I tried the new Army Fitness Test push up variation and my arm muscles are never going to be the same

If you ever thought, "Boy, standard push-ups are too easy!", you'll love the newly revamped Army Fitness Test variation

Army person doing push ups
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The U.S. Army recently revamped its ACFT (Army Combat Fitness Test) for the first time in four decades, and some of the more muscle-endurance style exercises have been shunned. To replace them, soldiers now have to perform three-rep max deadlifts, standing medicine ball throws, and hand-release push-ups, something I wanted to try myself as soon as I learned about its existence.

There is so much to dissect about the ACFT (opens in new tab); I might have to write another article about how it evolved and why the exercises involved in the new test are better than the ones they replaced.

For example, to achieve an "exceptional" score (100 points) on the APFT test (the predecessor of ACFT), you used to have to perform anything between 66-82 sit-ups in under two minutes (depending on your age and sex), which is silly because sit-ups are by no means an excellent exercise to measure strength (or endurance, for that matter). 

On the other hand, deadlifts – or the King of Lifts, as many people like to call them – will measure overall strength. So will push-ups, both being great examples of compound exercises that require many muscles in the body to work together to perform the movement correctly.

I also tried the Army Combat Fitness Test knee tucks to see find out why they were scrapped.

Push it real good

The full new ACFT consists of a three-rep max deadlift, standing medicine ball throws (do I sense a bit of CrossFit influence?), hand-release push-ups, a sprint-drag-carry drill, leg tucks or planks and a two-mile run. All this needs to be performed within a certain amount of time, which is taxing on the muscles and the mind.

But we're not here to analyse the whole physical fitness test, only the hand-release push-up. How does it differ from the standard push-up? As you've probably guessed, during hand-release push-ups, you 'release the hand', meaning that you lift your hands off the ground by squeezing the shoulder blades together at the bottom of the movement.

By lifting your hands up, you remove the kinetic energy component of the push-up which makes it harder to perform each rep as you can't rely on your tendons to help you bounce back from the floor. At each rep, you completely restart the movement which is so much harder than pumping out reps of standard push-ups.

Knowing all this, I couldn't wait to try the hand-release push up myself. I didn't dare to do the whole test but since I'm comfortable churning out 20-25 standard push-ups at one go, I thought trying the hand-release version would be easy enough for me. How wrong I was!

Truth to be told, hand-release push-ups aren't impossible to perform for people who can do press-ups. It just adds an extra layer of difficulty, without having to lift your legs up or put on a weighted vest, It's similar to doing sumo deadlifts when you're getting a bit bored of doing standard deadlifts all the time. It provides a slightly different stimulus that activates different supporting muscles.

T3 is the ultimate source of push-up related content. Here are some push-up variations you've never heard of, a research that says push-ups are just as good as a bench press, or an explainer on how to do diamond push-ups.

Here's how to get started if you can't do push-ups and home gym equipment that can help if you experience wrist pain during push-ups

Matt Kollat
Matt Kollat

Matt is T3's Fitness Editor and covers everything from smart fitness tech to running and workout shoes, home gym equipment, exercise how-tos, nutrition, cycling, and more. His byline appears in several publications, including Techradar (opens in new tab) and Fit&Well (opens in new tab), and he collaborated with other fitness content creators such as Garage Gym Reviews (opens in new tab).