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Air Force explores new fitness assessment for Airmen that could be gender-neutral

Airmen assigned to the 60th Mission Support Group participate in a group run at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., In September 2018. (60th Air Mobility Wing)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – The Air Force is exploring a fitness assessment that would incorporate a value for an aviator’s 1.5 mile run time into an equation that would include height and height measurements.

The result: a fitness-fat index that may be gender-neutral.

Last month, Neal Baumgartner, chief of the Air Force Exercise Science Unit, briefed the Women in the Service Defense Advisory Committee on the idea, which would measure airmen’s aerobic capacity against their body composition.

Nothing, however, is official, and the concept is still in the research stage, Baumgartner said in a follow-up interview with Stars and Stripes.

“We care most about consistent, positive fitness behavior, constant physical activity,” he said. “This is where we are headed. The test is very important, but the training is more important.

Breaking down the potential new formula, Baumgartner said an aviator’s run time would yield a number representing VO2 max, or maximum oxygen uptake. That number would be divided by his height-to-height ratio for a total fitness score.

“When I put it all together into the equation – now maybe I’m looking at gender neutrality,” he said.

It is not yet clear how strength would be rated with this formula, Baumgartner said. “We’re trying to think ‘are there better ways to do this… or are there better ways to do push-ups and sit-ups’”?

The military plans to adopt a new age and gender neutral fitness test for all soldiers by October 2020. The army combat fitness test has six components: force throw upright ; forced deadlift; folded legs; two mile run; sprint-drag-carry event; and manual release pumps. Some military occupational specialties, such as infantry or gun crew, may be required to achieve higher test scores or higher standards, officials said.

The Air Force will roll out its first career-specific Level 2 fitness standards for air liaison officers and tactical air controllers in June.

A team from Baumgartner’s unit will be in Ramstein next month to train explosive ordnance disposal non-commissioned officers from Air Force bases across Europe on the new EOD fitness assessment In progress. Level 2 fitness standards are gender neutral, Baumgartner said.

Most Airmen, however, fall under Level 1 fitness standards, where health is the ultimate goal.

The current test – introduced in 2004 – is adequate, Baumgartner said. He rates Airmen by gender and age on the 1.5-mile run, timed push-ups and sit-ups, and waist measurement.

The concept under study uses “the latest and greatest science to address the inextricable relationship between aerobic fitness and the location of fat in the body,” Baumgartner said.

The most “dangerous” fat in the body is visceral fat, located in the trunk region; it is associated with various medical conditions that progress more rapidly the more abdominal fat one has, he said.

“I could have an aviator who has 24% body fat and another aviator of very similar age… with 20% body fat,” Baumgartner said. If the aviator with less overall body fat, however, carries more fat in the gut, “he runs a higher health risk.”

Of the nearly 2 million fitness tests analyzed across the service, no aviator failed on waistline while maximizing turnaround time, Baumgartner said.

“It’s a unicorn, it’s an imaginary idea,” he said. “You hear people say that I can wear a 40 inch midsection for men or maybe 36 inches for women and run like the wind – the truth is, they can’t.”

Airmen don’t have to be great athletes to pass an assessment that measures aerobic capacity versus body composition.

“I can tell you that you just need to get out of the couch, get out from behind your desk and do something routine,” he said. “We’re not asking for quick race times… get out there and move and you’ll be able to meet minimum requirements. “

[email protected] Twitter: @Stripesktown

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Jennifer H. Svan

Jennifer reports on the US Army from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She previously had missions for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Prior to Stripes, she worked for Wyoming and Colorado dailies. She graduated from the College of William and Mary in Virginia.



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