The Army’s rollout of the Army Combat Fitness Test has been anything but smooth. Many units still don’t have the equipment needed to practice — and only a small percentage of female soldiers are scoring 500 of 600 eligible points. The Army Chick Fitness Team hopes to change that.
The four Missouri National Guard soldiers — Sgts. Katelyn Shaw and Lexi Fee, 3175th Military Police Company; Staff. Sgt. Rebecca Caruso, Company B, 1-138th Infantry Regiment; and Sgt. Vanessa Frickel, 35th Military Police Brigade — teach soldiers how to gain the strength and skills required to earn high scores on the test’s six events with regular gym equipment on TikTok and Instagram.
Shaw got the idea last year after watching her unit take practice tests while deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“The males passed with almost no effort. But the females were struggling,” she said.
Shaw, who had difficulty with physical training in the past, but is now working on getting certified as a trainer, thought it might help if more female soldiers understood the mechanics behind the events.
She decided to get her three best friends involved. Shaw has known Caruso for a decade, Fee for five years, and Frickel since last year. It was Fee, the foursome’s social media guru, who recommended posting videos to the platforms.
They claimed the handle @armychickfitnessteam on TikTok and @acft_armychickfitnessteam on Instagram and introduced themselves and their qualifications for giving fitness advice on January 31, 2021. Caruso, the “badass,” is an air assault infantryman who maxed out on the Army Physical Fitness Test’s male scale. Fee is a CrossFit certified trainer. Frickel, the newest soldier in the group, made sergeant in just three years. And Shaw is a powerlifter. They don’t put their names on their posts and answer most questions as they come in. But if a follower wants recommendations for plant-based diets, they’ll notify Shaw. Someone asking a question about counting macronutrients will probably get an answer from Caruso or Fee. Their TikTok account has more than 2,000 followers, and their Instagram account more than 600, by July.
“Maybe it’s a backhanded compliment, but people have said that we have normal bodies, and that makes us approachable,” Shaw said of their appeal.
They face many of the same challenges as their audience. Caruso’s company is based near Kansas City and has to go to Nevada, Missouri, for access to the equipment. They have to stay overnight before and after the test, turning an hours-long event into a three-day commitment. Frickel’s first experience with the ACFT gave her extra motivation to master the sprint-drag-carry event.
“The first time I did it I was the last in my unit to go and didn’t have anyone to partner with. So I went against my commander, who looks like CrossFit Jesus,” she said. “I went too hard and got really wobbly legs. Never again!”
The team gained sponsorship from Missouri-based supplement company 1st Phorm in April and held their first live event at the company’s headquarters near St. Louis in May. The Army Chick Fitness Team led a group of about 20 women through the ACFT.
“They realized it’s tougher than it seems,” Caruso said. “But also that they’re stronger than they thought.”
Another live event is in the works for August. Until then, Frickel wants their followers to know: “We’ll help you everywhere.”