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USMC changes fitness requirement for women

Nov. 27, 2012 - 11:46AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 27, 2012 - 11:46AM  |  
Female Marines soon will be required to perform pull-ups, just like their male counterparts do, as part of their annual physical fitness tests, the Marine Corps' top general announced Tuesday.
Female Marines soon will be required to perform pull-ups, just like their male counterparts do, as part of their annual physical fitness tests, the Marine Corps' top general announced Tuesday. ()
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Female Marines soon will be required to perform pull-ups, just like male Marines do, as part of their annual physical fitness tests, the Marine Corps' top general announced Tuesday.

The change takes effect Jan. 1, 2014, Gen. Jim Amos, the service's commandant, alerted Marines in a force-wide message. Officials will phase in the change throughout the coming year to accommodate what is expected to be a significant adjustment.

A spokesman for the commandant declined to comment. However, the general's message makes clear that he expects this to be a success, and he has ordered all Marine units to add pull-ups training to their fitness programs during the coming year.

"Phase one," Amos explains, "will serve as a transition period, and is intended to allow commanders and individual female Marines to adjust … training routines to prepare for implementation of the new requirements."

The commandant's message does not indicate why the change is being implemented, but the Marine Corps has spent nearly two years evaluating the restrictions it places on women, with an eye toward breaking down longstanding barriers where possible. Within the last year, for instance, officials have opened to female Marines dozens of jobs in tank and artillery units, among others previously the province of men only.

And although women are still prohibited from filling assignments whose primary mission is direct ground combat, officials made the historic move this past summer by enrolling two female Marines into the Corps' Infantry Officer Course. Both ultimately washed out, and so far no volunteers have stepped forward for the course's next iteration this winter.

Known to Marines as the PFT, the physical fitness test is one of two strength and endurance evaluations all personnel must pass each year. The other, called the Combat Fitness Test, features a host of drills Marines would be expected to perform on the battlefield.

As part of the PFT, all Marines do sit-ups and conduct a timed three-mile run. Additionally, men have been required to do pull-ups while women, viewed institutionally as having less inherent upper-body strength, have been required to perform what's called the flexed-arm hang, hoisting themselves over the pull-up bar and holding the position for up to 70 seconds. Marines are rated based on their overall performance on each section of the test, with 300 making a perfect score.

During the coming year, as the service adjusts to the change, female Marines will have the option of doing pull-ups or the flexed-arm hang during their PFT, according to Amos' message. But come 2014, women will be required to do at least three pull-ups to pass the PFT, with eight needed for a perfect score on that portion of the test.

Men must do three pull-ups to pass the test, with 20 required for a perfect score.

The flexed-arm hang will remain a part of the Corps' Initial Strength Test for all female enlisted recruits and as part of the initial PFT required for female officer candidates, according to Amos' message. However, starting in 2014, pull-ups will be a graduation requirement for boot camp and Officer Candidates School.

As Marine Corps Times">reported last year senior officials have debated this idea for a while. In June 2011, following initial research at 12 installations across the Corps, the service's physical readiness officer produced a detailed position paper calling for the test's upper-body portion to be amended.

That study of 318 female Marines found that, on average, they could perform 1.63 pull-ups. More than 21 percent performed at least three, and 37 percent performed at least three when lower-body movement — a banned practice frequently known as "kip" — was allowed.

The discussion was scuttled late last year, with no indication it would be resumed. It's not immediately clear why the Corps has changed course now.

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