J David Thompson is a U.S. Army Civil Affairs Major. He has a Juris Doctorate from Washington Lee University School of Law. He also holds a BS in Economics and MBA-Leadership from Liberty University. Outside the military, he’s worked at the UN Refugee Agency, Department of Defense, and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel. He holds a basic kettlebell certification and two national ranks in kettlebell sport. Look him up at www.jdavidthompson.com or follow him on Twitter @jdthompson910. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Title:  Assessing the Kettlebell One Arm Long Cycle for the U.S. Army Physical Fitness Test

Date Originally Written:  November 1, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  April 27, 2020.

Summary:  The U.S. Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) inaccurately measures fitness. The Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) is better, but transition to the ACFT has been slowed due to units not receiving equipment and the COVID-19 virus pandemic delaying soldiers’ ability to properly train. The kettlebell one arm long cycle (OALC) is a much better of measure of fitness than the APFT and less resource intensive than the ACFT.

Text:  The Army correctly determined that the APFT was an inaccurate measure of fitness. The APFT—consisting of two minutes of push-ups, sit-ups, and a 2-mile run—failed to test a soldier’s ability to perform the job in a combat environment. The ACFT does a good job at measuring a soldier’s fitness levels. The ACFT includes: three repetition maximum deadlift, standing power throw, hand release push-ups with arm extension, sprint drag carry, leg tucks, and a 2-mile run. Compared to the APFT, the ACFT is a much better measure of fitness.

The benefit of the APFT, though, was that it required no equipment. A soldier in an austere environment could work on push-ups and sit-ups. The ACFT requires a lot of equipment—hex bars, bumper plates, kettlebells, cones, sleds, and medicine balls. Many units still do not have the equipment to test, and soldiers cannot adequately train without access to a gym. The ACFT requires a lot of time to set-up, test, and tear down.

Somewhere between the validity and equipment extremes of the APFT and ACFT the Army could find a balance. The one arm long cycle (OALC) is simple, effective, and only requires a kettlebell. The OALC measures strength, endurance, and stamina. An OALC physical fitness test could easily take less than thirty minutes for an entire unit to administer.

The proposed test is ten minutes of OALC. To start the test, the participant stands behind the kettlebell. At the command “GO,” the participant cleans the kettlebell from the ground to the chest (the rack position). The participant then launches the kettlebell overhead as part of the “jerk” phase of the lift. The grader counts the repetition once the kettlebell is motionless, fixated overhead, and the participant has knees, hips, and elbow generally straight[1].

After the jerk, the participant returns the kettlebell to the rack position. Participants must re-clean the kettlebell between each jerk. Participants may change hands as many times as desired using a one-handed swing, but participants may not set the kettlebell down for the duration of the test. If the participant sets the kettlebell down, the grader must terminate the test.

The scoring system uses a power-to-weight ratio, enabling soldiers to accurately measure fitness despite bodyweight and size. A power-to-weight ratio incentivizes strength, endurance, and a healthy bodyweight. To calculate score, multiply the kettlebell weight in kilograms by the number of repetitions performed, then divide the product by the individual’s bodyweight in kilograms.

Score = (weight of kettlebell in kilograms x repetitions performed) / bodyweight in kilograms. Males use a 24 kilogram kettlebell. Women use a 16 kilogram kettlebell.

For example, a male Soldier that weighs 90 kilograms performs 100 repetitions in ten minutes scores 26.67. A male Soldier weighing 100 kilogram would have to perform 112 repetitions to match the score. A female Soldier weighing 65 kilograms would have to perform 109 repetitions to equal the 90 kilogram male Soldier’s score.

The minimum score for the test would be 20. The maximum score would be between 30 and 35. Final scoring standards come after a period of testing. The Army could even have different standards based on job requirements.

Not all kettlebells are created equal. To institutionalize this test the Army would need a standardized kettlebell to ensure a standardized test. Kettlebells generally come in two styles: cast iron or steel. Cast iron kettlebells are what most people probably know. They come in various sizes depending on weight and manufacturer. The grips of them vary depending on manufacturer. Steel kettlebells are used for kettlebell sport. These competition style kettlebells are the same size regardless of weight, and the handles are either 33mm or 35mm. One way to ensure the Army has a standardized test is to use a sole manufacturer. The other way is to purchase competition kettlebells.

To field the equipment to units and Soldiers, the Army would provide one kettlebell to soldiers as part of a basic issue. For those currently in the Army, the Army has several options to ensure units receive kettlebells. The quickest and most cost-efficient process may be to have units purchase kettlebells by providing a link (or links) of approved manufacturers (for example: Kettlebell Kings, Kettlebells USA, Rogue Fitness, etc.). Giving each soldier a kettlebell as part of his/her standard issue ensures the soldier has the resources to train for the fitness test. It also gives the soldiers a portable gym because the kettlebell can be used for a variety of exercises.

The Army correctly identified that the APFT did not adequately test a soldier’s physical fitness to meet current and future demands. The ACFT is a much better measure of fitness than the APFT, but it is very resource intensive. The proposed OALC fitness test gives the Army a measure of fitness that far surpasses the APFT and requires less equipment (and time) than the ACFT. The proposed scoring standard uses a power-to-weight ratio, incentivizing a well-rounded approach to health and fitness. As a personal observation, the author is currently deployed in a remote area. The author would not be able to take the ACFT in this deployed environment. The author did administer the proposed fitness test to other soldiers present. All participants found the test challenging and fun while recommending it as a standardized test with appropriate training.

Should the Army accept this proposed test, initial testing could take a period of a couple months. Using commercially available kettlebells enables the Army to implement the test Army-wide quickly and efficiently. Kettlebells provide a fun, dynamic way to exercise. They could also create a fitter military.


[1] One Arm Long Cycle, Mike Stefano, July 5, 2020, retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5VdP0F-dtQ