerpts From Preparing for the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT)



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