This article provides an overview of the British Army’s new Soldier Conditioning Review (SCR), aka Personal Fitness Assessment (PFA), introduced in April 2019.
The PFA is part of the Military Annual Training Tests (MATTs) that soldiers must undertake during their careers, specifically MATT 2 (Fitness). Further information on MATTs can be found here.
2.0 Why is the PFA Changing?
The PFA is more than 20 years old and is now considered outdated by the British Army – soldiers’ roles have changed and their fitness requirements must reflect this.
The Army was concerned that it had been focussing too much on aerobic fitness, realising that if it wanted to reduce the incidence of musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries it would have to take a more holistic approach.
Therefore, by measuring elements like muscular strength and endurance, the PFA will ensure personnel are training properly to meet the Army’s new role-based physical employment standards for different branches of service.
3.0 What is the Main Difference between the SCR and PFA?
The SCR (new format PFA) is a diagnostic tool to check the overall fitness levels of personnel. It differs from the old format PFA because it does not take in account age or gender.
4.0 What Does the New Format PFA Include?
The new format PFA has six activities for personnel, including:
- Heaves (or pull-ups);
- Weighted throws;
- Sprints; and
- A two-kilometre (1.24 mile) run.
Previously, the old format PFA consisted of:
- Two minutes of press-ups;
- Two minutes of sit-ups; and
- An aerobic test consisting of a 2.4 km (1.5 mile) run or multi-stage fitness test (MST).
The old format PFA required a pass at the gender fair level equivalent to a PFA ‘Green’.
The hex bar deadlift is a basic deadlift that will assess lower limb strength.
It is performed by standing in the centre of a weighted hex bar with bent knees ready to lift. Maintaining the correct lifting technique (back straight, pushing from your legs), lift the bar fully until you are standing upright and your arms are fully extended by your sides. The physical training instructor (PTI) will select which weight the individual should use. The load will be heavy enough to tire you within ten repetitions. A conversion table will then be used to predict the maximum weight you could lift in one go.
Heaves (also known as pull-ups) will assess upper body strength. Your score is the total number of heaves completed.
It is performed by adopting the hang position, with an over-grasp grip and hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Lift your body vertically so that your chin is above the bar or beam, then lower yourself so that your arms are fully extended. Repeat as many as you can in the time allotted by the PTI.
One of people’s key concerns has been the heaves, which the Army brought in because it considered that upper body fitness had been lacking. Therefore, at first this, the heaves exercise will not have any set standards and personnel will get time and help to focus their training. The Army states that scientific studies have shown that soldiers need to improve upper body strength.
The broad jump is a horizontal jump from a standing position that will assess lower limb explosive power.
It is performed by standing with knees bent, arms out to the front. Using your arms and legs, jump forward as far as possible. Land with bent legs and under control.
4.4 Weighted Throws
The seated medicine ball throw is a weighted throw from a sitting position that will assess explosive upper body strength.
It is performed by sitting with your back and shoulders against a firm object or wall, maintaining contact with the surface throughout and keeping your legs straight in front of you and together. Holding a four-kilogram medicine ball to your chest, throw it as far away as possible using an angle of approximately 45 degrees.
The shuttle sprints consists of five 20-metre sprints (for a total distance of 100 metres) that will evaluate lower body explosive power and anaerobic capacity.
It is performed by starting face down on the floor. Jump up and sprint between the two defined lines. Complete five sprints, totalling 100 metres, as fast as possible.
The 2 km (1.24 mile) run is a best-effort activity that will assess aerobic capacity.
It starts with a timed 800-metre group warm-up co-ordinated by a PTI. You will then run two kilometres as fast as possible.
5.0 Scoring System
Individuals will receive a mark between one (1) and fifteen (15) for each activity and, depending on their score, will be graded:
- Amber; or
The scales for each level have been set broadly to allow personnel enough time to get used to the new regime and adjust their fitness programmes.
An individual’s score matters because it highlights strengths and weaknesses, which will allow fitness programmes to be adjusted. Further, if an individual struggles on the PFA and receives a low score, it could be an indicator of a higher risk of an MSK injury and they would most likely be directed to attend reconditioning training.
PTIs will also be able to devise plans for those returning from injury or maternity leave.
Under the old format PFA between 01 April 2011 and 31 March 2014, “a total of 32,419 UK Regular Army personnel failed a Personal Fitness Assessment (PFA). Of these 29,600 were male and 2,819 were female.” (FOI 2014/01133). This represent approximately 11% of the Army (Glanfield, 2014).
As with the old format PFA:
- Regular Army personnel will conduct the PFA twice per year; and
- Army Reserve personnel will conduct the PFA once per year.
7.0 How Long Will It Take?
The Army suggests it will take approximately 1 hour 30 minutes for a group of 50 personnel to run through the various exercises.
8.0 The 300 Club
The Army is currently looking into an elite benchmark with a new name, formerly known as the ‘300 Club’ because 300 points was the maximum an individual could score.
9.0 Data Gathering
The British Army will be gathering data over an 18 month period (approximately April 2019 to October 2020) to allow adjustments to be made to the scoring system and relevant policy.
10.0 Useful Publications
- Soldier. (2019) Peak Performance. Soldier: The Magazine of the British Army. March 2019, pp.22-24.
- Military Annual Training Test (MATT 2) Policy introduced in August 2008.
- Fitness Test Failure Policy.
FOI 2014/01133/13/04/72991 dated 23 June 2014.
Glanfield, E. (2014) 22,000 British Army Troops Found to be Overweight and at Risk of Health Problems in Past Three Years. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2664921/22-000-British-Army-troops-overweight-risk-health-problems-past-three-years.html. [Accessed: 06 February, 2018].