Women in Combat : Are They Physiologically Capable of the Physical Demands ?

US Marine Corps released a study examining the combat effectiveness of mixed sex units. Their findings reported that all male units performed better than sex integrated units. Detractors and pundits stated that this was evidence that was enough to up hold the restriction on women in combat. This was only one experiment, but should not be used as an excuse to reverse the ending of the ban of women in combat. There are physical and physiological differences between men and women. Understanding these aspects of biology can help design a physical fitness plan for women ( and elevate men’s fitness levels as well). Normally, the argument is that women are not strong enough for such positions, but their are other arguments as well. They range from women are too “emotional,” they lack courage, they ruin morale, they’ll have health issues, or they will attempt to get pregnant. Those arguments are ludicrous, but the differences in physical strength and speed are a legitimate concern. Women will have to maintain a high level of physical fitness if they are to be successful in combat. The question remains are women physiologically capable of physically demanding  tasks? Just like men are not all made to be soldiers, the same can be said of women. There are women who are physiologically capable, but they are exceptions. For the average woman who wants to be in combat, she will have to work twice as hard to be successful.

       It is important to examine the findings of the report. The study found that women could meet physical demands. However, this was not to the same level as their male counter parts in regards to performance, fatigue, workload,  or cohesion. The female volunteers were PFC sergeants who were 100 in total number. There were 400 male volunteers for this experiment. A major issue pointed out in the report is hiking with loaded packs. The report reveals that women (on average) have higher injury rates compared to their male counterparts. There are some problems with this study. It is unknown what was the physical fitness level of the women participants. If they did not have some form of consistent weight training or exercise regimen, this could have effected the results. Another problem was that their were not specific combat arms specialty standards. Female volunteers and male volunteers  were given little information on how to prepare. Women received more physical fitness instruction for the experiment, while men got more technical instruction. Both men and women should have gotten the same amount of instruction to make this experiment precise. The report does  mention athletic overlap .


Look at the summery of the Marine report : Women in Combat Report.

The hints are listed as “anaerobic power : females posses 15% less than males; the top 25th  percentile overlaps with the bottom 25th percentile of males” The report goes on further to state “anaerobic capacity: females posses 15% less anaerobic capacity; the top 10th female percentile overlaps with the bottom 50th percentile of males.”  The report claims that 27% of injuries happened to women wile moving under load.  It was also documented that women suffered 40.5% more musculoskeletal injuries. Body composition and size was examined. Males on average were 178 pounds with 20% body fat. Women who volunteered were 142 pounds and had 24% body fat. When reading this, one automatically assumes this is too much for women to handle. Understand this is one experiment and it would have to be replicated in the same manner and produce a similar result to be considered fact. The report did not ask what high performing women did to make the physical demands easier. Another problem is they quote a report from 1992  in regards to women in aircraft units, which has been proven incorrect. Another aspect is with the physical fitness tests. Men and women have been given different physical fitness tests. Women were given lower standards with the assumption they would be horrible at any task requiring strength. The standards have been changing over the past decade to meet the demands of an evolving combat zone. Detractors claim that standards will be lowered to accommodate women, but this will not happen. There are other studies that were conducted prior to this one that give a better assessment.

       There is a report that was released in 1994 by Marilyn Sharp(read the report here ). This was conducted by the Occupational Physiology Division of the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. It was called “Physical Fitness Occupational Performance of Women in the U.S. Army.”This assessment seems to be more realistic considering it was produced 21 years ago.  They examined this from an exercise physiology perspective considering the elements of physical fitness which include muscular strength, muscular endurance, and cardiopulmonary fitness.

U.S. Marines Cpl. Kelly Campagna (left), Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 40, fireman carries Cpl. Lance Rowewood during a corporal’s course five mile hike from Camp Leatherneck to Camp Bastion, Camp Bastion, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, May 30, 2011. The final phase in graduating from corporal’s course was a five mile trek that implemented various obstacles. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Robert R. Carrasco/Released).

