Your Grandpa Could Kick Your Ass

Updated: July 16, 2013


By Nick Barringer MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, (EIEIO)

Although we hear old timers refer to the “good old days,” most of us will agree that most things tend to get better as time goes on.

Since the 1940s, think about how much technology has advanced—we have cellphones, laptop computers, and space travel is old news. Athletics, just like technology, has advanced as well; especially when you consider the first 400lb bench press didn’t occur until 1950 and the average size of NFL linemen was 6’1 220 lbs.

Fast forward to present day and now you have mutants benching over 1,000 lbs and the average NFL lineman is a sidewalk-shattering 6’5 310 lbs. It is no secret that advances in nutrition and training have led to tremendous athletic progression since the 1940’s. That is why you are going to be shocked when I tell you that in terms of physical training, the Army of the 1940s in many ways are much more advanced than the Army of today.

I know you are thinking I have clearly lost my mind. Although you respect the Greatest Generation, you are thinking there is no way could they compare to the awesomeness that is currently flexing in the mirror. Put the “gun show” on safe, sit down, and I will explain to you why the Soldiers of your grandpa’s era could indeed kick your butt.

grandpaybayonetIn order to better illustrate my point let’s look at the current Army Physical Fitness Test versus the APFT of 1946. The current APFT is pretty simple: 2 minutes of push-ups, 2 minutes of sit-ups, and a 2 mile run for time. There are no cutting and planting or explosive movements, which I think we all can agree would be more indicative of movements actually required for combat. Granted, an argument could be made that your PT should consist of other things besides the test; yet again most would admit that the majority of their PT experience consisted of push-ups, sit-ups, and a long slow run.

Now let’s look at the 1946 PT test: pull-ups, squat jumps, and push-ups until failure, 2 minutes of sit-ups, and a 300 yard shuttle run. Wow, we have some pushing AND pulling, some jumping, the sit-ups are the same except the technique (they utilized a straight leg while rotating the upper body touching right then left), and a 300 yard shuttle where you have to sprint 60 yards and plant and turn around cone 5 times. You have to admit, that is pretty dynamic stuff—especially when compared to the current APFT 67 years later.

But wait, it gets better. Now comes the scoring of the 1946 test. As a good reference we will use pull-ups. To receive 100 points required 20 pull-ups, to barely make the good category with 64 points required 10, and to be considered poor at 40 points required 6 pull-ups. Ok now honestly tell me how many of your guys and/or gals can do 6 pull-ups in your current organization? I have a hunch that there are even quite a few 11Bs out there currently not liking the answer to that question. The point is these old timers” were truly fit. If you ignore the pull-ups and just try the squat jumps to failure you will realize the fitness levels of these men were no joke. Better still, take a look at the 1946 FM21-20 and note how dynamic and encompassing the manual is covering everything from tumbling, swimming, and combative activities to posture training. In all fairness, you can see how some things like Army combatives have evolved thanks to gentlemen like Matt Larsen, but I still want to believe the helmet neck break on page 233 will work in combat…well it would in a Chuck Norris movie.

So here is the challenge; go out and give the 1946 PT test a try and report back how you do. Since misery loves company, if you can get your entire organization to do it, even better. When it is all said and done, look at your score and compare it to the 1946 standards and tell me then if grandpa couldn’t still kick your butt.




  1. leftoftheboom

    July 16, 2013 at 9:48 am

    How many pull ups are required for Ranger School today?

    • Mr. Twisted

      July 16, 2013 at 10:24 am


      When I left there in 2004, the magic number was only 6. I have not heard that it has changed since then, and I’m pretty sure it’s still the same.

      • leftoftheboom

        July 16, 2013 at 12:43 pm

        Okay that was what it was in 89, I know I could have done more (then, forget about it now) but 20 for max? Wow.

