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Marine Corps May Relax Running Times, Retain Flexed Arm Hang

The Marines Corps' proposed fitness standards overhaul would ease up on physical fitness test running times, but make it harder overall to score a first-class PFT in an effort to better match requirements with the capabilities of the force.

The prospective changes would also offer female Marines a hybrid solution for pull-ups, retaining the flexed-arm hang as an option but granting more points to women who complete the more challenging skill.

These changes and others are contained within a predecisional briefing that was presented to three- and four-star generals last week at an executive off-site conference near Washington, D.C.

The briefing, obtained by Military.com, shows a shift to standards derived from analysis of the current force and its physical limits.

New Scoring

Prepared by the leaders of Marine Corps Combat Development Command and Training and Education Command, the fitness proposals include illustrations showing how Marines today are performing on the different skills in the PFT and CFT.

A bar graph depicting the performance of male Marines aged 17-26 on the three-mile run shows that the current time limits have problems at two extremes: the minimum time of 28 minutes is not challenging enough, with only 100 or so Marines making that time; while the maximum time of 18 minutes is too challenging. Only four percent of Marines in that age group can max out their time, the graph shows.

"Some current standards are either not relevant, not challenging, or not attainable," officials conclude in the brief.

In the revised fitness plan, the minimum three-mile time for the age group would be shifted to 17:30, at the bottom first percentile of performers, while the max would move to 19:30, achievable by the top ten percent of those Marines.

Data highlighted in the study shows that some physical standards are far out of synch with Marines' physical potential.

In the ammunition can lift, for example, a component of the CFT, neither the minimum or the maximum number of reps for males age 17-26 presented a challenge, officials found. No Marines scored at the minimum level of reps, and a full 93 percent of the age group could max out their score. The new proposal would adjust standards for the ammo can lift across the board, again setting the minimum at the bottom first percentile and the maximum at the top tenth percentile.

All skills in the PFT and CFT would get the same adjustment under the proposed changes, which would mean tougher minimum requirements across the board.

"The bottom 1 percent of those current meeting the minimum will need to improve or they will fail," officials note.

The overhaul would also standardize the scoring system, with a minimum point value of 40 and max of 300 for each event, to reach the 300 top score. And instead of the four current age groups, the proposal would create eight smaller age groups, bringing the Marine Corps more in line with the other services.

The Army has ten age groups with specific physical standard requirements, while the Navy has 11. The Marines' original age groupings, the briefers note, were created in 1956 with no scientific basis.

"'[The] proposed age groups recognize age-related changes (linear age-related decline in aerobic capacity, non-linear changes in strength) and in fitness in narrower age groups," they wrote.

An additional 17-20 age group for the youngest Marines also acknowledges that this group is less physically mature and perhaps less athletically capable than slightly older troops.

Pull-Up Standard

The question of how to implement an appropriate gender-neutral pull-up standard has dogged the Marine Corps for years. The Corps has pushed off an announced requirement for all female Marines to complete pull-ups as part of their PFT multiple times, revealing in 2014 that fewer than half could complete a minimum of three pull-ups during a testing phase.

Currently, female Marines must complete a flexed-arm hang instead of pull-ups for their PFT, though they have the option of doing pull-ups if they choose. Some newly opened ground combat jobs also require pull-ups in order to qualify.

The proposed standard would retain the flexed-arm hang, with a maximum hang time of 70 seconds good for 50 points in the PFT. To max out their score, though, women will have to do pull-ups. One pull-up is good for 51 points, and maximum reps vary by age group, from four pullups to ten.

Officials noted in the brief that data collection was still going on, and final results could affect the proposal.

Incentivized Performance

The new proposal, officials say, will highlight top performers while giving all Marines a fairer shot at a good score. Currently, only 4 percent of male and female Marines can max out their three-mile run times, according to data presented in the brief. Fewer than 2 percent max the PFT. But more than 20 percent max the CFT, indicating a disparity in the challenge level presented.

Proposed adjustments to the overall PFT and CFT scoring spread would ensure that earning that perfect 300 score is an elite accomplishment.

Currently, 230 points out of 300 is good for a first-class score on the PFT and CFT. The new proposals would raise the CFT first-class threshold to 270 and drop the PFT first-class limit down slightly, to 225. For a second-class score, Marines would have to score 175 on the PFT and 225 on the CFT, compared with 195 now. And the third-class threshold would be raised significantly, from 120 to 135 on the PFT and 190 on the CFT, weeding out underperformers.

The brief highlights a hypothetical "Maj. Slacker," aged 40-45, who eked out a low second-class score of 136 on last year's PFT with three pullups out of 20, 90 crunches out of 100, and a 29:30 run. Under the new scoring guidelines, this major would fail the PFT, missing the pullup minimums by one rep and the run time by 30 seconds.

While no decision has been announced yet on the proposed changes, the deadline for Commandant Gen. Robert Neller to choose a way forward is drawing near. According to the brief, Neller is expected to make a decision by May 1 in order to give Marines a chance to update their training plans in time for annual CFTs, administered in July.

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

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