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Marines' fitness rules could get tougher after Corps-wide review

Marines on both coasts are testing potential changes to the service's fitness programs — are being tested by Marines on both coasts, and the Corps' top general has a message about the review:  will be put to the test before April, and by Marines on both coasts — and dDon’t expect things to get any easier.

Gen. Robert Neller ordered a full review of the Marine Corps' fitness standards in November. A driving issue is the fact that many muscular Marines who pass the physical fitness tests PFT and have low body fat also exceed height and weight limits.

This is becoming increasingly common for females Marines, who have bulked up in preparation for pullups, he told Marine Corps Times in a recent interview.

"If you are of a certain size, you are advantaged. If you are small, you are disadvantaged. So let us take a look at it," Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said told Marine Corps Times.

The results could include a host of changes, he said, including the events on the physical and combat fitness tests, the time Marines are allowed to recover between those events, the Corps' height and weight standards, and how best to measure body fat.

Marines are big, he said — some are even "monsters."

"And I want them to stay," he added. "Nobody likes to get taped or all that stuff, so what are we going to do? Is the test right? Should we do something else?"

The fitness review is being led by Training and Education Command, which is running some tests on the East and West coasts now as part of the process. The comprehensive fitness review will determine proper gender- and age-based scoring standards, and refine height/weight and body fat standards. Everything is on the table, from exercise events and scoring tables to class cut-offs.

While the specifics are still in the works, initial field tests will take a deeper look at male pullups, female flexed arm hang, crunches, and ammo lifts "to better understand Marines' full capacities," said 1st Lt. Matt Rojo, a TECOM spokesman for Training and Education Command.

The review is likely to end the battle between pullups and flexed arm hangs for female Marines. Pullups were expected to become mandatory for female Marines in 2014, but the change was postponed for further review. Women can currently Females can do pullups or the flexed arm hang as part of their PFT.

Neller said he has "all sorts of ideas" for where Marine fitness could be headed, but he wants TECOM to present the findings so they can come up with the best course of action.

Should we run further? Should it be shorter? Should we do the combat fitness test another way? I have got all sorts of ideas, but I am going to wait for [Training and Education Command] to come back and tell me what they think. "I certainly do not think it is going to get any easier," the commandant said. 

Marines may see a tougher CFT, as well — but Neller said any changes to the tests cannot involve a lot of gear.

"On the CFT, you get at least five minutes between the three events," he said. "So what if we said, 'well you only get four minutes, no more,'? Okay now it just got harder."

The cost of materials proved the death nail for a 2012 attempt to revamp the Army's CFT. Their evaluators recommended a 400-meter run with weapon, an obstacle course with low hurdles, high crawls and over-under obstacles, a 40-yard casualty drag, a 40-yard run with ammo cans atop a balance beam, point, aim and move drills, a 100-yard ammo can shuttle sprint, and a 100-yard agility sprint. A five-event fitness test was also recommended, which included max pushups in one minute, a 60-yard shuttle run, one-minute rower, long jump, and 1.5-mile run. That test was shot down because it was not scientifically validated, officials said. The service expects to test new fitness standards — which may be gender neutral — sometime this year.

The Corps’ review is led by TECOM's review is  and supported by research agencies and the sports medicine community. The Marine Corps has drawn from peer-reviewed studies, and lessons learned from sister services, allied services, and law enforcement, Rojo said. TECOM’s recommendations are due to the commandant no later than July 1.

"This review will ensure our standards remain relevant, challenging, and mutually supportive toward keeping Marines fit and ready to respond to any contingency, in any clime and place," said Sgt. Maj. Justin LeHew, TECOM's top enlisted Marine. "We will harness and develop any great ideas and best practices found during this review and utilize that in building the tactical athlete of the future to enhance our warfighting capacity and lethality on the battlefield."

Senior Reporter Jeff Schogol contributed to this report. 

Lance M. Bacon is senior reporter for Marine Corps Times. He covers Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Marine Corps Forces Command, personnel / career issues, Marine Corps Logistics Command, II MEF, and Marine Forces North. He can be reached at lance.bacon@hotmail.com.

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