The British Army fitness tests have changed. From 1st April, the standard test for all serving soldiers is the Role Fitness Test (Soldier) aka RFT(S). After the introduction of RFT(S) for Ground Close Combat personnel (Infantry and Royal Armoured Corps) in 2019, this approach to fitness testing has now been extended to Non-Ground Close Combat personnel (aka the rest of the Army).
Since the early 1980s, fitness testing for the whole Army was based around assessment of aerobic fitness through completion of an individual effort 1.5 mile (2.4 km) run, whilst fitness for military duties was assessed through completion of an eight mile loaded march to be completed as a squad in under two hours. The basic premise remained unaltered for decades, although the names of the tests changed with time, as did some of the standards.
Until the late 1990s, the 1.5 mile run was known as the Basic Fitness Test (BFT) and the 8-miler was known as the Combat Fitness Test (CFT). For the BFT, the 1.5 mile run was preceded by a 1.5 mile warm-up that was completed as a squad in 15 minutes. For the first 10 years of its existence, the BFT was run in boots, but from 1991 onwards, a high incidence of musculo-skeletal injuries led to the decision being made that soldiers should take the test in running shoes. The minimum standard for men under 30 to achieve a pass in boots was 11 minutes and 30 seconds; a time that was reduced by 60 seconds once the switch to running shoes took place. As a youngster, I recall being able to complete the test in under 9:30 wearing boots. By the time I left the Army, I could no longer match that pace in running shoes! From 1999, the BFT was rebranded as the Basic Personal Fitness Assessment (BPFA), which saw the warm-up run reduced to an 800m / 5 minutes squadded run and the 1.5 mile run converted to kilometres. The BPFA also tested soldiers’ muscular endurance and core strength for the first time, with the introducion of press-ups and sit-ups (max effort for two minutes). The BPFA was later renamed the Personal Fitness Test (PFT).
The Combat FItness Test underwent several revisions over the course of its lifespan. In its early years, the weight was 35lbs plus helmet and rifle, with the weight usually carried in belt webbing. Over time, the weight tended to be carried in bergens and in 1999, the weight carried was changed according to cap badge, with the infantry, airborne and commando trained personnel carrying 25kg including weapon, and other capbadges carrying 15kg (including weapon). In the earlier years, troops tended to complete the CFT wearing combat jackets and helmets, but at some point, helmets and jackets tended to be packed into the bergen with T-shirts being worn. Presumably this was all aimed at mitigating the risks of heat illness. After completion of the CFT, troops would usually complete a number of Representative Military Tasks including a test to represent fire and movement tactics, a 100m fireman’s carrry, a 2m ditch jump and climbing in and out of a troop carrying vehicle unaided. In 1999, the CFT was rebranded as the Basic Combat Fitness Test and in recent years, had a name change to the Annual Fitness Test (AFT) and will remain the in-service test for non-GCC personnel until the transition to RFT(S) is completed.
In addition to the run and loaded march tests, there were other advanced fitness tests that commanders could opt to use to test their units; these were the Advanced Combat Fitness Tests (ACFT) 1 and 2. The ACFT 1 was the run element of the BPFA, wearing boots and carrying the CFT load, which was to be completed in 15 minutes. The ACFT 2 consisted of 2 x longer marches that were completed over two consecutive days. The first day was a 3.5 hour 20km march carrying 30kg, and the second day was the same distance with 20kg and completed in 3 hours.
There is a degree of commonality between GCC and Non GCC RFT(S), but there are also some differences in standards. The test begins with two loaded marches. Loaded March 1 is a 4km load carriage completed in 50 minutes, with the weight dictated by job role. For GCC personnel, the weight carried is 40kg. Non-GCC personnel typically carry a lower weight that is determined by their job role. Some Non-GCC roles only have to complete a 2km loaded march in 25 minutes. Loaded March 2 is a 2km individual effort timed run, carrying a lower weight. GCC personnel carry 25kg and have to complete this in 15 minutes.
Following Loaded March 1 and 2, the test continues with fire and movement simulation (20 x timed 7.5m ‘bounds’) with subjects adopting the prone position at the end of each bound, followed by a 15m crawl and 15m sprint to be completed in 55 seconds.
The next test is a simulated casualty drag which sees the soldier drag a 110kg drag bag over a distance of 20m in 30 seconds. After the casualty drag, soldiers simulate carrying the casualty on a stretcher by running with two 22kg jerrycans over a distance of 240m in 4 minutes. Staying in the domain of combat casualty care, the next test replicates the extraction of a casualty from an armoured vehicle by lifting a burden of 70kg from the squatting position to standing, and holding for 3 seconds. For GCC personnel, the final test is the repeated lift and carry, which involves carrying a 20kg drag bag over 20 shuttles of 30m for 14 minutes. For non-GCC, there are different objects to be carried. Non-GCC personnel also have an additional test, known as the incremental lift. Individuals lift progressively heavier weights from the ground, to a platform and above the head.
If you are an aspiring soldier, don’t panic. You won’t be expected to be at this standard to join. You will be required to complete a 2km run (or alternative aerobic test), a medicine ball throw and a mid-thigh pull to show your ability to be trained to reach the required standard after Basic Training and Initial Trade Training. See the British Army website for more details.
The biggest difference with the new tests is that they are all ‘gender free’. In the past, women had slightly easier standards to meet than the men. Now, the same standard is expected regardless of gender. One does not have to look far on the internet to see the malcontented grumbling of old soldiers voicing the opinion that standards are being diluted to accommodate women. I disagree. In my opinion, the RFT(S) assesses all aspects of fitness and in some respects is a harder test than those that have come before. These people are of the same mindset as those who have moaned about the move from SLR to SA80, that real men wore puttees and that ‘it wasn’t like this in my day’. All I can say is that if we didn’t embrace change, the Army would still be cutting about in red coats and sporting Brown Bess muskets. Let’s not kid ourselves, there have always been a small-ish hard core of lurkers who would seek to skive off PT and avoid fitness test. Having had exposure to all of the tests that I have mentioned in this post, I can honestly see that the new tests are fit for purpose, but like anything new, will take some time to bed-in.