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Thread: Unfair advantage?
08-02-05, 12:35 PM #1
August 08, 2005
Upper-body strength test may give women edge on PFT, promotions
By Laura Bailey
Times staff writer
Being a woman in the predominantly male Marine Corps is tough for many reasons, but there is one area in which women have an apparent advantage over their brothers in arms — the physical-fitness test.
A recent informal comparison of male and female PFT scores requested by the top enlisted Marine suggests that a much higher percentage of women ace the upper-body strength portion of the exam.
While men do pull-ups to measure their upper-body strength, women perform the flexed-arm hang — an event the Corps’ senior leadership may soon change with an eye toward leveling the playing field.
“I think it really needs to be looked at because there is a difference in the scores,” said Sgt. Maj. John Estrada, sergeant major of the Marine Corps.
That difference gives women the edge at promotion time, critics say, as PFT scores are an element of the “composite score” a Marine compiles for promotion to corporal and sergeant.
So Estrada began seeking input from Marines throughout the Corps this spring on how the Corps might resolve the difference.
In May, he asked 40 noncommissioned officers at the annual NCO Symposium at Quantico, Va., to weigh in on the issue. He will also bring the topic to the Corps’ sergeants major at their annual conference in August.
What the end result could be is not yet clear, as opinions differ on what the solution may be. But Estrada said it is likely the Corps would modify the exercise rather than replace it outright.
Uneven playing field
Controversy over the flexed-arm hang has swirled about for years. The timed exercise, which has been used since 1975, requires women to pull themselves up to a chin-up bar and hang in place.
Women must hang for a minimum of 15 seconds to pass; hanging for 70 seconds yields a perfect score.
Currently, the clock keeps running even after a woman drops her head below the chin bar; timing continues as long as she maintains some degree of bend in her arms and her elbows don’t lock out.
Some Marines say the system is too lenient and also too subjective.
“That perception in some ways is pretty close to reality,” Estrada said. “The scores are higher [for women].”
The gap in scores likely has increased since 1997, when the Corps changed the pull-up rules, barring men from swinging their bodies to build momentum and help them eke out a few extra reps.
With the change, “kipping” was banned in favor of “dead hang” pull-ups, and many men who previously could knock out the 20 required for a maximum score found themselves instead struggling to get anywhere close to the max.
But while the pull-up portion of the test became more challenging, it’s not that the male test is too hard, Estrada said. Rather, the flexed-arm hang is too easy.
After hearing frequent complaints from Marines that the flexed-arm hang exercise is unfair — many of them from women — Estrada had a fellow sergeant major check into the issue at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.
There, an informal assessment found a discrepancy in how male and female recruits were performing on the tests. While 53 percent of women were logging perfect scores, only 14 percent of male recruits did so, Estrada said.
An official with Marine Corps Training and Education Command at Quantico, Va., said command data shows similar results.
“We have a larger database where the research is in line with what was found at Parris Island,” said Lt. Col. Brian McGuire, head of the training programs section at TECOM.
Nonetheless, McGuire said, the command is satisfied with the current PFT, saying it is an effective measure of overall physical fitness.
The test, he said, is a long-standing measure of upper body strength used not only by the Marine Corps but also by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, which makes recommendations to schools and fitness programs throughout the nation.
The problems, he said, come not with the test itself; the potential for problems lies in how the scores are used.
“It’s designed to provide a general base line of physical fitness,” he said. “It is not designed to be a gender-normed personnel management tool to compare males and females.”
McGuire stressed that male and female scores should not be compared at promotion time — or any other time — because the tests are so different.
“If the Marine Corps understands that the two tests are different, that should provide a pretty good enlightenment, not just to promotion boards but to Marines in general,” he said.
NCOs weigh in
After NCOs debated the issue during their May symposium, they recommended changing the exercise.
“The females, they are the ones who brought this forward,” Estrada said. “Some of them thought it was a fairness issue. It wasn’t the guys saying that females should do pull-ups or anything like that.”
Cpl. Veronica Robledo, an admin clerk with Manpower and Reserve Affairs at Quantico and one of about 10 female Marines who attended the symposium, said that while the proposals to toughen the exercise came from female Marines, most of the NCOs agreed.
