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Marines slam Navy's new fitness rules, call for better body fat test

The Navy is doing away with the much-maligned neck-and-torso tape test that many have criticized for years as wildly inaccurate, but Marines have something new to be hot about: relaxed physical fitness standards for sailors that allow higher body fat percentages.

The Navy changes are part of an initiative pushed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to focus on holistic health, curb risky weight-loss methods and stem an exodus of talented sailors. It's a shift away from a punitive system that punishes sailors for failing fitness tests toward one that encourages year-round fitness, with a focus on helping those who are struggling in that regard.

At the request of Mabus, the Marine Corps is conducting its own review of fitness standards, although what Marine leaders might change, if anything, remains to be seen. Results are not expected until the end of August.

The Navy has already released a host of changes to their fitness regulations in response to critiques from sailors who crammed to make weight under the former system. Sailors are transitioning to a waist-only tape test that sets a maximum of 39 inches for men and 35.5 inches for women. That's similar to the test used by the Air Force.

Other Navy initiatives include healthier food choices that do away with fried foods in chow halls and add color-coded dishes, with green labels signifying the healthiest choices.

The Navy also plans to run a pilot program in the Pacific Fleet and Navy Reserve using wearable fitness trackers like Fitbits.

While many Marines say they'd like to do away with the Corps' current tape test, which measures the waist and neck to calculate body fat percentage, some say the Navy appears to be taking a step toward relaxing fitness standards. And Marines say they want no part of that.

"I don't think the standards should change at all, but the method of measurement should," said former Cpl. Joshua Naylor, who left the Marine Corps in 2014.

Naylor said he felt his career was in jeopardy whenever he faced the tape test even though he's a competitive body builder and Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructor who earned top Physical and Combat Fitness Test scores.

The former motor vehicle operator, who now works as a physical trainer, is about 5-feet, 11-inches tall and weighs 198 pounds.

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jose G. Valadez, left, a physical fitness test (PFT) monitor assigned to Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron (MWHS) 2, measures a Marine's neck for a body mass index after participating in a PFT on Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., May 21, 2015. All Marines are required to take a PFT semiannually to test physical fitness and combat readiness. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jodson B. Graves/Released)
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jose G. Valadez, left, a physical fitness test (PFT) monitor assigned to Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron (MWHS) 2, measures a Marine's neck for a body mass index after participating in a PFT on Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., May 21, 2015. All Marines are required to take a PFT semiannually to test physical fitness and combat readiness. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jodson B. Graves/Released)

Cpl. Jose G. Valadez, left, a physical fitness test monitor assigned to Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2, measures a Marine's neck for a body mass index. Some Marines say the tape test is not an accurate way to measure body fat.

Photo Credit: Lance Cpl. Jodson Graves/Marine Corps

Naylor's experience with the tape test left him longing for a new system, but he said he opposes one that might allow Marines who aren't in shape to remain in uniform with no repercussions.

Instead, he'd like to see both sea services look into using skin calipers to measure body fat, which he says are far more accurate than the tape test.

"I was competing in body building competitions for three-fourths of my career," said Naylor, whose last assignment was at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center near Bridgeport, California.

"I was 7 percent body fat at my highest and 4 percent at my lowest. I competed one time right before I weighed in and taped and it said I was at 19 percent. No way can you compete at 19 percent."

Calipers are a good solution for Marines and sailors, he said. The system is fast, more accurate, and measurements are easy to administer.

Another Marine, who is based in Kansas City, Missouri, and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Marines used to ask him for advice to cut weight since he is also a bodybuilder who notches top PFT scores. He said he often sacrifices performance to make weight.

"Once I start dropping weight, I lose a lot of strength to do a lot of stuff that I can [do] when I'm heavier," he said. "When it comes down to it, I love the Marine Crops more than being large, so I'll lose weight every time."

That runs counter to the very reasons for the Navy's recent revisions. As Vice Adm. Bill Moran, chief of naval personnel, put it July 28: "Fitness should truly be about being healthy and mission readiness — are you physically fit for times of combat and stress in the fleet?"

As for the Navy's idea to offer more healthy food choices, both Marines said they'd support it. But Marines should still be given the option to choose fatty or fried foods if they want them, Naylor said.

The idea of having Marines wear Fitbits or other devices to track their fitness levels was less popular.

Marines with Kilo Company, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, conduct physical exercises aboard the dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), March 30, 2015. The 24th MEU is embarked on the ships of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group and deployed to maintain regional security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Devin Nichols/Released)
Marines with Kilo Company, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, conduct physical exercises aboard the dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), March 30, 2015. The 24th MEU is embarked on the ships of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group and deployed to maintain regional security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Devin Nichols/Released)

Marines with Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, exercise aboard the dock landing ship Fort McHenry. Navy Department leaders say Marines already have a culture of fitness.

Photo Credit: Sgt. Devin Nichols/Marine Corps

"I think that is a completely ridiculous way to approach it from a financial standpoint," Naylor said.

He and the Kansas City Marine agreed that if service members want a Fitbit, they should purchase their own.

Both said they see that device as overkill if the goal is simply to maintain basic fitness.

Staff writer Mark D. Faram contributed to this report.

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