ACFT Army Combat Fitness Test For Dummies
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The 3 Repetition Maximum Deadlift event on the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) represents your ability to safely and effectively lift heavy loads from the ground. You use the 60-pound hex bar and weighted plates to demonstrate your strength through the MDL.

You use a lot of muscles on this exercise—primarily those in your legs, forearms, and back. This figure shows the muscles the MDL targets.

Muscles used in the 3 Repetition Maximum Deadlift. Muscles used in the 3 Repetition Maximum Deadlift

The starting position for the MDL is inside the hex bar with your feet about shoulder-width apart. This event hast three phases of movement:

  • Preparatory: On the command of “Get set,” bend at your knees and grasp the center of each handle. Extend your arms fully, keep your back flat, and keep your head in line with your spine. Keep your head and eyes to the front (or slightly upward) and your heels on the ground. All your reps begin from this position.
  • Upward movement: On the command of “Go,” stand up and lift the bar by extending your hips and knees. Your hips can’t rise before or above your shoulders, and your back should remain straight. Stand up straight and pause slightly to reset your spine.
  • Downward movement: After you pause at the top, flex your hips and knees slowly to lower the bar to the ground. Control your movement the entire time and keep your back straight. Don’t let go of the bar! The weight plates have to touch the ground before you start the next repetition.
You have to execute three continuous reps with the same weight. If you lose control of the hex bar, you can retest at a lower weight—but you only get one additional chance. If you successfully complete three reps on your first try, you can choose to take another attempt at a higher weight. If you fail at the higher weight, no big deal; your grader counts your lower-weight score instead.

The big scores to remember on the MDL: 140 pounds for 60 points, 180 pounds for 65 points, and 200 pounds for 70 points. Want to max it out? Slap 340 pounds on your bar for 100 points.

Lifting with your legs: 3 Repetition Maximum Deadlift instructions

The 3 Repetition Maximum Deadlift (MDL) event requires you to stand inside a hex bar loaded with your choice of weight (but never less than 140 pounds). These are the official instructions for the MDL:

You must step inside the hex bar with feet shoulder-width apart and locate the midpoint of the hex bar handles. On the command “Get set,” you will bend at the knees and hips, reach down, and grasp the center of the handles using a closed grip. Arms will be fully extended, back flat, head in line with the spinal column, and heels in contact with the ground. All repetitions will begin from this position. On the command “Go,” you will stand up and lift the bar by straightening the hips and knees. After completing the movement up, you will lower the bar to the floor under control while maintaining a flat back. You must not rest on the ground.

A successful attempt is three repetitions to standard. If you fail to perform a successful attempt, you will be allowed one re-attempt at the same weight or a lower weight of your choosing. If you complete three correct repetitions on your first attempt, you will be given the option to attempt a higher weight of your choosing to increase your score. The amount of weight successfully attempted will be your raw score.

MDL tips and techniques

The hex bar itself weighs 60 pounds, so practicing lifting with various weights before you take the ACFT is essential.

If you’re not used to lifting with a hex bar, expect to lift 5 to 10 percent less than you normally would—this bar requires you to balance differently than you would with a straight bar. (With practice, you’ll be able to lift more.)

To safely and properly execute a deadlift with the hex bar, plant your feet about shoulder-width apart. Sit into a squat and grip the bar. Distribute your weight evenly through your feet and keep your back straight. Keep your shoulders back and down, and stand up by using the muscles in your legs. You use the muscles in your back and forearms, too, as you balance the bar. Stand up in a smooth motion, and ensure your hands are parallel with your thighs when you’re standing all the way up. (If you remember your drill and ceremony, think about matching your hand to the seam of your trousers). This figure shows various stages of the MDL with proper form.

Proper form for the MDL Zack McCrory

Proper form for the MDL

Here are some tricks for nailing the MDL:

  • Center your body inside the hex bar.
  • Keep your chin tucked—don’t look straight ahead. Keep your spine neutral, from the top of your head all the way down to your tailbone. (You can’t keep your core engaged if your neck is tilted back.) You can injure yourself if you’re looking ahead, too, so work very hard to keep your spine neutral.
  • When you’re standing up and holding the hex bar, reset your body by coming to a complete stop before lowering the bar again. Check your spine alignment.

Trouble spots on the MDL

A grader can call out a safety violation during any of your deadlifts. You must do three in a row, but if your grader calls out a safety violation, that rep doesn’t count. For example, if you do one spectacular deadlift and then commit a safety violation (like rounding your shoulders), that rep doesn’t count—and you have to start your three repetitions all over again.

The most common safety violations include the following:

  • Having your feet too close together or too far apart
  • Failing to grab the bar’s handles in the middle
  • Failing to keep your back straight
  • Failing to lift with your legs
  • Allowing your knees to collapse inward
  • Slamming down the weights
  • Rounding your shoulders
If your grader observes you trying to lift a weight that’s too heavy, he or she can tell you to stop and lower your weight. This determination is a judgment call on the grader’s part. If the grader believes that continuing is likely to cause you injury, he or she has the final say.

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