The Army Combat Fitness Test: Free 12-Week Training Program

Sandbaggers will be sorry when they take part in the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). It’s a serious test of strength, stamina and speed.

I can’t help you with lack of motivation, but if you’re willing to do the work, this plan will help you avoid a November Golf (“no go”) on test day.

Appreciation for the Armed Forces

A Weekend Warrior friend of mine (and client member) showed me the new Army Combat Fitness Test, and asked how she might modify her training to be ready on test day.

I’ve wanted to do more to support active and retired military and first responders for a while, so her question got me thinking…

“What if I could offer a 12-week training plan that will help soldiers not only pass the ACFT, but dominate it?” Not only that. What if by the end, I could lead them all to fighting fit?

That led to the Tom Nikkola Strength & Conditioning ACFT Program, which I’ll outline below.

I have much appreciation for those who serve, or who have served in the military and as first responders. My father served in the Army in Vietnam, and later in the National Guard.

His last day in the field was May 27, 1969. This is the Red Warriors Battle Report May 27, 1969.

The interesting thing is, I don’t believe my dad ever showed me the battle report. I found it when I Googled my dad (Warren Nikkola) for this article. It’s not something he talks much about, and to my knowledge, has never mentioned his Purple Heart, Bronze Star with Valor, and Silver Star outside of the one time I found them in a drawer at home.

Lt. Warren Nikkola | Vietnam War | Red Warriors

In his mid-70’s today, retired Captain Warren Nikkola still has shrapnel in his back from that battle, May 27, 1969.

I’ve never served myself. Unfortunately, the thought never crossed my mind when I was thinking of college. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve felt a greater desire to do more for those who do serve, as well as those who’ve served and sacrificed.

I hope by offering this training plan at a ridiculous discount to those who serve, it can be a very small way to give back.

With all that said, I hope this article and training program serves as a small token of appreciation for those who put themselves in harm’s way.

How the Army Combat Fitness Test Works

The Army Combat Fitness Test lasts a little less than an hour. It includes six parts, in the order listed below.

1. Test Deadlift 3-Rep Max (Trap Bar)

This test is completed with a trap bar/hex bar.

You’ll have 10 minutes to warm up on the deadlift, increasing your load and preparing to lift the weight you’ve chosen for your 3-rep max, before the ACFT officially begins.

This isn’t a lazy 3RM, where you lift the bar, and then drop it on the ground before you pick it up again. You hang onto the bar throughout the set, and kiss the ground with the plates between reps.

The deadlift test takes a total of five minutes, and then you’ll get a 2-minute break, before hitting the next station.

2. Standing Power Throw

Facing away from the target, you’ll start with a 10-lb. medicine ball in hand. Then, you’ll bend down like you’re doing a kettlebell swing, and explode up, tossing the ball behind you as far as possible.

To get the most distance, you’ll need a powerful back, glutes, and shoulders, as well as good shoulder mobility.

You do one practice throw and then get two official throws, with your best distance being recorded.

3. Hand Release Pushups

No knee pushups, half-pushups, or any other way to cheat on these.

You’ll need strength and stamina in your chest, and good shoulder mobility here.

You hit the ground with your whole body each rep, and then lift your hands off the ground. To be able to lift your hands straight up, off the ground when you’re laying on it, you need good flexibility in your chest and shoulders, and strength in your back.

Complete as many hand release push-ups in two minutes or until you have to stop to rest. Then, you get a 3-minute rest before the Sprint-Drag-Carry.

4. Sprint-Drag-Carry (SDC)

The Sprint-Drag-Carry is a timed event consisting of five 50-meter laps (25 meters in each direction) as follows:

  1. Sprint down, touch the line at the other end with your hand, sprint back and cross the starting line.
  2. Grab the straps attached to a 90-lb. sled and pull it backwards down the lane until the whole sled crosses the 25M line. Then pull it back the other direction until the sled crosses the starting line.
  3. Staying in a crouched position, the soldier will do side laterals from one end to the other. After touching the 25M line with hand and foot, the solider laterals back to the starting line, facing the same direction. They touch the starting line with hand and foot.
  4. For the fourth lap, you grab a pair of 40-lb. kettlebells and race to the other end, touching one foot on the 25M line and then running back, crossing the starting line.
  5. The final lap is a sprint down and back. Remember to touch the 25M line with hand and foot and then run back to cross the finish line.

The clock stops when the soldier crosses the starting line the final time.

You get four full minutes of rest before the leg tuck.

5. Plank

The plank is mainly a core endurance exercise.

Of all of the components of the Army Combat Fitness Test, should be the easiest on test day, if you follow your program. Of course, if you’re overweight, it’s going to be considerably harder.

