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Top coach puzzled by military's decision to kill fitness test

James Christie, with a report from Gloria Galloway, Globe & Mail, 27 Oct 06

Article Link


A top Canadian coach and an exercise physiologist warned yesterday that the Canadian Forces' dropping of minimum fitness standards could mean the country gets military personnel who are slow and indecisive.


A lack of fitness affects more than a person's physical abilities, said Andy Higgins, director of the National Coaching Institute-Ontario.


"The evidence is overwhelming that it also affects your sharpness, your mental performance, your decision-making," he said.


That could be a serious liability for a soldier, said Greg Gannon, vice-president of sport performance at the Canadian Sport Centre Ontario and an exercise physiologist. "I was surprised at the elimination of physical tests for recruits," he said. "They weren't very tough to begin with. It's not like we were de-selecting a lot of people based on those standards."


The minimum fitness requirements being dumped included a 2.4-kilometre run in 11.56 minutes to 17.24 minutes, depending on age and gender. Men under 35 also had to be able to do 19 pushups, 19 sit-ups and squeeze 75 kilograms on a handgrip. The requirements dropped according to age and gender. "The question becomes this: We're selecting that small percentage that couldn't make even those standards. If someone grossly overweight applied, it brings up issues of how effective that person will be," Mr. Gannon said.


"They'll accept basically anybody and say they'll train them up to a level where they can go to a boot camp. But if you're looking at a person out of shape, it tells you a lot about the person and his behaviours -- how they choose to live life, whether they have any discipline. Changing that person into a new person through training is highly questionable. Now, we've opened it up to a small percentage who are really out of shape."


Lieutenant Carole Brown said the standard levels of fitness demanded of Canadian Forces members have not changed. What's different is that there will be no advance screening. And anyone who does not meet the standards after completing basic training could be released, she said.


"This is not an effort to attract more applicants," said Lt. Brown. "It's an effort to assist and help folks meet the standard. We would hate to lose a good person and have them lose a career in the Canadian Forces because they were a few seconds short on a run or, as another example, they were a few push-ups short or a few sit-ups short."


Lt. Brown said that while the physical-fitness test has been eliminated for new recruits, it is still a requirement for those entering special programs such as search and rescue.


The Canadian minimum fitness requirements were not demanding, compared with those of some other armed forces.


The British army's test for in-service personnel includes a 2.4-kilometre run on level ground and in training shoes, in 10.5 minutes for those under 30. There are gradually rising time limits for the older personnel. For women, the requirement for the 2.4-kilometre run is 13 minutes. A basic personal-fitness assessment also requires 54 continuous sit-ups. A combat infantry candidate must run three miles with his squad in one hour, carrying 56 pounds of kit including a weapon.


The United States Army, for male recruits aged 17 to 21, has standards of 35 push-ups, 47 sit-ups and a two-mile run in 16 minutes, 36 seconds. At the other end of the men's age scale, 37 to 42 years, the standards are 24 push-ups, 29 sit-ups and a two-mile run in 19:30. For the youngest women's category, it's 20 push-ups, 47 sit-ups and two miles in 19:42; for the older females, it's six pushups, 29 sit-ups and a run time of 24:06.

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