When, If Ever, Could 50% Of The Population Have Passed The Army Recruitment Fitness Tests?

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The Chief of the Defence Staff has said that half the population just isn’t fit enough to be able to pass the Army’s fairly basic fitness tests for recruitment. Quite why this is such a surprise I’m not sure – I’d significantly doubt that there’s never been a time when 50% of the population could pass the current tests. In fact, I’d be willing to wager a modest sum that there’s never been a time when 50% of the population could pass the necessary tests of that time let alone this.

Two reasons for this and only one of them is that the recruitment population now includes women as it didn’t in the past. The other being that, well, they are actually asking for a particular standard these days. And looking at what they’re asking for it’s not quite, quite, “fitness” that they’re looking for. There’s a significant emphasis on upper body strength – sensible enough given what the Army does – which is something that in this day of little manual labour isn’t going to be as developed as it used to be. Certainly, I doubt that there has been any time in my life that I could have passed without significant training, a point we’ll come to.

Here’s Sir Nick:

Half of the UK population are now so unhealthy they are unable to pass initial Army selection, the chief of defence staff has said. Giving evidence to MPs at the Commons Defence Committee, General Sir Nick Carter said Army recruiters are facing “a very difficult market” in recruiting people healthy enough to enlist. His comments come after the committee was told in October that the Army currently has 77,000 fully trained troops compared with a target of 82,500. Gen Carter, who took up the post of chief of the defence staff six months ago, told the committee that “50 per cent of 17-35 year olds are not healthy enough to get through the selection process.”

Note that he’s limiting himself to his target age group, sensible enough. But I think it’s unfortunate that he’s used the word “healthy” there. Because we all know what’s going to happen now. References to WWI recruitment, when they found the officers 6 inches taller than the slum dwellers coming in as troopers as a result of malnourishment etc. BTW, if anyone knows it would be interesting to know if the regiments recruiting rurally found the same problem. Thus we need every Public Health England fantasy to be enacted immediately, sugar rations, legally enforced portion sizes and all.

Except, well, it’s not entirely “healthy” that is being tested, it’s a specific form of fitness. The officer requirements I’d expect much less than 50% to be able to pass:

Sit-ups: Everyone must be able to perform 50 in two minutes
Press-ups: Males 44 in two minutes
Females: 21 in two minutes
1.5 mile run: Males 10 min 30 sec
Females 12 min 45 sec

Abdominal and upper body strength just aren’t things that it in this non-manual labour age we develop. Yes, obviously, officers never were recruited from the manual labouring classes but that working the body all day every day still existed even if only to ride. Today you’d need to specifically develop those strengths – and they’re not indicators of health at all, but of muscle strength.

The soldiers’ recruitment standards are a little different. This might be a tad old but still indicative:

Static Lift
The Static Lift is described as an exercise to simulate lifting heavy kit and ammo on to the back of an Army truck. The reality is that you will be expected to lift power bags which will vary in weight progressively becoming heavier safely to a height of 1.45m. The Weight of each power bag is as follows:AMMO-BOX 15kg
20kg
25kg
30kg
35kg
40kg
You will lift each bag in order of weight until completion or failure and your score will be based on the total amount of kilograms lifted. Jerry Can Carry
This test is to determine the strength you have in your upper arms and shoulders. It is also a test of grip. You are required to carry two Jerry Cans (water containers) each weighing 20 kilograms along a total distance of 150 metres.jerry-cans With your arms by your side and carrying one Jerry can in each hand you will be expected to complete this course in under 2 minutes. You are required to keep a pace of no less than 5.4km/h and will be scored on the distance in metres that you can carry the 20kg weights maintaining the minimum pace.

The Run
The famous run is a 2.4km (1.5 mile) track in which you must complete the full distance within the given time. The time you have to complete the run will vary depending on the position within The Army that you have applied for. Before starting your timed run, you will warm up as a squad with the other people in the selection process. This consists of a slow jog and walk over a distance of 800 metres. You will then immediately begin your test. The required times for the various regiments within The Army are as follows:

Don’t worry about the run. Or perhaps we should, 13 minutes and a bit for a mile and a half? Yes, someone halfway fit – note again not healthy – should be able to do that. But it’s those lifting requirements. Carry 40 kg in your hands at what amounts to a trot, not a slow walk, for 150 metres? To someone not used to consistent manual work that’s a tough one. And one that in our non-manual labouring world one that would be pretty tough.

Certainly, I would never have been able to pass that. I spent likely recruiting years (say, 18 – 21) as a waiter and happily carried laden trays around for 5 hour stretches. Intermittent to be sure, but the basic health bit was there. I certainly couldn’t do the Jerry test today and yet I’d be described as healthy at age 55. I swim a mile each time, three times a week. Takes 35 to 40 minutes without trying to push it in any sense. I’ll pick up a 20 kg bag of dog food and carry it around in a fireman’s lift no problem. But 40 kg, carried in the hands? Ouch.

