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I am a 24-year-old male Marine, and I want to improve my score on the Combat Fitness Test, especially the ammo can lift. My most recent score on this portion was a 94, and I did 83 repetitions. My goal is to score a perfect 100 on the AL. I currently lift heavy weights regularly and do light cardio three to five days a week.

HPRC's Answer

What you need to succeed on your CFT is a combination of muscular strength, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular fitness. The specific part of the test that you want to improve, the Ammunition Lift (AL), is essentially the overhead press movement in lifting. During this test you have two minutes to lift a 30-lb ammo can over your head as many times as possible. As a 24-year-old male, you need to perform 91 successful lifts to get a perfect score of 100, which is certainly an attainable goal. Ninety-one ammo lifts in two minutes is a little faster than one lift every 1.5 seconds. That’s fast—and exhausting! An important thing to remember is that while you may have a lot of upper-body strength, this test also requires lower-body and core strength, power, and endurance. At first you might be able to “muscle through” the beginning of your repetitions, but as fatigue sets in, weaknesses in these other areas can impact your ability to achieve your goal and can also lead to injury. It seems as though you have a good routine for strength training, but now you need to make sure you add in those other components—muscular endurance and core stability—to optimize your CFT performance. Since you’re trying to improve your AL score, your training should also be specific to the movements and muscles required for this exercise. Since the AL requires you to lift something over your head, things such as shoulder range of motion, core stability, and upper- and lower-body strength are critical to this exercise. Here are some tips and suggestions to improve each of these areas.

Shoulder mobility. Ensuring that you have full range of motion in your shoulders will allow you to get the most out of your exercise and help ensure that you don’t injure other areas by compensating for limited shoulder mobility. If you need to improve the range of motion in your shoulders and/or upper back, you can improve your flexibility through various techniques.

Core stability. Core training is also key. Strong abdominal AND back muscles will not only help your performance by creating a sturdy base, but core strength will also help protect you from injury. Planks, stability balls, even yoga and Pilates can help you achieve a solid core.

Upper-body fitness. This is an important component for performing the AL. Pushups, planks, medicine balls, and certainly the overhead press are great ways to improve upper-body strength and endurance. Form is critical in helping to prevent injury. There are videos and pictures on how to perform these types of exercises on the Navy Operational Fueling and Fitness Series (NOFFS) strength movement library.

Lower-body fitness. Improving your leg, hip, and glute strength will help power you upwards as fatigue sets in. Things such as lunges, squats, box jumps, and even jumping rope will improve your lower-body fitness, cardiovascular endurance, and the explosive power you need to hoist that ammo can in the air. You can check out the USMC Physical Readiness Guide for videos and instructions on these types of exercises.

When you’re considering how much weight or how many times to do each exercise, remember that strength-training exercises typically involve higher weights with lower repetitions, while endurance activities are longer in duration or repetitions but involve lighter weights. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends two to four sets of eight to 12 repetitions to improve strength and power, and 15 to 20 repetitions for muscular endurance. You can do many of these exercises under either condition by adding weights such as kettle bells or medicine balls or by simply using your own body weight as resistance.

Be cautious of doing too much too fast, especially if you are deconditioned and/or unfamiliar with how to do some of these exercises. If this is the case, you should talk to a trained professional for a demonstration on proper technique.

Achieving a perfect score on the AL is no easy feat, but with the right training it’s possible. Adding core stability and muscular endurance training to your existing strength routine will help you achieve your goal.