    • mike tippin

      July 16, 2013 at 10:25 pm

      ya it was 6 in 00, but that’s rip the frist 3 days, the worst pahses are mount climing/rapelling, and the jungle faze, is terrible,u feel like u have walked 15 miles and u have only walked like 3/4 of a mile,and then they play with your head,and kill off guys,it was crazy,i think it was if u falled more then 2 events u were eliminated,i was lucky cuz I went from infantry right into airborne school/ waited 2 weeks or around that time,and started RIP

      • Davin

        July 17, 2013 at 7:23 am

        You are full of crap.

        -the beginning of Ranger School is RAP week. RIP is the old selection process to get into the Ranger Regiment.

        -no such thing as “mount phaze” or “jungle phaze”.

        You, my friend, are a posing, wanna-be, turd.

        • Murphy

          July 18, 2013 at 4:25 am

          Uh,yeah. They call it RIP to the basic trainees, but it’s called RAP.
          And it’s not “Mount” or “Jungle,” and for DAMN sure isn’t spelled “faze.”
          Kinda obvious when somebody calls it the wrong name…
          What are you, fucking 16?
          Here’s a little poser tip, dumbass: when you don’t know how to spell “you,” we know you’re not a grown-up.

          • Murphy

            July 18, 2013 at 4:27 am

            Umm… that was supposed to be in reply to the “mike tippin” comment, not the “Davin” comment. Sorry.

        • Virgil Hilts

          July 23, 2013 at 5:12 pm

          Both of you guys have NAILED it! The ‘u’ in place of ‘you’ is a sure sign of a dumb-ass punk kid who barely masters his native language. I also find it revealing that he speaks of himself in the ‘second person’ grammatically. Someone who was there and did it tends to speak with ‘I’ or ‘We’…making it personal and also making the point that numb-nuts misses; You are part of a TEAM…not an ego-masturbation trip.

      • Common Sense

        July 17, 2013 at 10:06 pm

        You are a worthless poser.

      • Mr. Twisted

        July 18, 2013 at 12:46 pm

        One of the coolest things about this website is that the readers call out BS when they see it. This is a prime example. No one from The Den had to write a word to Mike Tippin–it was taken care of by the ever-awesomeness of the Ranger Up nation.

    • Nathan

      July 17, 2013 at 9:21 pm

      They forgot to mention that grandpa did this in combat boots. PT tests now are done in comfy, lighter, running shoes.

  2. Greg

    July 16, 2013 at 9:51 am


    I litterally just had the discussion of what a functional APFT ought to look like with a friend yesterday! Dynamic, explosive, anaerobic based motions with sprints thrown in.

    DAMN IT!!

  3. Jeremiah

    July 16, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Page 233, legitimate reason to not wear your chinstrap in combat. Anyone count how many ways they show to break the neck in that manual? Casual glance through to get to page 233 showed me at least 2 more, and I think they showed how to beat someone to death with a blunt weapon. That last one I don’t think they should have put in there because if you don’t know how to beat someone to death with a blunt weapon, you shouldn’t be in the infantry. Come on Cain figured it out when it had never been done before. Next thing, don’t show this to Tim Kennedy, because he will want to do the PT portion and most of it is group stuff, unless you want to go through all the PT training from 1946.

  4. D M Waggoner

    July 16, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    That’s my daddy. I’m 66. Take heart! You’re made of the same stuff!

  5. ET1(SS) Brennan

    July 16, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    I’m pretty sure I would look like a beached whale after several minutes of this.

  6. TCS

    July 16, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    I was 15 in 1984 my grandfather a WW II veteran who was 72 at the time showed me he still had it, he knocked out 10 one arm chin-ups.

  7. SK1(SS ) Gaunce aka "Scooter"

    July 16, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    Im right behind you, ET1(SS) Brennan, I just tried doing Pull-Ups and I couldn’t do 1. Wow! I am a disabled Vet also, but still, it’s my Back and Legs that are the Problem and I’m still can’t do 1 pull-up. Totally Sucks!

  8. M. Schlitz

    July 16, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    I love this article. While I was proud of my physical fitness in the Army I think I’d have trouble with the old APFT. At the time I was in training to go to Ranger School I could max every event and do 25 dead hang pull ups but that definitely wasn’t the case for the majority of my career. I give the old timers their due credit.

