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Editorial: Revamp Navy fitness test

December 5, 2015 (Photo Credit: MC2 Paolo Bayas/Navy)

The Navy is eyeing big changes to the physical fitness test sailors take twice a year with the goal of making it a better measure of how well conditioned they are for the jobs they perform.

The decades-old physical readiness test demands such a reboot and the Navy appears to be moving in the right direction; toward adopting exercises that mimic common activities and are low in likelihood of causing injury.

It's well past time, for example, to deep-six the sit-up, an outdated exercise today viewed as a key cause of lower back injuries. Experts say there are better measures of core strength that have the added advantage of being less prone to cheating. The plank, for example, more accurately measures core strength and because it's done by holding the body arrow straight while resting only on the toes and forearms it does not subject muscles to strain by motion. 

Sailors have long called for fitness tests that are more directly relevant to the work they do. Here the Navy needs to look no further than the Marine Corps, which in addition to a standard annual fitness test also conducts an annual combat fitness test based on exercises that gauge the sort of strength and conditioning Marines need on the battlefield. The Navy should likewise transform one of its semiannual PRTs into an operational test.

Some options recommended by experts: a 50-yard loaded carry, a standing long jump, a kneeling powerball toss. The loaded carry will assess a sailor's ability to carry a wounded shipmate out of a danger zone, for instance, while the powerball throw will test capacity to summon upper body strength. Other tests like the single-leg wall squat can measure theability to lift heavy objects.

The PRT should retain one important exercise: the 1.5-mile run. Experts say this is the best measure of a sailor’s cardiovascular health. It also compels sailors to focus on endurance exercises, which will be needed in damage control and combat environments.

The Navy's move to ease body-fat rules to be less about appearance and more about fitness is smart one, but more needs to be done to turn fitness into a Navy lifestyle. A pilot program is extending gym hours in the morning and evening, but the Navy also needs to provide sailors more time to work out during the work week and more supervision to make sure they’re getting the most out of it.

The faster the Navy can move toward job-relevant fitness tests, the better. And the brass should run, not walk, toward instilling a year-round fitness culture that keeps sailors in fighting shape.

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