The point being that what the Army is testing for here is not “health”. It’s a specific form of fitness, with, naturally given what they do, an emphasis on upper body strength. Something in less supply in the general population these days.

And all of this is before we even get to the fact that women are part of the recruitment pool these days. The only problem with all of this being that use of the word “healthy” by Sir Nick. For this will just be grist to the mill of those who would control our diets even more when that’s not what he was talking about at all.

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Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

I often carry a 25kg sack of plaster/cement/sand on my shoulder and I’m a podgy lump, but I’d never manage almost twice than in my hands. And I notice that most profession builders are podgier than me.

Matt Ryan
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Matt Ryan

Podge doesn’t mean not strong. Most “well built” farmers are very, very strong. I remember a guy when I was a nipper who was around 18 stone (6′ ish) and could carry a couple of 20 Kg bags of feed across 0.5 mile of fields with no problems.

bloke in spain
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bloke in spain

It’s actually much easier, the more you weigh. It’s very hard to lift something heavier than yourself. Rather than it go up, you go down

bloke in spain
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bloke in spain

For much of my time in building, bagged materials were 50kg, not 25. Sand & ballast had a habit of being wet, so often went 60. A morning spent getting truck-load off & up two flights of stairs was a good way to work up an appetite for lunch. Wouldn’t say I was unusually fit though. Only did them one at a time. Running though…nah. Never found anything worth running after. Or from. What cars are for.

Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

I remember when elf’n’safety decided that 25kg was the maximum safe liftable weight and all the cement sacks halved in size. I think it was around the time I carried a washing machine up a flight of stairs.

surreptitiousevil
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surreptitiousevil

To be honest, quite a lot of the Army would have problems with the fitness standards (particularly the sleep deprivation) that you have to suffer as a recruit. I’m certainly not 17 any more. The drop out rate for those of more advanced years doing the “Combat Fitness Test” can be quite high – not just for reservists, but also when I was on pre-deployment training with regulars. I was going to try to post a link to the Army fitness tests – they are in a thing called MATT2 (Military Annual Training Test, which, of course, we have to… Read more »

surreptitiousevil
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surreptitiousevil

Officer recruit fitness test: Beep test: You need to run between two lines, 20m apart in time with a beep. The beeps get steadily faster. Your score is based on the point where you can no longer keep up. Males need to reach level 10.2 Females need to reach level 8.1 (The last time I did one of these, it was in a group including young officers who were variously county or national hockey or badminton players. That was embarrassing!) Sit-ups: Everyone must be able to perform 50 in two minutes Press-ups: Males 44 in two minutes Females: 21 in… Read more »

Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

Hey, I thought women were the same as men nowadays. Shouldn’t males also have a target of 21 press-ups?

surreptitiousevil
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surreptitiousevil

You tell the MOD, mate. I have enough problems being honest with them in stuff that matters to me.

literate3
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literate3

Choose your population definition carefully! I think that in 1917 the standards were set to cover the top half of the 18-40 males who had no adverse medical condition. If you could not see the Jerry running towards you, it wasn’t much help that you could run at 10 mph carrying a sack of ammo. Yeah, the standards are – very sensibly – moderately demanding. I couldn’t do the press-ups these days (although I could when I was young and in training): I doubt that the average guy (let alone gal) has ever been able to do that unnatural task… Read more »

surreptitiousevil
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surreptitiousevil

The 1.5 mile run is in running kit. The 8 mile is in mil kit with rifle and weighted backpack.

Nigel Sedgwick
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I read somewhere around this story that the UK ‘needs’ a military force of some 82,000 persons. For simplicity assuming only males and the age range 18 to 35 inclusive (so around 7.8 million), this 82,000 need is around 1% of the ‘available’ population. Thus, who cares how much many of the other 99% can lift or run with – before they become trained ‘fighters’. And certainly who cares what is the ability of the less physically able 50% of those 7.8 million. But maybe we do need a few senior officers to have a grasp of both history (Tim’s… Read more »

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

If you are being recruited for cyber warfare, do you need to carry two of the original IBM ‘portable’ 5150s around? Given how up to date military computing is, that could make sense…

I’m guessing that there will be no computer aptitude test – after all, running around with heavy weights was good enough for our grandfathers…

surreptitiousevil
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surreptitiousevil

Yes, there is an aptitude test for cyber. It’s a bit shit, but better than the Cisco command line test they used to use. But it comes after the interview (or, it usually does but even if it doesn’t, the board rarely if ever know your test results before they make their initial decision.)