You’ll have five minutes of rest, and then it’s onto the 2-Mile Run.

6. 2-Mile Run

If the previous five stations of the Army Combat Fitness Test were easier, the 2-mile run at the end probably wouldn’t be that difficult. However, you’re going to be fatigued from the first five stations by the time you get to your 2-mile run.

That’s why your strength and conditioning training is so important leading up to your test. When you follow the VIGOR Training ACFT Program, most of your runs will be at the end of your workouts for this exact reason.

Tips For Dominating The Army Combat Fitness Test

Though the individual components of the ACFT have application to different roles and responsibilities as a solider, they’re really just markers of general health and fitness.

Now that you know what to do, let’s make sure you can do it.

1. Don’t Be Fat

How’s that for candor?

Muscle weight will help you a lot in the ACFT, especially if you train the right way. Excess fat is only going to slow you down, especially on the hand release push-ups, leg tuck, and the 2-mile run.

The good news is, you can shed a lot of excess baggage if you start soon enough.

If you’re overweight, and otherwise healthy, start with my 28 Days: Four Weeks Of Fat Loss plan. It’s all laid out in the article.

2. Commit to Four Hours Of Exercise Per Week, Minimum

Staying fit isn’t just a solider’s responsibility, it’s a responsibility for any adult that has others depending on them.

The way I see it, exercise is part of the job of being an adult. It isn’t a chore. When you don’t do your job on time, you face serious consequences. When something’s a chore, the consequences are minimal and it’s easy to put off, like mowing the lawn or washing the windows.

Although “fitness” means many things to many people, the foundation of fitness is muscle and strength. Muscle is your quality-of-life savings account.

The free 12-week ACFT Training Program requires a minimum of four hours per week. Is it always convenient? No.

Will you feel motivated all the time? I highly doubt it. But then again, your feelings usually fail you.

Put it in the calendar. If a conflict comes up, move it on your calendar, but don’t skip it.

Make exercise a nonnegotiable.

3. Eat High-Protein

Protein helps you recover. It fills you up. It helps you get leaner. A daily intake of one gram per pound body weight, for healthy people, is a great place to start.

Strength training triggers the need for muscle. Eating protein provides the building blocks.

Read more: High-Protein Diets: What You Need To Know.

4. Sleep At Least Seven Hours Each Night

I can’t stress this enough. If you eat well and exercise, but shortchange your sleep, you’ll significantly increase your risk of injury and under-recovery. You’ll also make it much harder to shed any extra fat you’re carrying around.

Read more: Sleep: Why You Need It. How To Get More Of It.

5. Supplement Wisely

Even if you eat a healthy, high-protein diet, you’ll still fall short of optimal nutrition. At a minimum, I recommend the supplements that make up my Foundational Five, the best supplements for foundational health.

However, you might also need some other supplements to help speed up recovery between training sessions. Buy and use quality, not crap.

6. Blow Up Your Excuses

This probably should have come first.

You’ll probably have all sorts of excuses for missing training sessions, sleeping in, and eating junk food. Whether you’re on active duty, or in the National Guard and currently living civilian life, 99% of the reasons you’ll come up with for falling short are simply excuses.

Too many adults play the victim, create overly-dramatic stories about their struggles, and fall for their fatitudes.

Getting, and staying in shape takes a fair amount of suckituptitude.

If you are going to win any battle, you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do… the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.

General George S. Patton Jr.

When you decide that training and eating to maintain your health is a nonnegotiable, the excuses disappear.

I’m hammering this point because if you decide to join my 12-week training program, I don’t coddle.

But then again…you’re in the armed forces, so I wouldn’t expect you’d need coddling anyway.

The Free Tom Nikkola Strength & Conditioning ACFT 12-Week Training Program

The ACFT program is for active and retired service men and women.

While the training program will prepare you for the Army Combat Fitness Test, it will also get you in great all-around shape. So, even if the ACFT isn’t in your future, you’ll still benefit from the training.

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

Archilochos

Most gyms will have everything you need. I strongly recommend joining a gym if you’re not a member already.

If you’re going to train at home instead, you’ll need:

  • Barbell
  • Weight plates that total 200-300 lbs
  • Dumbbells up to at least 75 lbs
  • Squat rack with attached pull-up bar
  • Adjustable bench
  • Resistance tubing

If you don’t have a gym in driving distance, and don’t have any equipment right now, check Craig’s List. Thousands of basements are filled with the equipment of good intentions and poor self-discipline.

You won’t be prepared for the ACFT by doing Beach Body workouts in front of your TV, or lifting soup cans and pink dumbbells in your basement.

Time and Mental Commitment

The ACFT program includes four gym days and one active recovery day.

