Descriptive Comparisons of United States Military Physical Fitness Programs

Although technology has changed the nature of conflict over the years, physical fitness remains an important component of the effectiveness of every military service member. Many of the changes (night vision goggles, anti-chemical gear, etc.) allow fighting to continue around the clock, further establishing the need for fitness and endurance. Furthermore, with force reductions and continually chancing world conditions, all personnel from the U.S. military services must be ready and fit at all times. A Department of Defense directive (1308.1) stated that individual service members must possess the stamina and strength to perform successfully any potential mission. To do this, the directive mandated each US military service develop a quality fitness program that improves readiness and increases combat effectiveness of their personnel. This paper will briefly describe the physical fitness and fitness evaluation programs of each United States military service.

Army
The directive that governs the Army Physical Fitness program is Field Manual 21-20, Physical Fitness Training (1998). The manual is very complete covering topics like, leadership responsibility, components of fitness, proper exercise techniques, nutrition, environmental considerations, etc. The Army program mandates vigorous, regular (3-5 times a week) physical training and directs unit commanders to lead the training. The Army also dedicates time and effort developing and training fitness experts. The Army offers a four-week training program covering all aspects of physical fitness training and how a soldier’s body functions. After completing the training program, the selected individuals are called Master Fitness Trainers and they become responsible for training others in the area of fitness while helping ensure units conduct sound, safe physical fitness training.

The Army physical fitness test is used to get an accurate evaluation of a soldier’s fitness level and is accomplished twice each year by all Army personnel. The evaluation involves a weigh-in, push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. The standards below are the minimum requirements for a male between the ages of 22-26.

Body Composition* Push-ups
(2 Minutes)
Sit-ups
(2 minutes)
2 Mile Run
22 40 60 16:36 mins

* Each military service conducts annual weigh-ins using standard height vs weight tables. If members are over their maximum allowable weight they are then measured for percent body fat. The method of measurement for all four military services is the circumferential tape measure method.

Navy
The Navy program is governed by Navy Instruction 6110.1E (1998). Like the Army guide to fitness, the instruction clearly states the importance of every Navy member maintaining personal fitness by participation in regular exercise. The instruction mandates that commanders aggressively support the goal of attaining and maintaining fitness by requiring a minimum of three aerobic exercise periods per week. It further stipulates the periods must be 40 minutes to allow for proper warm-up and cool-down with at least 20 minutes of continuous aerobic activity.

The Navy fitness evaluation, which is conducted twice each year, includes a weigh-in, a sit and reach flexibility test *(individuals must – in a sitting position with legs straight, flat on the floor, touch their toes), sit-ups (curl-ups), push-ups and a 1.5 mile run (or a 500 yard swim). The standards below are for a male between the ages of 20-29:

Body Composition Sit and Reach Curl-ups
(2 minutes)
Push-ups
(2 minutes)
1.5 Mile Run
22 Pass* 40 29 13:45 mins

Marines
The Marine Physical Fitness Program is governed by Marine Corps Order 6100.3J Physical Fitness (1988) and Marine Corps Order 61001B Weight Control and Personal Appearance (1993). The Marine program is very similar to Army and Navy Programs. The orders stress the importance of physical fitness as essential to the day-to-day effectiveness and combat readiness of the Marine Corps, as well as, an indispensable aspect of leadership. The program specifically mandates every Marine will participate in physical training at least 3 hours a week (3 exercise periods).

The Marine fitness evaluation is administrated twice every year. The test includes pull-ups for males (flex arm hang for females), sit-ups and a 3 mile run (1.5 mile run for females). Every Marine under the age of 46 must participate in the testing. The standards below are the minimums for a male between the ages of 17-26:

Body Composition Pull-ups Sit-ups
(2 minutes)
3 Mile Run
18* 3 40 28 minutes

* Maximum allowable percent body fat (female 26 percent) for the establishment of an alternate weight standard if members are over their recommend weight.

Air Force
The Air Force Program is governed by two Instructions, Air Force Instruction 40-501 The Air Force Physical Fitness Program (1998) and AFI 40-502 The Weight Management Program (1994). Both Instructions focus on the annual evaluations that are required, an annual weigh in and a cycle ergometery test. The instructions stress the importance of all Air Force members being physically fit to support the increasing and changing requirements of the Air Force mission. The instruction does not, however, mandate exercise periods but leaves the method and responsibility of achieving and maintaining physical fitness up to each individual.

The annual fitness evaluation is used as an indicator of an individual’s fitness level and to motivate members to participate in a year round physical conditioning program emphasizing aerobic fitness. The current evaluation program involves each member completing a cycle ergometer test once a year. The stationary cycle test is designed to measure how efficiently the heart and lungs work as a machine to transfer oxygen to the muscles. The test uses heart rate to estimate aerobic capacity (VO2max).

The standards below represent the annual minimum requirements for an Air Force male between the ages 25-29

Body Composition Cycle Ergometer
20 34 ML/KG-min

Summary
The US military services are consistent in stressing and testing two of the five major areas (muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition, flexibility, and aerobic capacity) that define physical fitness, aerobic capacity and body composition. The Army, Navy and Marines also stress muscular strength and muscular endurance by testing these areas during their fitness evaluations twice a year (the Air Force is currently evaluating the addition of push-ups and sit-ups to its annual evaluation program). The Navy is the only service that evaluates flexibility. All the services, except the Air Force, mandate participation in regular (3 times a week) exercise programs.

The one constant is the importance of physical fitness for members of each military service. Military historian William Nash once noted the “success and general efficiency of every military establishment is, in a very large degree, dependent upon the physical fitness, endurance, and condition of the individual units of which it is composed.” Because individuals need to be alert, energetic and possess stamina, the statement by William Nash would appear just as important for today’s military service members as it was when soldiers first carried their weapons and walked into combat.

References

Department of Defense. (1981). Department of Defense Directive on Physical Fitness and Weight Control Programs. (Directive No. 1308.1). Washington DC: Author.

Nash, W. (1972). Military Science and Tactics and Physical Education. New York: AMS Press, Inc.

United States Air Force. (1998). Air Force Instruction 40-501, The Air Force Physical Fitness Program. Bolling AFB, DC: HQ AFMOA/SGOP

United States Air Force. (1994). Air Force Instruction 40-502, The Air Force Weight Management Program. Bolling AFB, DC: HQ AFMOA/SGOP

United States Army. (1998). Field Manual 21-20: Physical Fitness training. Washington DC: Headquarters US Army.

United States Marine Corps. (1988). Marine Corps Order 6100.3J. Washington DC: Headquarters United States Marine Corps.

United States Marine Corps. (1993). Marine Corps Order 6100.10B. Washington DC: Headquarters United States Marine Corps.

United States Navy. (1998). OPNAV INSTRUCTION 6110.1E. Washington DC: Naval Military Personnel Command.


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