        The findings revealed some common knowledge. It stated ” while it is clear that the average man is stronger than the average woman, some women are stronger than some men.” Through these various exercises conducted the report claimed “the ability to produce is similar between the genders, but the quantity of muscle mass available to produce force differs .” Strength is pivotal as the report states for load carriage, repetitive lifting, and heavy lifting in infantry and mechanized units. Body composition does play a role. Men have less body fat, which will not add to the loads they have to carry. For women it will be more of struggle , because as the report showed “it is dead weight that must be transported by the skeletal muscle and therefore compared to access baggage.” This extra body weight means a woman will need more physical  effort.

awoman carry

Women who were involved in this study showed that their lower body isometric force was higher compared to their upper body results. The activities done testing strength were the box lift, machine lift, and two mile run. The ultimate correlation was that body composition was related to total muscular strength. Women produced in this study up to 70% of the isometric force of men. There was overlap with the study exposing in floor to shoulder height lifting strength. The report said “less than 2% of men scored 36 kg or less, which was equal to the 92 percentile of women.” Women doing the loaded box lift were able to get up to 60% of the men’s results. It would seem that males have dominance in physical strength, but women and counter the disparity with varied lifting techniques. Muscular endurance  was found “to be equal or greater than their male counterparts.”  there were no significant differences in hand grip strength between men and women in the test. However, there were  differences in women doing bench press repetitions with a 45 pound bar. The women were described as using a greater amount of their maximum strength.

080508-F-6852H-101 U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jennifer Eagelman, a public affairs journalist, performs the fireman’s carry while participating in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program at Baumholder, Germany, during Exercise Combined Endeavor 2008 on May 8, 2008. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Hill, U.S. Air Force. (Released)

 The maximum strength is the total amount of force an individual can exert without fatigue. Women as the report said need to maintain a strength reserve, because they will fatigue quickly. Peak power describes the ability of the body to utilize adenosine-triphosphate  and creatine phosphate to produce energy for exercise. Sprinting with packs and evacuations of injured are simulated in this report. Muscular endurance seems to be the area in which women fare better. Aerobic capacity has there is a large disparity . Women have lower hemoglobin levels and smaller hearts. It was written “a woman’s maximum cardiac output ,  or the quantity of blood pumped by the heart per minute, is 30% less than a man’s output.” The report makes the right conclusions. Weight training is a solution to building women’s physical strength. Men had larger muscle fibers to start with and their increase in strength would still be greater. Women can gain enough strength to surpass or be equal to the average man.

The major problem was that basic training did not incorporate a consistent weight training program. The level of cardio fitness varies depending upon level prior to entry. Some women in the assessment were able to increase their cardiopulmonary fitness by 7.9%. Women can increase their fitness level. The document then states ” if activity does not require maximal effort, she is allowed to self-pace, a woman perform many tasks and meet the standards of male performance.” this document has more practical solutions for integrating women into combat.

        There are women who could meet these fitness standards. The fact is women have unofficially been serving in combat. There is no longer a “front line” in the traditional sense. Women have had a presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have been serving in intelligence gathering, serving in the Navy, army medics, and the Air Force. If ground combat is to be successful the strongest women will have to be recruited. Some women have already seen action before the announcement that the ban was lifted. There are also women who you can say are not only fit for the job, they are over qualified.

military-bodybuilder-of-the-month-latresia-pugh_a (1)     Latresia Pugh is aeromedical technician. Her job requires a huge amount of strength lifting pateients on a litter for medical treatment.  

Latersia Pugh is a person who values keeping up a consistent training regimen. At 5’6 and 129 pounds of muscle, her strength was gained by bodybuilding. If it were not for this, she may not be able to do her job. Yet, she has won many medals for her professional conduct and excellence. Her training is very labor intensive, but necessary. There are some women who are qualified, but they are not interested in combat. There are women who also hold a traditional views of women, doubtless of what feminists say. They assume that since men are stronger  women are not equal to them. The odd aspect of this is that it is coming from women who are physically capable.


Jane Grieme  another woman in the US army said “I don’t believe in equality.” She explains “men and women are different.” Grieme  does not seem to understand being different does not mean were are not equal. 

Jane Grieme  serves with the Air National Guard. She is 5’9 and 150 pounds  and gained a PT score of 99%. It is almost baffling that she would make such comments about abilities of women. While it is true men and women do have different strengths, such generalizations sound  prejudiced. Considering she is physically impressive herself, her statements are contradictory.