Before you begin the program, be sure you’re willing to commit and be monogamous. If you think you’ll be ready on test day by playing the field, and trying out multiple programs at the same time, it’ll be as successful as a marriage that isn’t monogamous.

I’m confident you’ll be ready if you follow the plan, including the training, nutrition, and recovery expectations.

So…what are you waiting for?

Pathemata Mathemata

Pathemata mathemata: Learning through pain and suffering.

This is one of my favorite phrases. Those who’ve been in the military probably know first-hand how true it is.

I often say that strength training is the best form of personal development programs. It’s the intentional choice to face a small amount of pain and suffering on a regular basis, which makes us more equipped to handle the stuff we face in real life. Military training takes that to a whole other level.

To every man and woman who’s served this country, thank you!

Get stronger, leaner, fitter, faster, and healthier, no matter where you're starting from.

With a variety of programs to choose from, I guarantee you'll find one you love. If not, I'll give you your money back.

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If you don't love my training programs, I'll return your membership fees at any time during your first 30 days.*

*Does not apply to custom programs

I've created a wide variety of fitness programs. Each is unique based on your experience, fitness level, and goals. As a client, you can move from one program to another as your fitness level and goals change. Lumberjacked and Resilient are the two most popular programs.

Every Client Gets...

  • Periodized training program: Annual programming with 4-12 week training blocks based on specific fitness goals (i.e. strength, conditioning, lean mass, speed, power, etc.)
  • Exercise, set, rep prescriptions: Specified training variables to make ensure you get the results expected in each training session
  • Training history record: Sets and reps are saved after recording them for reference during future training sessions to help ensure you push yourself beyond past performances 
  • Video/written exercise demonstrations and instructions
  • Food tracking
  • Group messaging, training technique critiques, support, and encouragement
  • App syncing with Apple, Garmin, MyFitnessPal, and more
  • Ongoing 2-way messaging with me to answer personal fitness questions and provide support

Pick a program to start with. If you're still unsure after reading the descriptions, email me.

Beginner

Start here if you've never followed a structured strength training program or if you feel like you need to rebuild a base of strength and mobility before following something more intense.

Gym Program

Intro to Resistance Training (IRT)

By using primarily machines, you'll build strength and improve body composition while gaining an understanding of how your muscles should feel while training them. Plus, you'll feel more confident about doing the movements correctly as the machines add an extra level of stability while guiding you through the proper range of motion.

Program Summary

  • Program length: 12 weeks
  • Skill level: Beginner
  • Goals: Improved strength, mobility, and body composition
  • Workout frequency: 3 days per week
  • Equipment: Resistance machines, bodyweight, and cardio machines.

Tap the button below and fill out the form to get started.

Gym Program

Genesis (Intro to Free Weights)

This program is what you need to get confident and comfortable performing the exercises most important for developing strength, mobility, and physical stamina.

You'll gain strength, increase lean muscle mass, and look and feel younger than most young adults! Most clients who complete Genesis transition to either Lumberjacked or Resilient.

Program Summary

  • Program length: 12 weeks
  • Skill level: Beginner
  • Goals: Improved strength, mobility, and body composition, while gaining proficiency in the major free weight exercises used in more advanced programs.
  • Workout frequency: 4 days per week

Tap the button below and fill out the form to get started.

At Home Program

Beginner Bodyweight

Not yet ready for the gym? Need to take things slowly? This 16-week program is just right for you.

Program Summary

  • Program length: 16 weeks
  • Skill level: Beginner
  • Goals: Improved strength, mobility, stamina, and strength
  • Workout frequency: 3-5 days per week
  • Equipment: Bodyweight for first 2 months, resistance bands for months 3 and 4.

Tap the button below and fill out the form to get started.

Intermediate / Experienced

When you're confident about doing most movements correctly (squats, lunges, presses, rows, etc.), you're ready for the following programs. You don't have to be in peak physical shape to start them, but they'll help you get to that point if you follow them and your nutrition recommendations.

Gym Program

Lumberjack Icon

Lumberjacked

Most popular program for middle-aged men

Build muscle you can see through a flannel shirt and strength and stamina to get the job done, no matter how hard it is or how long it takes. This is not for wimps.

  • 3-5 workouts per week, 50-70 minutes per session
  • Gym membership or full home gym required
  • Focus is on building muscle and strength first, with the secondary benefit of fat loss and improved stamina
  • Programming is ongoing, based on an annual calendar so you don't need to change programs, the program changes over time for you.

Gym Program

Resilient

Most popular program for middle-aged women

Build conditioning and stamina that not only gets you leaner and fitter, it also helps you handle the stress and pressure of everyday life.

