Wednesday, October 20, 2021
University of Iowa Technology Institute

For the first time in 40 years, the U.S. Army introduced a new, more comprehensive fitness test called the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) to increase the physical fitness level of the Army in a way that is more reflective of the needs of the modern battlefield.

The Army turned to a multidisciplinary team of experts at the University of Iowa Technology Institute (ITI) and ITI’s internationally recognized Santos technology to provide independent review of the ACFT. Santos, and female counterpart Sophia, are first-of-its-kind, physics-based virtual humans that model and predict human behavior under various scenarios.

“The University of Iowa Technology Institute has been useful in providing an independent, scientific review of the ACFT’s ability to predict a soldier’s performance of physically demanding common soldier tasks,” said Brig. Gen. John Kline, Commander for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training, which has been developing the ACFT. “With their use of digital twins and predictive analytics, we can further verify the science behind the ACFT and likely improve Army Holistic Health and Fitness programs intent on increasing Army readiness for years to come.”

“The Iowa Technology Institute has been proud to use our expertise across many fields and apply independent and rigorous review to the Army’s new fitness testing program. ITI thrives on assembling interdisciplinary teams of experts to tackle large, complex questions and provide answers based in science,” said Karim Malek, ITI Director, UI professor of biomedical engineering, and lead of UI’s ACFT research team. “We don’t take one position or the other. We do the work in the lab, we study, we analyze, and we provide answers.”

Laura Frey Law, UI associate professor of physical therapy and rehabilitation science, is part of the interdisciplinary team of scientists conducting the research.

“The advantage we have is our digital human models,” Frey Law said. “We can take a few different subjects, evaluate how they perform the tasks, and then we can model the strength requirements needed to do those tasks.”

ABOUT ITI: The University of Iowa Technology Institute, or ITI, is a world-class research hub founded in 1981 as the Center for Computer Aided-Design. Grounded in engineering and science, ITI cultivates collaboration across disciplines and sectors, invents advanced technologies, and conducts trailblazing basic and applied research in design, simulation, and experimentation that enables a safer and more productive future.


ITI has conducted three phases of work, some of which is ongoing.

PHASE I: The ITI research team provided an independent review of the Baseline Soldier Physical Readiness Requirements Study (BSPRRS), which is the Army’s central research behind the design of the ACFT. The ITI review concluded the BSPRRS was conducted by a well-qualified team of scientists and military personnel, the methodologies utilized were appropriate and rigorous, and the results provide strong baseline empirical validation for the Army Combat Fitness Test. Additionally, the team found the ACFT is a better predictor of fitness levels required to perform combat duties than the previous test, the Army Physical Fitness Test.

PHASE II: ITI researchers have collected data from Iowa Army ROTC cadets and others performing simulated common solder tasks (e.g., dragging a litter and hauling supplies), as well as the new ACFT events. ITI researchers input data into Iowa’s virtual human, SANTOS, to model strength requirements of the ACFT and determine if successful completion matches the strength needed to perform combat duties.

PHASE III: ITI recently began to evaluate cumulative effects of repetition of activities, considering muscle strength, fatigue, and energy expenditure metrics.


Key Background and Links:

• For the first time in 40 years, the Army introduced a new, more comprehensive fitness test (the ACFT) consisting of six drills to enhance the Army’s physical readiness program, reduce preventable injuries, and enhance mental and physical stamina the demands of modern warfare.

• Iowa Technology Institute (ITI) and its Virtual Soldier Research group are leading a team of experts in human modeling and simulation, physical therapy, biomedical engineering, physiology, and sports science to help the U.S. Army evaluate requirements of the ACFT.

• ACFT became the Army’s test of record in October 2020. Full implementation of the ACFT is expected in April 2022. ACFT will be required twice annually for all active soldiers and once annually for Reserves and National Guard.

• Training programs (through military facilities and private businesses, such as gyms) are being set up around the country to support soldier preparation for the rigorous test.

• Learn more about ITI’s role in the ACFT here: https://iti.uiowa.edu/army-combat-fitness-test