Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Too Fat for Fighting?

The U.S. Army's physical training (PT) program's been revamped: "That familiar standby, the situp, is gone, or almost gone. Exercises that look like pilates or yoga routines are in. And the traditional bane of the new private, the long run, has been downgraded." The new PT regimen incorporates "more stretching, more exercises for the abdomen and lower back," and "more agility and balance training."

Why the change?
[T]he program was created to help address one of the most pressing issues facing the military today: overweight and unfit recruits.

“What we were finding was that the soldiers we’re getting in today’s Army are not in as good shape as they used to be,” said Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who oversees basic training for the Army. “This is not just an Army issue. This is a national issue.”

Excess weight is the leading reason the Army rejects potential recruits. And while that has been true for years, the problem has worsened as the waistlines of America’s youth have expanded. This year, a group of retired generals and admirals released a report titled “Too Fat to Fight.”
“Between 1995 and 2008, the proportion of potential recruits who failed their physicals each year because they were overweight rose nearly 70 percent,” the report concluded.

Though the Army screens out the seriously obese and completely unfit, it is still finding that many of the recruits who reach basic training have less strength and endurance than privates past. It is the legacy of junk food and video games, compounded by a reduction in gym classes in many high schools, Army officials assert.

As a result, it is harder for recruits to reach Army fitness standards, and more are getting injured along the way. General Hertling said that the percentage of male recruits who failed the most basic fitness test at one training center rose to more than one in five in 2006, up from just 4 percent in 2000. The percentages were higher for women.
Military recruiters are already stuggling with the fact that "up to 9 million Americans ages 17 to 24 -- or nearly 27 percent of the prime military recruiting age demographic -- are 'too fat to serve in the military,'" so I suppose it stands to reason that the Army feels that it's necessary to soften up its PT requirements. But are stretching and yoga sufficient to get our soldiers ready for combat?

(By the way, in case you're interested, here's a description of the Army's current fitness test, and a calculator that scores your results.)

(Source: NYT)