These are just a few of many women involved in the military that would be perfect for combat roles. They have the strength levels high enough to handle the physical vigor. They love being active and that helps with meeting physical challenges. Their experience with strength building exercises could help other women. There are some who have other agendas in mind. It’s not just some men who want to see women fail, it is some women. Their interest is to be in the military avoid danger, but gain the benefits of service. These are women who want to use their military credentials solely to advance themselves. The feminists groups supportive of combat integration never mention them. It is known these women exist . Another problem is in regards to the selective service. Women should have to register for the selective service if they want full equality. The women who meet the physical standards will serve in combat operations and the others who do not can still serve in some capacity.

army m

army girl   This is Cammie Spindel. Looking at the first photo above you who assume is not that strong. The second photo tells another story. Her strength and peak power could be greater than some of the men she served with.  

There are strong women out there, but the army does not seem interested in recruiting them. These standards are probably difficult for the average woman. Simply put, the  woman need for this type of occupation will have to be built like She-Hulk and have the fighting skills of Wonder Woman .Even when women pass their physical fitness tests there remains doubts about their ability.

        The other argument is that women cannot fight if disarmed. This is false, because learning martial arts can reverse this. Many self-defense classes are designed for women with the assumption her attacker will be stronger. The U.S army teaches hand to hand combat so that if a soldier is disarmed, they can effectively fight back. Just being strong will not guarantee winning a fight, if skill is not present. Defeating an opponent requires an estimation of speed, strength, and stamina. Having skill can reduce a strength gap. One should not assume that a woman is just weak by nature.



Here is a female soldier doing mixed martial arts. Below is a female bodybuilder. The she obviously has strength, but may not be the best fighter.

Some opponents of women in combat use the argument “you don’t see women playing in the NFL.”While it is true sports are modeled on warfare strategy  the objective is not to kill the players. The fact is the army is a force of highly trained killers . This makes people uncomfortable, mainly because the US has presented to the public a “humanitarian” image of the military. This is not the truth and the lugubrious reality is that one must be ready to kill anyone. To ignore this is to ignore thousands of years of human history. Men may have higher aggression levels due to cultural and biological factors. Testosterone may be the biological reason some men love to fight. Culturally, men may be taught to be more physical in confrontation. This does not mean women are less aggressive, but display it in different ways. Anthropologist Helen Fisher described that men will respond in a physical way, while women display it in a verbal manner.  Women are going to have to increase their aggression levels. Learning martial arts will be of great assistance in combat duties. Judo, Karate, or chun kuk do would be perfect for soldiers.

         It is important to examine this development from a biomechanical dimension as well. Upper body strength is critical and women have less of it. The marines reported that 55% of women were having difficulty with tests that required upper body strength. Another controversy was that the three pull-up requirement was going to be dropped. Thankfully this did not happen, because there are many women who can exceed three pull-ups. The upper body consists of the arms, shoulders, and chest. The only way for women to advance is to build up that area of the body. This should be done before attempts at basic training. The average woman would struggle, but a physically fit one would have no issue. Women will have to gain muscle to have that upper body strength. This will prevent musculoskeletal injuries and stress fractures. Weight training does not only build muscle, it can increase bone mass.


The question remains how much muscle can a woman gain? This varies depending on age, body type, particular levels of fitness, diet, and specific training program. A woman of naturally mesomorphic body type can add more strength through training than an ectomorphic woman. The rate of gain can vary as well. Women can gain at least 40% muscular strength after months of weight training. Women must not be afraid to lift heavy weights. To experience results women need to lift  to the point fatigue happens in 8 to twelve repetitions. The only thing lighter weights will do is allow for more muscular endurance, not strength. The routine must be modified to allow for improvement. This means if a woman can easily curl forty pounds, she should gradually work her way up to fifty. Diet is critical for women due to hormonal differences. Eating a diet of lean protein, unsaturated fats, whole grains, and fresh produce should be done while keeping activity level high. Estrogen will make a woman’s body process more body tissue into fat.  The weight training exercise will allow for the building of more lean body mass. It is also important to take a day of rest so that the muscle can repair and grow.

army girl33

The military must be mindful of the meals they serve their soldiers. High fat and sugary foods will result in weight issues. The military already has weight management programs to combat lack of physical fitness. Having the most healthy food selections can combat this problem. It becomes a bigger issue for women, who have a harder time losing weight. Even though women can add mass, the width of the shoulders remains the same. Mechanically it would less total space to add muscle tissue compared to men’s broader shoulders.

armygirl56army girl 2

Training can add to an increase in upper body strength.

