Physical Fitness Considerations in Regards To Women Entering Combat

With two women being the first to complete US Army Ranger School, it seems as if women in combat will eventually become normal practice. Women it seems have been in combat considering there are no front lines in America’s current conflicts. The wars conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan mostly involve armed insurgencies using guerrilla  warfare tactics. There are instances in which women fought in wars throughout history. This occurred during the American Civil War and in Soviet Russia during World War II. Dahomey ( modern day Benin)  used women warriors in their armed forces. These are a few examples of a long history of women participating in warfare. Other countries allow Women in combat positions  in parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia. The US still lags behind, but reversed this position by lifting the ban on women in combat in 2013. There are arguments against women in combat positions that are either extremely sexist or legitimate concerns. The most potent argument is the concern over physical fitness. There are detractors dubious that women can handle vigorous physical activity. Any rational person would agree if a woman meets the physical demands or requirements , there is no reason to ban her. Doing so is a blatant act of discrimination. Detractors claim that women are too physically weak for combat positions. Supporters claim that men and women are practically the same in physical respects. These are two extreme positions that reach wrong conclusions. Understanding physiological differences, physical fitness standards, and who to recruit is pivotal for integrating women in combat roles.

        Physiological differences are the argument used by detractors for excluding women from combat. Women they say are too frail. These claims are exaggerated to an extent. It is true that on average men have greater muscle mass. Higher free testosterone levels have an anabolic effect on both bone and muscle tissue. The hormone induces protein synthesis to a greater extent. However, this does not men male muscles are stronger than female muscles.    flex

The findings of the National Strength and Conditioning association state women can produce two thirds the applied force of men. The difference is due to men’s larger body size and muscle cross sectional area. Strength is an important asset to a soldier. They are required to carry their backs and supplies. The body armor will add more weight. Muscle is not the only factor in strength, but bone mass. Women have less bone mass compared to their male counterparts. This means a woman would have to undergo more physical strain than a man. Women do suffer more stress fractures in the army.Besides that, the armor is not designed to fit a female frame. This is currently being redesigned to fit women soldiers. This could help relieve some of the physical burdens that women face. Males have higher upper body strength, but women are closer in the lower body.

Spc. Karen Arvizu, left, puts on her hydration pack in preparation for her role as a volunteer in a physical demands study, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, in Ft. Stewart, Ga. The Army is conducting a study that will determine how all soldiers, including women, for the first time, will be deemed fit to join its fighting units from infantry platoons to tank crews. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Tasks that require upper body strength are going to be harder for women.

Besides the disparity in brawn, there is the difference in cardiovascular fitness. Women have smaller lungs and a smaller heart. Oxygen consumption is imperative to physical performance. The Vo2 max describes the process of oxygen consumption. Muscles during exercise will use oxygen to produce adensosine triphosphate. ATP will cause muscular contractions. Males have higher hemoglobin levels, larger hearts and lungs which means their Vo2 max is higher. Women would take longer to reach their total oxygen consumption peak. The assumption is that women are incapable due to biology and physiology. This is not the case, because there are women who could be stronger than some men. Disparities that are present in upper body strength and be reversed. If a woman weight trains at high intensity she can gain strength at the same rate as a male. Progressive overload gradually increases the weight lifted allowing the strengthening of muscle fiber. A weight trained woman may not be able to surpass a man that does the same, but she can be stronger than the average man. This means that a woman would require more physical training than a male recruit. One must remember average does not mean all. There are women with mesomorphic and athletic body types that would be more qualified than men. There are men who are not suitable to be in combat.


If one has to make a conjecture on who would pass the APFT, it would be the lady in this case.

This is the point in which the US conservative position is discredited. Not all women are “took weak for combat.” For the most part they as a political faction do not value women as a group. Their traditionalist mind set want women back in the home. US conservatives do not believe in reproductive rights or women having careers. The army they wish to keep women out of  to preserve an all male culture that has been institutionalized. While conservative talking points can be disputed, there are issues with liberal stances. Their desire for equality makes them not want to recognize basic differences. Men do have more strength, but saying this angers them. Many have come under the influence of sameness feminism. This faction believes that talking about the biological and physiological differences between men and women is misogyny. The claim is outrageous. Being different is not evidence of inferiority. These ideas that men and women are exactly alike do more harm than good. Understanding those biological differences can allow the army to develop personal training programs specific to women. The fact is women as a whole could not keep up with certain physical demands of combat. There are women out there who are qualified and the army must do more to recruit them.

This is what a 115 pound woman can do with no training. You can see she is struggling a bit .True the fireman’s carry is effective. A man with no training could easily lift the man she is carrying. Now, if she had training she would not struggle.  

Liberal supporters seem to believe that any woman can just take the physical fitness test without training. Women would probably need extra training before even entering basic training to ensure success.

        There is a certain type of woman that needs to be recruited for combat. The average woman would find physical tests at this level challenging. Lowering the standards is not an option. Doing this would cause resentment among male counterparts. It only gives detractors support for their baseless assessments. The women that are needed are women that are above average. This means they have the muscular strength to handle physically demanding tasks.


Here one can see that only one of these women would be qualified for physically demanding tasks.

This will require women with athletic backgrounds. If a woman of average strength level still wants to be part of combat, she will have to do intensive weight training. Old fashioned beliefs will have to be discarded. One of them is the idea that women should not do heavy lifting. Using smaller weights will not result in strength gains. Women also have to learn to do certain exercises properly. Pull-ups for example are difficult for women. This can be reversed by having them stop doing the flexed arm hang. Molding standards based on the idea women are physically inferior is counterproductive. It is possible to make the average woman stronger, but that would take more time. Finding  women who have the physical skill should be done first, while attempting to improve the physical fitness of women already in the army.