  9. John-Paul Geherty

    July 16, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    Challange Accepted RU.

  10. Jonathan

    July 17, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Sounds a lot like the current Marine Corps Combat Fitness Test.

    (I served in both the Army and Corps mind you).

    20 Pull Ups, Crunches, 3 mile run for the PFT. The CFT which came out later (we still did these exercises on a regular basis however) includes an 880 yard course, overhead lift of a 30 pound ammo can, and a shuttle run.

    I think the CFT and PFT combined make an awesome test of ones abilities and is very similiar to that 1946 test. I know my Grandfather was Army, and he could probably have stomped me into the ground till the day he died. RIP MSG James

  11. sean mccready

    July 17, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    if my back wasnt hurt id smash that test with a higher score then i currently get i say lets fix the apft back to what worked in the greatest military acheivement known to man kind whata ya say

  12. Capt. M.

    July 17, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    Challenge Accepted, Rob.

    I’ll post my results later.

  13. Common Sense

    July 17, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    I just spent almost two hours reading through that manual. Nothing is ever new. The funny thing is that much of what is in there is being touted as the “new” way of fitness. If you read the description of running form- it’s what is now called “POSE” running. It in fact is the way your body runs the most efficiently, but old has become new. Plenty of the exercised in there are described in a biomechanically sound manner, as opposed to what has been taught for the last twenty years. The manual is simple and obvious to anyone who hasn’t spent too much time in a Gold’s Gym.

    By the way- look at the end through the “confidence course” diagrams, it’s the best (worst) obstacles from the Darby Queen!

    • Common Sense

      July 17, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      I should clarify- I mean it’s simple and obvious WHICH IS GOOD, and shouldn’t have changed. Only the idiots at the top who wanted to leave their mark decided to change a good system.

  14. Ted

    July 18, 2013 at 1:52 am

    I’m a navy instructor, and had my class do this test today, holy cow, Im in pretty good shape I mean, I score really high on my fitness tests, workout every day, and Im even a fitness instructor, but I only got 468 out of 500 on this puppy, (fuckin squat jumps got me) and I was spent. Kudos to those guys for getting through it, the Marines I train were having a pretty tough time of it too btw..

    • Mike C

      July 29, 2013 at 1:26 pm

      Easy there bud. No slandering Marines here. 😛

      I am going to have to give this a go this weekend.

  15. CE Patrick

    July 19, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    I remember reading or hearing, something about there being no PT Test prior to Korea. Did they have the PT Test, stop it, and restart it again?

    This is fairly interesting. You can look at it either one of two ways. Either as a society, the whole is becoming slouching and less fit, while those who would have excelled do so to a greater degree. Or, conversely, you can see it as specialization of labor.

    In fact, if you really think about it, those two concepts are one in the same. You sacrifice whatever skills your marginal at, in order to make the absolute most of something that you would have normally excelled at.

    • Nick Barringer

      July 21, 2013 at 5:25 pm

      CE Patrick,

      From my research the PT test would have been the same one administered in the 1946 FM 21-20 when the Korean War began.

      I agree with you concerning specialization; that is why in most athletics the training is very specialized to the specific physiological requirements of the sport/competition.

      However given the varied nature of the Tactical Athlete’s requirements; a Soldier cannot afford to specialize as this would leave him/her vulnerable when demands outside their specialization occurred.

      Therefore a Soldier needs to be a “Supreme Generalist”; as it is not important for them to be world class in one particular physiological trait but rather important they have no weaknesses.

