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Physical Training Differences Explored

By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 13, 1998 – Back in March, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen directed the services to toughen entry level training. "We have to produce fit, disciplined, motivated soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines," he said. "We must pay special attention to physical fitness, but this is only a first step."

For their part, the armed services constantly work to improve physical training tests to ensure peak readiness. They also study to make sure tested events accurately measure service members' physical fitness.

But just as each service has a different mission, each has different physical fitness requirements and different ways to measure physical fitness.

The Air Force changed its test Jan. 1. The Army's new standards take effect Oct. 1. The Marine Corps and Navy changes take effect July 1 and Sept. 1, respectively. The Army is adjusting how it scores tested events; the other services have altered some of their events.

The Army, Navy and Marine Corps test service members twice a year with a running event and two timed events that test upper body and abdominal strength. The Navy uses a fourth event to test flexibility.

Air Force service members undergo a yearly fitness test based on cycle ergometry. This stationary bike event tests the heart rate response to a given workload.

The run distance for the Navy is 1.5 miles, the Army two miles and the Marine Corps three miles. In 1992, the cycle ergometry test replaced the 1.5-mile run and 3-mile walk for Air Force personnel.

Air Force members pedal a stationary bike for eight to 14 minutes. The first two minutes are for warm-up, and the test begins at minute three. After the warm-up, the workload is normally increased. Personnel must maintain the same workload for six minutes to get an accurate score.

Testers monitor heart rate as it relates to the workload. This equals aerobic capacity. Aerobic capacity is the volume of oxygen consumed as the workload increases. The test is "pass" or "fail" based on the aerobic capacity score.

"It's the single best measure of fitness," said Pete Flatten, a staff exercise physiologist for the Air Force Fitness Program. The cycle test is also much safer, he said, because workload can be monitored, and overload avoided.

"If the intensity goes over a certain amount, the test is stopped," Flatten said. The Air Force didn't have this same control with the run, where some personnel pushed themselves too hard causing injury and even death.

To test abdominal strength, the Army, Navy and Marine Corps have subtle variations of the sit-up.

Army personnel do timed sit-ups for two minutes. Soldiers lay flat on their backs, knees bent at a 90 degree angle and feet up to 12 inches apart. Hands must be interlocked behind the head and touch the ground in the start position. The soldier must raise his or her body to the vertical position, where the base of the neck is aligned with the base of the spine. A repetition doesn't count if the soldier fails to reach the vertical position, fails to keep fingers interlocked behind the head, or raises his or her buttocks off the ground, or if the knees exceed a 90 degree angle.

The Marines test abdominal strength with the same two-minute timed sit-ups as the Army, but beginning July 1, this event will change, said Marine Corps Lt. Col. Leon M. Pappa, deputy head of the Training Programs Branch.

The event becomes a "crunch"-type exercise. Instead of arms clasped behind their heads, Marines will fold them across their chests or rib cages. One repetition is counted when the forearms touch the thighs, and they return to the start position. Marines cannot bounce or arch their lower backs, and their buttocks must remain in contact with the floor.

The Marine Corps modified the sit-up to provide a better evaluation of abdominal strength and reduce the potential for neck and back injuries, Pappa said. The number of repetitions to achieve the maximum score increases July 1 from 80 to 100 for both men and women.

The Navy's version, the curl-up, mirrors the Marines' with one variation. Sailors fold their arms across their chests with hands touching the upper chest or shoulders.

The Navy and Army use push-ups to test upper body strength. Soldiers and sailors have two minutes to do as many push-ups as they can.

Instead of push-ups, male Marines do pull-ups and females the flexed-armed hang. New pull-up guidelines went into effect January 1997. The revised male pull-up changed to a "dead hang" where Marines must fully extend arms before each repetition. The pull-up must also be executed without any whipping, kicking or kipping (not fully extending arms) motion, Pappa said.

The Navy test has a fourth event which tests flexibility: the sit and reach. Personnel must sit with legs straight out, feet together and toes pointed up. Without bouncing or lunging, personnel must touch their toes with the fingertips of both hands and hold the position for one second. Three attempts are allowed.

The Navy, Army and Marine Corps use a 300-point scale to score their personnel.

Although true comparison is not possible because the events vary, here's what a 22-year-old man and woman must do to "max" (get a perfect score of 300) the physical fitness test in each service.

Marine men must do 20 pull-ups, 100 sit-ups and run three miles in 18 minutes. Women Marines must hold the flexed-arm hang for 70 seconds, do 100 sit-ups and run three miles in 21 minutes.

Army men must do 75 push-ups, 80 sit-ups and run two miles in 13 minutes. Women soldiers must do 46 push-ups, 80 sit-ups and run two miles in 15:35.

Navy personnel, regardless of age or sex, must do 67 push-ups, 100 curl-ups and run 1.5 miles in 8:10 to score 300.

"Outstanding" is 283 points out of 300 for a 22-year-old man and 235 out of 300 for a 22-year-old woman. To score an outstanding, Navy men must do 52 push-ups, 84 curl-ups and run 1.5 miles in 9:15. Navy women must do 29 push-ups, 84 curl-ups and run 1.5 miles in 11:30.

Air Force men must score a minimum of 35 and women at least 27 on the cycle ergometry test. This number represents the amount of oxygen taken in over a given amount of time and how well it's used by the muscles. "You cannot score a 100 on this test," said Flatten. Even the most trained athlete can only score in the 80s, he said. "The higher the number, the more fit you are."

Within the next two years, Air Force personnel will take strength and flexibility tests in addition to cycle ergometry. Push-ups, the leg press, sit-ups and some type of flexibility test are likely added events, said Flatten.

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