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Max Fitness Test, Skip the Tape: Marine Corps Mulls New Body Fat Rules

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This week, three- and four-star generals from across the Marine Corps were presented with a plan to overhaul existing fitness standards, making them more relevant and appropriately challenging. 

A copy of the brief the generals received, obtained by Military.com, includes dramatic proposed changes to the way the Marine Corps measures body fat. Marine Corps Times first reported on these recommendations earlier this month. 

Currently, Marines must fall within specific height and weight standards, or be subject to a tape measure test, which uses the ratio of neck and waist circumference measurements to approximate a body fat percentage. For women, the hips are also measured. Troops have long complained that the tape test, while easy to administer, is notoriously inaccurate and penalizes troops for having more muscular builds. 

Under the new recommendations, prepared by Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, commanding general of Marine Corps Combat development Command, and Maj. Gen. James Lukeman, commanding general of Training and Education Command, Marines would be offered an out. Those troops who achieve a maximum score of 300 on their physical fitness test and combat fitness test, representing the top ten percent of Marines, will be allowed to opt out of height and weight and tape measure body fat assessments. 

Those who can get a near-perfect score, of either 295 points, representing the top 15 percent of Marines, or 290 points, representing the top 25 percent, would also be rewarded with a body fat margin of error allowance of 3 percentage points. That's enough to keep some fit Marines out of the body composition program, which can negatively affect career progression. 

The brief notes that while the male BMI maximum for Marines is 27.5, the most liberal standard allowed within the Defense Department, the female BMI max is the strictest in the department at 25. The proposal would increase the BMI max for female Marines to 26, increasing maximum weight by five to nine pounds, depending on height. 

The generals also recommended the use of self-tensioning taping devices, such as the Health-O-Meter digital tape measure and the AccuFitness MyoTape Body Measuring Tape. These devices, which cost $5-$12, can be used with one hand and yield more precise circumference measurements, the brief notes. 

Finally, the new plan would allow the first general officer in a Marine's chain of command to grant a waiver regarding body composition standards, rather than requiring Marines to route all waiver requests to Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs. 

The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, ordered a review of all Marine physical fitness and body fat standards last November, asking Training and Education Command to deliver recommendations for changes to policy no later than July 1. 

"The end state is for a Marine Corps Physical Fitness Program that ensures the overall health and fitness of our Corps," he wrote, in a memo announcing the review. 

"As each of us must be physically ready to answer the call in any clime or place, we must continue to train hard but smart, and push ourselves to reach the highest level of personal fitness." 

Neller told Military.com in February that he was particularly concerned that the existing standards would interfere with female Marines' efforts to build the muscle mass they needed to qualify for newly opened ground combat jobs and to meet physical standards including a pullup requirement on the PFT. He said a conversation with one of the three female Army officers who graduated from Ranger School last year had alerted him to this concern.

'Whether women go into ground combat or not, they're telling me they're going to do pullups for the fitness test. They're going to get stronger. You get stronger, normally you gain weight, you get thicker," Neller told Military.com. '[Female Marines are] wanting to know, 'Hey, Commandant, make up your mind. What are you going to have us do and if we do this, understand that I'll do it, but it's going to cause me probably to have a physical change, so don't penalize me for doing what you're telling me to do.'"

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--Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

 

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