  16. Murphy

    July 21, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    All right. After blasting some poser on this thread, I thought I would give this a shot.
    I will admit, even at 18 years old, I had a hard time doing 6 pull-ups. After having shoulder surgery 2 years ago, I have been putting a lot of work into building my arms back up. Lots of PhysTherapy and Tai Chi, and it’s not an excuse.
    MAN! This smoked my ass. It definitely matter in what order I did these events. Doing the run last made it tough for me, while doing the run first gave me great times on the run. Either way, I found the run much easier than my memories of Benning led me to expect.
    The squat jumps really hurt like hell after the run, and I averaged about 55 sit-ups over 2 minutes. I got 72 at one point, but my average was a bit lower.
    The push-ups until failure took less time than I had hoped, and the psychological effect of not trying to hit a number of push-ups v. doing it until I quit was very evident. When I tried to hit the number I had done “until Failure,” I hit the number and still had steam. Definitely a head check!
    I pretty much failed at the pull-ups. It’s a bit embarrassing; I got 2. I did 3 once, but even when I started with pull-ups, I didn’t get to 6.
    This was a good gut-check for me. I’m 37, and I enlisted when I was 17. I’ve been active since then, and I compete in SCA heavy-armoured combat; I like to think I’m in good shape. This was a good wake-up.
    Thanks for posting this! I’m gonna see if I can’t bring myself up a few notches because of it!

  17. Peter

    July 23, 2013 at 9:14 am

    My grandfather is about to turn 88 and I have complete confidence that he could pass our current APFT with 100 points in sit-ups and push-ups at the 18 year old standard–He does 75 push-ups a day! I don’t think he runs anymore though… I’ll have to ask him how he did back then. When I served, I never did that good, it shames me to say. So I can believe that the Army of the 1940s was more fit than the Army of today.

  18. Dudley Toelke

    July 23, 2013 at 9:57 am

    Well, the “Old Army” was always 6 months before you got in. That aside, I did both the old and new AFPT. The old APFT, circa 1970, consisted of:

    2 mile run- Run two miles. Timed event.

    Run Dodge and Jump – Run between barriers (similar to two small goal posts), jump a slit trench, run between the same type barriers on the other side and return to the start point in a figure eight manner. Then repeating the exercise for…can’t remember…times; I think three. The whole thing was done in about 15 feet. You couldn’t touch the barriers or fall in the ditch-obviously. Timed event.

    Overhead Bars – You’ve used them on the school playground if you are over the age of 50. They stand off the ground about seven feet and have rungs about 16 inches apart and the whole thing is about 12 feet long. You had to go until you couldn’t go anymore and few made max points, mostly because you usually peeled the skin off your hands before you could get there. Timed event.

    The Inverted Crawl(AKA the Perverted Crawl) – Pretty simple. You got on your back pushed up with your hands and feet until your back cleared the ground and on go, took off as fast as you could to the finish about …can’t remember…feet away, looking like a crab scooting across the beach. It was not easy, especially after peeling the skin off your hands on the overhead ladder. Timed event.

    Grenade Throw – I would not have gotten rid of this one. After you have seen some participants throw the practice grenade, you hope their MOS was anything but 11B. The throw was for accuracy scoring points by landing the grenade measured distances from the target point. The target distance was the max burst radius of an M-26 hand grenade – nice touch. I can’t remember how many throws you got, but it was more than one.

    All done in fatigues and boots.

  19. Christopher Ferris

    July 23, 2013 at 10:08 am

    My late grandfather served as a Combat Engineer (1LT) in the trenches of France during the final year of World War I. My late father served as XO (MAJ) of 266th Battalion, 240mm Howitzer (Towed), First Army, during the Battle of the Bulge. My amazing late Uncle Geoffrey’s ability to crawl with courage, determination and resolve towards the muzzles of fast firing Afrika Korps machine guns is outlined below if you have the patience to read on and scroll down.

    All three were men of strength in both mind and body because those two qualities were non-negotiable character traits demanded of and found in men of honor of that time in our nation’s history.

    My 5.5 year career as an Army Ofiicer ended abruptly three decades ago, courtesy of a partial primary chute collapse (due to massive wind shear encountered 100′ above terra firma) that culminated in a far from glorious Wiley E. Coyote headfirst PLF, minus Acme rocket skates.

    As a 100% DAV, I recall with clarity my late father’s wise advice and counsel that attaining and maintaining the highest degree of physical fitness enables the brain to suppress pain and thereby “frees up” the brain to make the best possible decisions under conditions of extreme stress.

