Removing the Flexed Arm Hang and adding Pullups to the women’s fitness standards in the Marine Corps was an upgrade that was carefully considered, studied and implemented with support throughout the chain of command for the past couple of years. However, recent events have forced the USMC to reconsider the start date of the new change. When 55% of the female graduating class at boot camp failed the three pullup minimum, the January 1, 2014 implementation date was postponed.
Why is This an Issue?
The USMC made this an issue when they decided to make the change. However, this is a society problem that is dropped in the laps of our military each year. This is nothing new. Unfit candidates have been arriving at boot camps, basic training, police and fire academies for decades. From the late 80’s until now, the physical abilities of the average recruit have slowly declined or deteriorated may be a better word for it. Now, the number one reason preventing an 18 year old person from joining the military is they fail to meet the height / weight standards. What happened to the good old days when the biggest obstacle to joining the military was a criminal record or failure to graduate high school?
The fact is the United States is overweight and out of shape. The heavier you are, the harder it is to do pullups for both men and women.
Whose Problem is This?
The military did not create this problem, though the military is forced to deal with it. And, even though 55% of the women recruits fail the new pullup standard, with some practice (usually 4–6 months) they will meet and surpass the minimum standard. Again, this is nothing new. The military had the same issue when they changed from knee pushups to regular pushups for women. Now regular pushups are the standard in military and law enforcement.
Women and men can do pullups. Women and men can FAIL pullups. This is a societal problem. Men and women have to keep their bodyweight down and practice pullups. This takes time. It is not uncommon for young men and women to take up to six months before they score their first pullup. But the common denominator to passing a pullup test is to practice pullups. The USMC should keep pushing this standard – it will be met eventually.
The Pullup and Combat Debate
Many talking heads are now equating the women’s higher failure rate in pullups with a lack of ability to perform in combat. Combat roles should be tougher to enter and have higher fitness standards (for both men and women) because the demands of combat arms / special operations are higher than any fitness test will prove. The minimum physical standard should not be someone’s fitness goal if seeking a combat arms specialty. One day you will rely on your physical ability to save your own life or a fellow Marine in your unit. The reality is that not everyone in the military (men and women) are in combat roles. There are cooks, computer technicians, intelligence specialists, logistics, admin / supply clerks, photographers, and many more non-combat roles that men and women will fill in all branches of the military. The 45% of the women who not only meet the minimum standard but are doing 10+ pullups should have the opportunity to qualify for advanced training.
How Do We Address the Combat / Fitness Role?
For years, advanced fitness tests have been used to prove your mettle in the Special Operations world. For instance, the regular Navy uses the pushups, situps, 1.5 mile run, but the Navy SEALs / EOD / Diver community use the 500yd swim, pullups, pushups, situps, 1.5 mile run JUST to get into the 6–12 month training program — which is the true test. The regular Army has the pushups, situps, 2 mile run, and the Rangers and Special Forces both add pullups, a 5 mile run, and a 12 mile ruck as part of their testing / evaluating of their potential combat troops. The Marines are tough with the regular Marine having to do pullups, crunches, and a 3 mile run. This is by far the hardest regular military fitness test in the United States. Perhaps, it is time to adjust the fitness test to combatant and non-combatant troops. If a Marine (man or women) wants to be in a combat unit, the elevated standards apply – everyone does pullups. If someone is in a non-combatant unit, flexed arm hangs are sufficient for both men and women. One must also remember, just because you can do a pullup does not make you a combat ready troop. The Infantry Schools, SFAS, Q Course, BUD/S, RECON / MARSOC and other combat training programs are the true test. Being able to do pullups will help you with your upper body strength / grip to grab people and equipment, lift yourself and others from A to B, and up and over obstacles. The pullup does not ensure your ability to graduate from these advanced courses of instruction.
How Do We Fix the Fitness Problem?
If we want to address and fix the bigger problem, we have to get kids to maintain a healthy weight and practice pullups. Whether you are a boy or girl, you should start playing on playgrounds and start building your grip and pullup muscles on the monkey bars. Moms and Dads who watch their kids or coach on youth sports teams – make your team do pullups, pushups, and run regularly. Coaches and gym teachers in physical education class, add the inexpensive exercises of pushups, situps, running, and pullups to your kid’s list of activities and start testing them now!
Like men who failed the pullup test, the 55% of the women this article is about failed, not because of an unfair fitness standard increase, but because of lack of preparation and not taking advantage of the resources available to them. Girls should be raised with an expectation that pullups are well within their capabilities. As a society, we have to make fitness and health standards better known so that meeting these standards becomes the norm for men and women.
To date — the pullup is still not a requirement for the women of the USMC.