It is clear here that one of these women would be better at duties that require upper body strength. 

 Traditional strength training methods will help women build muscular strength and endurance. Low velocity routines may not be as effective. It is questionable if this can change cardiovascular capacity. This can be done if the army really is serious about women in combat.

This is the exception. She easily lifts a much larger man. As you can see from the previous video only women of high physical fitness levels can do this.  

Another  problem that is not addressed is the overall health of the population. Many Americans know are struggling with being over weight or obese. Both men and women who enter the army may have to go on a weight management program. Weight issues come from a variety of factors which include diet, lifestyle, and genetics. So it is not only women who need their level of physical fitness improved. Besides exercise nutrition is imperative.

Obese man at 400lbs - front
This man would not meet the physical demands of combat. There is an assumption that men are better for this, but that’s not always  the case.


Soldiers need high quality vegetables, fruits, and lean meat  to ensure a healthy body and a controlled weight. If someone is trying to maintain a muscular and strong physique, eating the right foods is required to maintain it. Women have to learn that food is not your enemy. Eating less is worse for your body and women do this under the influence of fad diets. Women must also learn not to fear muscle. Particularly for this job it is required. Women often say away from weight lifting for fear of appearing “masculine.” This dated and unfounded fear has to be eliminated if women want to be successful in combat. The frailty myth still seems to be used to exclude women. The argument goes “if you have a 115 pound woman and a 200 pound man she would not be able to carry him.” These are extreme ends of the  spectrum, but legitimate. First if a woman did not pass the initial physical fitness training she would not even be in that situation. Another counter argument is that one should not assume just because someone is female she is automatically weak.

Here is a woman lifting a large man. She does not have large muscles, but is clearly strong. They are not wearing military gear, so it is possible she could struggle with the added weight .

When examining women Olympic weightlifters some do not look like they could lift what they are lifting. What this comes down to is the use of functional strength. Detractors claim that with the added gear on the soldier the extra weight would cause a woman to fatigue, when attempting to rescue a fellow comrade. This could be a concern, but there is a solution. Removing the pack and supplies from the wounded soldier could be a solution. This would lighten the load that a smaller female soldier would have to carry. Although this leaves valuable supplies behind, it is more important to remove the injured.

There is only so long anyone can carry huge loads. At some point fatigue will begin. The woman as shown in the video  probably would fatigue at some point. Women who are in the army would have to perform this task more than men to build up their strength.

These arguments stating women are less capable seem to lack cogency. If the the US Army wants women in combat, they have to find the most qualified ones. Those exceptional women must be sought after.

            The physical fitness tests vary for the Marines, Navy, and Air Force. There are some problems in certain matters. The biggest one is the continued use of the flexed arm hang. That must be discarded altogether, because it does not help with the development of upper body strength.


  • Flexed arm hang for women( to be replaced with three pull-ups )
  • Crunches ( only exercise to be scored the same as the men)
  • Three mile run under the 21 minute time allotment


  • The Combat  Fitness Test attempts to simulate war zones ( 2008 update)
  • Involves running 880 yards
  • Ammo can lifting ( 30 pounds each)
  • Casualty drags over 75 yards which include the fireman’s carry
  • Sprinting with ammo cans over 75 yards
  • Three push-ups
  • Dummy hand grenade throw
  • A 15 yard crawl

US Air Force 

  • Involves push-ups
  • Requires sit-ups
  • Examines body composition and aerobic capacity


  • Updates and revisions were added to the the test in 2004

US Navy 

  • Requires a 1.5 mile run
  • The test also requires a 500 yard swim
  • Sit-ups are involved

110317-N-9818V-445 CHENNAI, India (March 17, 2011) Cmdr. Shanti Sethi, commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur (DDG 73) answers questions from female students from various city colleges and high schools during an event to commemorate Women's History Month while Decatur is in Chennai, India, for a port visit. Sethi and eight female Sailors from Decatur participated in the event with students from various Chennai colleges and high schools. Decator is on a deployment to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jennifer A. Villalovos/Released)

  • This test also has the sit and reach exercise
  • This test also includes push ups.

These are just a basic outlines of what the physical fitness tests involve for  men and women in the armed forces. As one can observe, it is not so simple. Women may be at a disadvantage from an early age, because they are discouraged from the use of their bodies. Young boys learn physical skills, while girls are encouraged to be sedentary. This has to be deprogrammed from women. Limited confidence in tasks that involve physical skill will only be a hindrance. Encouragement, diligence, and sensible policies will make women’s inclusion into combat successful.


STANDARD 49+ 59+ 6+ ≤ 40:00 60+

  These were the physical requirements that the two women Army Ranger graduates had to pass. 

      The final conclusions that are reached can be easily summarized. Women if they want to participate in combat must meet the physical demands. The US Army if they want positions filled by women must recruit women of a high physical fitness level. If an average woman wants to be a part of combat, she will have to train as hard as possible to do so. If a woman is qualified there is no legitimate reason to stop her. This act of banning women from combat was clear discrimination. Yet, feminist groups remained silent. Through the decades, they have not come to the aid of women in the military to the same extent as other causes. The reason could be surrounding the selective service. If women prove to be capable, there is no reason to exclude them from being registered. It appears that certain feminists do not want equality in other areas. This is a major contradiction of a so called progressive movement. There is going to be long term debate in regards to political, social, and cultural aspects of women in combat. The current situation is that women are going to play larger roles in the armed forces and it is time to make adjustments.


Ohio University. “Best Bet For Boosting Brawn In Women Is Traditional Strength Training.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 May 2008. <>.
Williams, Terry. “Muscular Strength in Women Compared to Men.” N.p., 5 Feb. 2014. Web. 8 Aug. 2015. <>.
Physical Fitness Considerations in Regards To Women Entering Combat

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