  • 4-5 workouts per week, 50-60 minutes per session
  • Gym membership or full home gym required
  • Focus is on building physical endurance and a lean physique first, and strength second, using mostly resistance training with some cardio
  • Programming is ongoing, based on an annual calendar so you don't need to change programs, the program changes over time for you.

At Home Program

Hit It At Home

This intense, intermediate program is intended for those who've exercised in the past and need to do resistance training at home for a while. It's also a great complement to an endurance athlete's program.

During your first two months, you'll do primarily bodyweight exercises three days per week, and Month 3 will require a small amount of equipment: TRX bands or rings, kettlebells or dumbbells, and resistance bands. Month 3 requires four days of resistance training workouts per week.

As with other programs, you can message me directly with questions as you work through your program. Nutrition targets and tracking are also included.

Look at what clients are saying!

Google Reviews
5.0
Based on 20 reviews
I committed to Tom's program because I needed a plan and 50 workouts in I am stronger, more fit, and growing in motivation. Success breads success and the program is challenging, dynamic, and keeps me engaged in my plan. Super appreciate the app and ease of following and tracking the workouts inside the community of other people following the same program.
Hands down best training, your search is over, stop and commit here. Here you will find workouts that give you strength, mental clarity, metabolic efficiency, are balanced for performance in your daily life. An added bonus, Tom shares wisdom behind just workouts sharing ways to master nutrition and lifestyle. Join here. You won’t be disappointed.
Great program that will improve not just your ACFT score but you're overall fitness as well.
I started with Tom's free ACFT program and transitioned to his subscription-based programming. I enjoy the variety and sense of community through his virtual format. I benefit from his military pricing, and it's a great value. Through his program, I have exceeded my fitness goals.
Over the years following Tom's strength and conditioning program, I have never been stronger and healthier than I am now. The workouts are straightforward and easy to follow. And he's always available to give advice and suggestions for form. I highly recommend Tom's program to everyone wanting to improve their strength and life overall.
Tom is a wealth of knowledge and one of a kind! I’ve been following his advice and been a part of his fitness programs for a number of years. He loves what he does and is very passionate about helping others reach their fitness goals.
Recommend without hesitation. Started training with Tom to improve my fitness for the Army Combat Fitness Test. It worked! Now I'm on a women's specific program to augment my triathlon training. The app interface is easy to use and track your progress plus meals if you are so inclined. I like the one-stop ship approach to fitness and health. What I appreciate the most is not having to think about planning my next workout.
The best training program I have ever used. Excellent instruction, a great community and an easy to follow health and fitness routine which has literally changed my body as well as adding vitality and longevity to my life.
Coach Nikkola is responsive and very involved in my training program. He has helped me work through multiple injuries while maintaining progress and physical readiness.The workouts are fantastic and the app is easy to use!
Tom’s training is amazing!! I’ve consistently used his program for 3 years now and absolutely love it.
Training with Tom has been the single best thing I have ever done for my fitness!I have thought about moving on, trying other scenarios, but I haven't because of what Tom has to offer with the training, programming, the connections I've made and have with other people who train with Tom.I am not the leanest I've ever been, but, I am most certainly the strongest I've ever been. And that's a credit to Tom's programming! Absolutely love it!
Tom's program is simple and transforming! He is responsive and always seeks your success.
Hands down the best program I have been exposed to in my life. Tom provides straight forward, highly effective approaches to your health on a personal level. Personally, I am stronger, more mobile, and feel better than I did 20 years ago. Highly recommend Tom’s services!
Great program, especially for AD Army
Love the workouts and love the app. Tom is a great dude and wouldn’t recommend anyone else!
Best program that keeps me consistent and always having a plan at the gym that I don’t have to think about.
Strength training is a non-negotiable for me. Not having to figure out my own strength training program has been huge for simplifying my life and helped me be successful in my fitness goals. Tom is an expert in his field and I have seen gains after gains by following his program for the last 2+ years. Whether you are beginner or expert you will see growth following Tom's programs. I can't recommend Vigor strength+conditioning enough!
I’m a 72 year old semi retired contractor. In my 16th week of training with Tom Nikola . It’s changed my life.I feel 20 years younger, I’m stronger more flexible no more sore joints. It’s not easy or simple but if you do the work It will work for you. Skip
I’ve been working with Tom since 2019. I started with his ACFT prep program and it got me prepared for the ACFT. Shortly after I became a full member and Tom has been my trainer ever since. He is knowledgeable and is a no BS kind of guy. He uses research and years of experience to back his training programs and diet recommendations. He is responsive and truly cares about his clients. 10/10 recommend. It doesn’t matter if your a beginner or a life long lifter, Tom is your man.
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