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I just tried the Army Combat fitness test leg tucks — here's what happened

a woman doing a pull up
(Image credit: Getty/Stevica Mrdja / EyeEm)

Even if you have no plans on joining the U.S. Army, the Army Combat Fitness test (ACFT) has been the subject of interest for years, with one move, in particular, spiking everyone’s interest — the leg tuck. The infamous move has since been removed from the US Army test, after experts concluded (opens in new tab) “it did not correctly measure core strength in all Soldiers”, and it has since been replaced by planks. But what is the leg tuck, and why was it removed from the test?

According to an article on military.com (opens in new tab), the leg tucks were removed from the ACFT to make it more inclusive. The original test had the same standards for both men and women, but a report found that nearly half of the service’s women could not pass the test, and especially struggled with leg tucks. As a 114-pound female with relatively no upper body strength, this filled me with dread, but in the name of good journalism, I head down to the gym to give the move a go. I can hold a plank for over a minute, so how hard could it be, right? 

Read on to find out what happened. 

A reminder that what works for me might not be right for you and your body. If you’re new to exercise, it’s a good idea to speak to a personal trainer before giving it a go to ensure you’re not putting yourself at risk of injury due to bad form. If you’re looking for more workout inspiration, check out what happened when I added 100 dead bugs to my daily routine, plus when I attempted Chris Hemsworth’s resistance-band workout

What is the Army Combat fitness test leg tuck? 

Let’s start by taking a look at the move itself. To do a U.S. Army-standard leg tuck, you’ll need to grab the pull-up bar with an alternating grip — in other words, the palm of one hand facing towards you, and the other facing away from you, in the midpoint of the bar. From here, bend your elbows to pull your torso up to the bar, tucking your legs close to your chest at the same time. Lower back to your starting position before completing the next rep. Your legs must not be crossed during the pull-up. 

According to the old ACFT scoring standards, you only had to complete one leg tuck to pass the test, but you’d need to do 20 reps without letting go of the bar to get full marks. Challenge accepted. 

I tried the ACFT leg tuck — here’s what happened 

Looking at the current ACFT scoring standards (opens in new tab), for my gender and age group, I’d have to hold a plank for 1 minute and 20 seconds to pass the test, or 3:30 to get full marks. Confident that I could definitely hold a plank for 80 seconds, I went into the leg tucks feeling smug — sure, I might not manage 20 reps, but I’d be able to do one, right?

The first thing I noticed is you need a really good grip for this move. Unlike a pull-up, you’re engaging your arms and legs during this exercise to raise both your torsos and your knees up to the bar. Instinctively, I crossed my ankles over one another during my first rep to try and steady my lower body. An instant fail. On the next rep, I managed to do the exercise properly, but my hands were already starting to slip from the bar — having to lower back to your starting position was really challenging, and meant you spent a lot more time hanging from the bar than you would in a normal set of pull-ups. 

After another wobbly rep (as I mentioned earlier, I’m a runner with not a lot of upper body strength), I stumbled across another YouTube video (opens in new tab) mentioning the “lean back method” to doing leg tucks. For this, you hold onto the bar with your elbows bent, but then lean your upper body back away from your arms, making it easier to tuck your knees up to your chest. This definitely helped me get through another couple of reps, but once again, it was the returning to the starting position bit that really tested me. 

I definitely couldn’t have gotten through 20 reps of this exercise — I think I managed about eight before admitting defeat. That said, I do tend to agree that the plank is a much better exercise for testing core strength. The ACFT is designed to test fitness, not combat readiness, and combined with the deadlifts, power throws, and sprint drag carries you need to complete, I’d say a plank is more than challenging enough. At the end of my failed leg tucks, I realized that to get full marks on the two-mile run I’d need to complete it after 20 reps, I’d have to complete the run in 15 minutes, which is a 7:30-minute mile pace. Ouch. 

It’s safe to say, I’m probably not flying through the ACFT test any time soon, and I’m definitely not adding leg tucks to my workouts in the future, but it was a fun challenge — even if it did obtain some odd looks in the gym. Next up, is a 3.30-minute plank...

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.