More women opted for pull-ups in 2018, but fewer Marines are earning a first-class Physical Fitness Test score than in previous years.

However, the Corps says it is still hitting its overall fitness goals.

The Corps argues the lower scores are likely the result of stricter enforcement of standards by the nearly 600 Force Fitness Instructors, or FFIs, it now fields across the Corps, which the Corps nearly doubled over the last year.

Just 70.2 percent of Marines earned a first-class PFT in 2018. That’s slightly down from 72.3 percent in 2017. But it’s a much bigger drop when compared to the 84 percent who earned a first-class score in 2016.

PFT failures are up too: 2.2 percent failed the PFT in 2018 — a slight increase from the 1.9 percent who failed in 2017.

“What I think is happening is when we first started up the Force Fitness Division program, the FFI was kind of the critical element of the whole concept,” Col. Stephen Armes, the director of the fitness division, told Marine Corps Times. Now, after nearly 1.5 years into growing the Corps’ FFIs, “they are hammering them [Marines] on the standards.”

Armes added that there are still more PFT scores trickling in, as the data for 2018 represent about 93 percent of the total force.

In 2016, the Corps began allowing Marines to apply for the FFI military occupational specialty. The Corps’ FFIs are subject matter experts in physical fitness, and they aid their units in designing fitness regimens.

With more FFIs spread across the Corps, there’s an increase in enforcement of PFT standards, Armes explained. Years ago, a Marine used to be able to kip to do a pull-up, and today some Marines show poor form during the crunches portion of the test.

“There was a lot of slop out there,”Armes said. Now there’s an FFI at the unit saying, “nope, that pull-up doesn’t count … that crunch is not executed correctly.”

As for the big drop, compared to 2016, in first-class PFT scores, Armes says it’s not a direct comparison. The Corps adopted a new PFT rubric that went into effect in 2017. Marines could opt for push-ups in lieu of pull-ups and a new scoring system was rolled out.

U.S. Marines conduct the crunches portion of a physical fitness test on Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., May 21, 2015. (Lance Cpl. Jodson B. Graves/Marine Corps)
U.S. Marines conduct the crunches portion of a physical fitness test on Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., May 21, 2015. (Lance Cpl. Jodson B. Graves/Marine Corps)

But, despite the drop, the Corps says it’s still hitting its target goal of a force with a 70 percent first-class PFT.

“Based on our desire, where we want Marines to be, we are shooting on target,” Armes said. “I don’t believe Marines are any less fit now than they were last year.”

But one shining stat, more women are opting to do pull-ups in lieu of push-ups, and many are exceeding the maximum number required for a perfect score —a sign the Corps’ women are getting stronger.

In 2018, 71 percent, or 10,018 women elected to do pull-ups on the PFT, compared to 65 percent or 9,501 women in 2017. Those women managed to crank out an average of seven pull-ups, which is the max number for a perfect score for 17- to 20-year-old female Marines.

And roughly 765 women are ripping out 11-plus pull-ups, which exceeds the maximum required pull-ups. The max required pull-ups for 100 points on the PFT for 26- to 30-year-old female Marines is 10.

“It tells me they are getting stronger and a lot more are opting to do pull-ups,”Armes said.