“Some Marines were arguing that females were at a huge advantage,” Robledo said. “About 25 percent thought it shouldn’t be changed. Pretty much everyone else was for it.”
The problem is twofold, as the current grading system is too easy and too inconsistent, the NCOs said. Some women can hold themselves above the chin-up bar for a full 70 seconds, while others log the last few seconds required for a perfect score while hanging way below the bar with hardly any bend left in their arms.
“I think we should all do it the same way,” Robledo said. “A slight bend can mean anything. You can hang there forever with a slight bend.”
The NCOs debated two proposed changes meant to make the testing methodology less subjective. The first, which they ultimately rejected, was that the clock stop the moment the woman’s chin drops below the bar.
The second proposal, which they passed on to Estrada and Marine Commandant Gen. Mike Hagee for consideration, suggested requiring that the woman maintain a 90-degree bend in the arms at all times and that the clock stop once the top of the woman’s head drops below the bar.
In August, Estrada will ask the Corps’ sergeants major to weigh in on the issue when they meet at their annual conference. Ultimately, with their input and others’, the commandant will decide if changes should be made.
If the commandant recommends changing the test, Training and Education Command at Quantico, Va., would then study the issue further.
“Any change would have to go through a series of tests and field tests,” McGuire said. “[They] would have to have an empirical base, rather than an opinion base. I think Marines would understand that,” he said.
The last time such a study was conducted was 1997, when the pull-up test was changed, according to Capt. Paul D. Duncan, a TECOM spokesman.
No easy test
Marines who weighed in on the issue with Marine Corps Times said the flexed-arm hang is generally fair but that the grading system could stand some tweaking.
Gunnery Sgt. Theresa Marzluf, a former Parris Island drill instructor, said it’s no easy test and that those who do ace the flexed-arm hang have to work hard to get there.
“It’s definitely something, in my opinion, that you work for and practice for it to become easy. It does take a lot of motivation to get that 70 seconds,” she said. “Even some guys have a hard time doing it. Have the average male Marine get up there, and you’ll see they have a difficult time, too.”
Even so, Marzluf, a self-described PT fanatic who can do 20 pull-ups herself, said the hang is probably less challenging than the pull-ups are for men.
“I definitely think it’s easier than doing the pull-ups. That’s why I would agree with making it so the chin can’t fall or, even better, so you have to maintain a 90-degree angle,” she said.
Other Marines agreed with the idea of making the flexed-arm hang harder.
“The only part I believe is not fair is that they don’t have to stay above the bar for the whole time,” said Cpl. Aaron Hargraves, 24, an assistant warehouse chief with Headquarters and Service Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group, at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
“Now that I’m thinking about it, it doesn’t seem too fair, because it would definitely make their [composite] scores higher,” he said.
Another Marine said she likes the idea of modifying the flexed-arm hang as long as the Corps helps women meet the new standards.
“There are some females who struggle with the flexed-arm hang,” said Capt. Natalie Trogus, who trains Marine Corps martial-arts instructors at Quantico. “There’s going to be many more women who were struggling … who are going to completely struggle now.”
Men and women alike need more combat conditioning in preparation for deployments, Trogus said. Tweaking the flexed-arm hang would help meet that objective for women, she said.
“It will force us to do more upper-body training and more combat conditioning,” she said, stressing that the Corps should not replace the exercise with pull-ups or another exercise that would be too challenging for the female body.
“People just need to accept the fact that males and females are physiologically different, period,” she said.
“Guys are just stronger than females.”
08-02-05, 12:38 PM #2
August 08, 2005
Experts differ on whether 1 test fits all
By Laura Bailey
Times staff writer
Any debate over the fairness of the physical-fitness test is sure to raise the question of whether the flexed-arm hang and pull-ups should be replaced altogether by a single test that can accurately gauge the upper-body strength of men and women alike.
But fitness experts differ on whether finding that single test is possible.
Male and female bodies are too different, some say.
The pull-up is the Marine Corps’ standard way of testing male upper-body strength, but it is not practical as a measure of female strength, said Chris Halagarda, a personal trainer and dietician at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
He said pull-ups are more difficult for women not only because they have less muscle than men. Women have a much higher percentage of body fat, which weighs them down on the pull-up bar.