    As I reviewed recently pics of soldiers serving in my Dad’s field artillery battalion in England prior to the Normandy invasion and during the infamous Battle of the Bulge, I saw no phat phucks. Not one. Zero.

    My sense is that most phat phuck phootballs were emergency-laned during in-processing or were teed up and kicked by old school DIs between the uprights for three point field goals during basic training.

    There was no “rolling back”, there was no tear-filled Oprah sofa guidance. Phat phucks got the short and sweet (Get the F Out) order. And that ass-kicking Army of World War II commanded by hard core General Officers such as Bradley, Eisenhower and Patton was a formidable fighting force composed of men of iron who would lament the infection of today’s military services with the terminal virus called political correctness is forcing the military services (dangerously) to conform to American society’s squishy mores of the moment instead of focusing solely on protecting the USA by organizing, structuring and training solely to fight and win wars at all costs. Period.

    Still Army Strong and Still Airborne All the Way,

    Christopher Ferris

    I look forward to the day when I will finally get to meet face to face my late Uncle Geoffrey, a true man of valor whose modus operandi on the battlefield is outlined below:

    Geoffrey C. Ferris
    Date of death: Killed in Action
    Home of record: New Haven County Connecticut
    Status: KIA

    Ferris Barracks at Erlangen, Germany is named for Lieutenant Ferris.


    Distinguished Service Cross

    Awarded for actions during the World War II

    The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Second Lieutenant (Field Artillery) Geoffrey C. Ferris (ASN: 0-420345), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with the 6th Battalion, 33d Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces on 6 May 1943, near Beja, Tunisia. On the morning of 6 May 1943, the 33d Artillery Regiment was given the mission of taking Hill 139 in the vicinity of Beja, Tunisia. Because of the heavy machine gun and mortar fire covering all approaches, it was necessary to attack before daylight. Second Lieutenant Ferris, as artillery forward observer with the assault elements, crawled forward across open terrain swept by withering enemy machine gun fire to a point well beyond our lines. Realizing the danger of his mission, he had ordered his men to remain behind while he advanced with a wire reel and telephone until he was killed. The unselfish heroism and the courage and zeal with which Second Lieutenant Ferris performed this deed exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 1st Infantry Division, and the United States Army.

    General Orders: Headquarters, U.S. Army-North African Theater of Operations, General Orders No. 47 (July 6, 1943)

    Action Date: 6-May-43

    Service: Army

    Rank: Second Lieutenant

    Battalion: 6th Battalion

    Regiment: 33d Field Artillery Regiment

    Division: 1st Infantry Division

  20. Christopher Ferris

    July 23, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Mea culpa re: two typographical errors contained in my post above.

    1. Yes, I know that the misspelled noun “Ofiicer” is actually spelled “Officer”, but only because my beloved senior NCOs told me so three decades ago. My treasured wife of 30 years is called “Major Madre”, that’s precisely why she, an honorary field grade officer, did not catch the obvious misspelling of the noun “Officer” during proof reading. Unfortunately, we have no retired senior NCOs living with us to keep us pointed in the right direction.

    2. The phrase “called political correctness is forcing” should read “called political correctness that is forcing”, the simple addition of the word “that” makes the entire lengthy sentence read more smoothly and make sense.

    Thank you for your expected forgiveness, your laughter and your probable “all in good fun” dissing of selected memorable “Ofiicers” from your own respective units who could neither lead, spell, talk or write without the assistance of E-7s, E-8s and E-9s. Thus has it been since 1775, so shall it be for all eternity.

    To this day, I still remember the ranks and names, recall the sage wisdom and visualize the wide smiles of the many fantastic NCOs who made my active duty years the best years of my life.

  21. Tom

    July 27, 2013 at 8:56 am

    I had my training officer put this on the training schedule for next year. Besides the sheer fun factor, I think my guys would get a kick out of how oit of shape they (and I) really are. Ha!

  22. Patrick Moore

    September 20, 2013 at 12:06 am

    I’m a little confused with the shuttle run. From the description, it isn’t the same as the shuttle runs I did during high school. Would someone mind explaining it to me?

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