Army relaxes standards for fitness testing for older troops and women

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After three years of debate and complaints, the Army decided to scrap its plan to create a physical fit test. This test is gender-neutral and age-neutral and will allow older soldiers and women to pass, while still meeting certain standards.

This decision was made after the study of the RAND research organisation found that men passed the new six event fitness test at a higher rate than women. Additionally, older soldiers had difficulty scoring well in the more challenging test that was developed in 2019.

However, the change will not affect the annual fitness test soldiers must pass. Certain Army jobs, such as those that require more combat or specialties, will still require that all applicants, regardless of their age, pass the same fitness standards and tests.

Three years ago, the Army changed the fitness test. It was originally three events: pushups, situps, and a run. Now it is six events. These six events include a deadlift, power throw and pushups as well as plank, run, and a combination sprint/drag/carry. An leg tuck was added in the beginning but has since been dropped.

However, the new test has been widely criticized as it was difficult for women and older soldiers to pass, even those in senior positions. Troops from the National Guard and Reserve also struggled and had difficulty finding the equipment they needed to practice and train for the test.

Chaitra Hardison is a behavioral scientist and author of the RAND study. She stated that the data showed some groups failing at significantly higher rates, including older soldiers, Guard and Reserve personnel, women and soldiers in certain occupational specialties.

This latest change allows soldiers and women to participate in fewer events while still passing. To pass the deadlift, women will need to lift 20 pounds more than men. Men over 46 years old would also be subject to a lower weight limit. The run would take longer for older men and women than it does for women.

The Army is now in line with other military services. They have different fitness tests but all use tiered event requirements that are based on gender and age.

Hardison stated that the RAND study that examined 460,000 soldiers’ test results found that there was little evidence that either the scores accurately predicted combat job performance, or that good marks lead to fewer injuries — two reasons why the RAND changes were made.

RAND stated that the test should be used to evaluate a soldier’s physical fitness and not to predict his job performance. RAND also suggested that the use of a scale to determine passing scores made it less harsh. A low fitness score could affect a soldier’s ability to get promoted.

“The most recent revision,” stated Sgt. Maj. of Army Michael Grinston said that the latest revision will “maintain an Army’s strong commitment towards a positive culture physical fitness while ensuring fairness.”

Complaints that soldiers weren’t fit enough prompted the Army to overhaul its fitness test for 2019. Nearly half the commanders who were surveyed last year said that new recruits could not handle the physical demands of combat. Officials stated that around 12% of soldiers were not able to deploy due to injuries.

The Army has canceled its long-standing test, which consisted of two minutes of pushups and two minutes of sitting ups, after months of research. It was a 2-mile run that assessed soldiers based on gender and age. Officials created a new, more difficult version that grades everyone equally but allows for some flexibility for those who have less demanding jobs. As they tried to make it final, the program was largely a trial.

A dead lift with weights between 140 and 340 lbs was included in the new test. There were also two minutes of hand release pushups and 50-yard sprints. The sled drag and sideways shuttle carrying kettlebells involved. Finally, there was the leg tuck and plank. A doctor’s note allows soldiers to swim, bike, row, or walk instead of running.

The leg tuck, where women hang from a bar and lift their knees up, was particularly difficult for women. As an alternative to the leg tuck, the plank was quickly added.

Congress directed the Army to have an independent evaluation of the test. Army leaders turned to RAND.

RAND stated in its study that the test is used to promote soldiers and can have a negative impact on their career. Therefore, the Army must ensure the minimum standards are met by everyone.

The study found that many soldiers would fail if the test was instituted today based on the pass rates. This includes soldiers who are otherwise in good standing with the Army. The Army should also consider the fact that many of these are older soldiers and women who have held leadership positions.

The highest passing rates were 98% to 100% for special forces soldiers, whose lives depend on their physical abilities. Women and men in less physically demanding jobs, such as food and laundry specialists and other nutrition and human resource personnel, were at the lower end.

According to the study, soldiers could leave the Army if they fail the fitness test or if they leave voluntarily because there are fewer job openings.

The new plan will allow for a trial period of preparation. The test will be available to active-duty soldiers in April. Failures will not be penalized. Officially, the test will take effect in October. The results will start to count. The test will be administered twice per year to soldiers.

Guard and Reserve soldiers can take the test until April next year without any consequences. After that, the results will begin to count. They only take the test once per year.

To pass, soldiers must score at least 60 points in each test event. Maximum score is 100 points. After the scoring has begun, anyone who fails the test will be allowed to retake it after several months. They will be dismissed from the Army if they fail two times.