Men have as little as three to five percent body fat, while women typically carry between 12 to 14 percent. “So they’re not going to be as strong pound for pound as males,” he said.
But another fitness expert says that logic doesn’t hold true.
While men generally have greater muscle mass and muscle density, fat is less heavy and less dense to lift, said Chuck Krautblatt, chief executive officer of the International Fitness Association based in Orlando, Fla.
“You have a man who has more leg and glute muscle that has no effect on the pull-up. That’s dead weight. Now who’s at a disadvantage?” he said.
Krautblatt, a former Marine, says the Corps’ logic behind the separate male and female tests is nothing more than a male “protective mechanism for women” that keeps women from reaching their true physical potential.
“We say this is sufficient, this is all you have to do because you’re a woman, so they don’t develop those muscles and they slip through the cracks,” he said. “Making those gender distinctions is antiquated at best and undermining to both sexes.”
The Corps should hold women to the same standards as men, requiring them to do all the same tests with no variations, he said.
“A woman can develop every single muscle that a man can, just not to the size because of differences in hormones,” he said.
Krautblatt said pull-ups would be a good test for women because they require lifting an amount in proportion to one’s own body.
“She has to have the biceps to lift 120 pounds, not 200 pounds. It’s all proportionate,” he said.
But Krautblatt said pull-ups should be supplemented with another test for upper-body strength for both men and women because no one particular motion tests all facets of upper-body strength. For example, you can have someone who can do well in a push-up test, but can’t do pull-ups.
“To just have one indicator for overall upper-body strength isn’t good,” he said.
An official at Training and Education Command responsible for the physical-fitness test program said that physiological differences do affect how women and men perform on different exercises.
“There’s really no test that is perfect for all populations,” said Lt. Col. Brian McGuire, head of training programs at TECOM.
What matters most, he said, is that they are reliable and easily done in a field environment.
“It should be easily administered and have a very good test and retest reliability,” McGuire said.
The flexed-arm hang offers all of those things, he said.
Halagarda agreed, saying the flexed-arm hang may not be perfect, but it is a generally effective measure of female upper-body strength.
“It’s a measurement of your body to hold your own weight, and that will test your own body strength,” he said.
Halagarda said the Corps could gauge male and female upper-body strength in other ways, but noted those methods are not practical for testing large numbers of people.
For example, a bench press test would suffice, but units would need time in the gym for each test, and mathematical equations would have to be done to ensure every Marine is lifting his or her appropriate weight.
08-02-05, 12:42 PM #3
Does the order state that females must pull them selves up to the bar or can they be helped???
08-08-05, 07:36 AM #4
08-08-05, 08:00 AM #5
The current order states that female Marines may be helped as follows:
Assistance to the bar with a step up, or being lifted up to the starting position IS AUTHORIZED.
08-09-05, 01:20 AM #6
See how far you get if you ask for help!
08-09-05, 07:12 AM #7
When I was in Okinawa, we had a CG's Cup competition at Camp Kinser and I personally watched a female MP knock out 28 pullups. So I say, let them do pullups just like the men. They are just as capable if they work at it. And adding pushups to the test wouldn't hurt either sex!
08-09-05, 02:51 PM #8
I'm all for doing pullups. Whatever it takes to be treated as and equal. Don't need any nasty male assisting me either! LOL Pushing out ten right now without getting tired. I say just, Bring It!" Semper FI.
08-09-05, 03:05 PM #9
WOMEN SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED IN THE MARINE CORPS IT IS JUST A PERSONAL OPINION OF MINE . SO PLEASE DON'T BE UPSET . MAYBE WE CAN DICUSS OUR VIEWS.
08-09-05, 03:17 PM #10
Point is that it's way too late! WOMEN are already in the MARINE CORPS, and whether you or any other male likes it or not, we're here to stay! Suck it up and deal with it is what I say. Semper FI.
08-09-05, 03:42 PM #11
We Are Marines and we are Women, and we are Not Going away.
08-09-05, 08:38 PM #12
PTWarrier: Where have you been for the past 60 plus years? We have been in the Marine Corps, served and are serving proudly and will continue to do so, God Willing. Semper Fi
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