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Will US Army scrap gender-neutral fitness test since women are failing in large numbers?

The six-event Army Combat Fitness Test has seen women failing at a rate of 65 percent, while for men it is only 10 percent
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The US military is mulling cancelation of its new gender-neutral fitness test since women candidates are failing in large numbers compared to their male counterparts. The development came days after the Congress asked the army to stop the six-event Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) till a study by a non-Pentagon body could assess its consequence. 

Research has shown that the ACFT, which is the same for both male and female soldiers, led to lower results for women. An early study undertaken by the Pentagon showed women failing the ACFT at a rate of 65 percent, compared with only 10 percent for men. Following the findings, it has been suggested that the standard test could be evaluated different for the two genders. The women were particularly doing badly in the leg tuck event, which requires soldiers to hang from a pull-up bar and tuck their legs up to their chins. The ACFT includes six events that include, besides leg tuck: a maximum deadlift, hand-release push-ups, standing power throw, a sprint, a two-mile run and drag and carry.


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A man and woman jog along the repaired levee wall in the Lower Ninth Ward May 12, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Getty Images)

The ACFT was set to replace the decades-old Army Physical Fitness Test, which is based on age and gender. In January, the Congress approved the Fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) -- a $740 billion defense policy bill -- by voting to override the veto of former president Donald Trump. The bill asks the army to halt the ACFT till the independent study is conducted. The army authorized all soldiers in the active-duty, National Guard and Reserve force to start undergoing the ACFT. But the army came under criticism from lawmakers and advocacy groups for launching the new test as they argued it was unfair and needed more assessment.

ACFT scores to go under data analysis

Sergeant Major Michael Grinston told in January that the army leadership knows about the soldiers’ concerns over the ACFT and that the service has started working on a plan to deal with the NDAA directive. 

“I understand and acknowledge the concerns from across the force regarding the implementation of the ACFT and the provisions included in the FY21 NDAA,” Grinston said in a statement. “The army is updating physical training programs and will collect more than 1 million ACFT scores to support data-informed decisions,” he added.

Army officials have said since the ACFT’s launch last October that the scores soldiers get will not count against them till March 2022 to allow time to the force to increase its fitness level. Fitness officials are using the scores to build a database to guide the future course of action on the ACFT, added. 
Major General Lonnie Hibbard, commander of the Center for Initial Military Training which is overseeing the new test, said in 2019 that the Army was “seeing a difference in failure rates” between men and women taking the ACFT but added that he was optimistic that the scores for both men and women would improve with time. Another Army official told “We have to figure out a way to make it fair to both genders.”