That would men cumulatively women would have less mechanical advantage when carrying loads or people. Packs can weigh up to a total of eighty pounds. This added to a woman’s own body weight would result in extra physical strain. This explains why women’s injuries are higher. They need to focus more on building pectoralis major, trapezius, biceps and triceps muscles. The so called heavy requirements require infantry soldiers to carry between 50 to 120 pounds. Men even are burdened by overloading, which caused the military to reevaluate essential supplies needed in packs. The Army Science Board even admitted that the overloading of packs caused higher fatigue, injuries,  and decreased mobility. Twenty six percent of men suffer musculoskeletal injuries according to the report “Musculoskeletal Injuries in Military Women.” That is high for men even. A solution is to look at the contents of the packs and keep the bare essentials. Water, ammunition, medical supplies , and some food must remain. Objects that are in the packs not related to that should be discarded. Armor will have to be redesigned to fit women better.

army 66

ac carry

Although women can add muscle to their upper bodies, smaller shoulders give less room to support carry loads. More physically effort would be needed. 

It would seem as if men are more physically capable, but averages do not mean all. There are women weightlifters who bench more than the heavy infantry requirements. Not only that, they train to do heavy lifting most of their lives. Olympic lifters study various methods on how to utilize maximum strength.Methods are important when training soldiers, specifically marines.

         Detractors despite a portion of overlap reject women in combat. Even if women meet the standard, they believe it is no place for a woman. This message comes mostly from conservative pundits who have never served. It is ironic considering most are for aggressive war. Progressive liberals would never support women in combat for reasons opposite of staunch conservatives. The view from the military is more diverse than just simple support or repudiation. The Navy seems more accepting of women in combat. The Air Force has come around, but the Marines despise the idea. It is far beyond view women as frail and weak, but a sexist machismo  fart culture that has developed  over the years. This must change, because it is unprofessional of a modern military force. Some conservative conspiracy theories claim this is one large political correctness social experiment  project. Liberals fail to see that women are biologically different.

Ray Marbus Secretary of the Navy gave a correct assessment articulating we are not interested in the averages, we are looking for exceptional women. Lt.Col Kate Germano  said two elements effected the study: women’s  physical ability and the culture of the Marines. One problem she noted was that female recruits were given different training standards before the study and were gender segregated. Her employment was terminated when she attempted to alter the standards. Women go in to boot camp separate with the expectation of failure.


An environment that encourages one to exceed and excel, no matter what the challenge will help all soldiers. Yet, expectations must be realistic. All women, just like all men may not be able to pass the physical fitness tests . They should be encouraged to either try again or contribute to the US military in another way.

The average woman has less upper body strength and lower bone mass. Smaller lungs and hearts mean that the Vo2max is lower.

 As much as women’s groups and feminists organizations like to blame men for the situation, there are women who are also culprits. Katie Petronio a Marine captain wrote an article for the Marine Corps Gazette entitled “Get over It! We Are All Not Created Equal.” She explains why women are not suited for infantry. They are similar arguments repeated by conservatives. This is no a sophisticated report, but a documentation of her experiences. She had an athletic past being able to bench 145 pounds and squat 200. Petronio excelled at Marine corps fitness tests. She developed a spine injury, muscle atrophy in her legs, and restless leg syndrome. Obviously, restless leg syndrome is not induced by heavy lifting. The spine injury could have been a result of that. Her article even admits both men and women were suffering from muscle atrophy. One should ask what her prior medical history was before going to Iraq and Afghanistan. The only thing muscle atrophy indicates is lack of use of muscle, creating a decrease in mass. The ultimate conclusion of this is that soldiers were not getting adequate medical care. Doctors check-ups would have caught any abnormal changes in the body . This does not prove that women are not capable of infantry jobs. It means some are not. Katie Petronio was not suited for combat. The fact she is contributing in stopping qualified women from doing so is ignominious.

Jaquita taylor

This is the type of woman you want in combat.

The whole point is to remove the 1994 restriction and allow women who are qualified to join. There were claims this will effect morale or break cohesion. This will only happen if the majority of males hate their female co-workers. Standards must not be lowered, because it reinforces myths about women’s physical inferiority and incompetence. This also is more of an insult to women who may be better at physical tasks than their male counter parts. Using the phrase gender neutral standards only adds to people’s trepidation in regards to women in combat. The goal should be standards that fulfill tasks and duties necessary for the position. Women passing and being held to the same standards will eliminate arguments that are given by critics.

           While it is true that women can increase their strength, there are some obstacles that cannot be overcome. Running speed will be slower in women. This is the result of the shape of the pelvis and the angle in which women’s legs are structured. This could be an issue if there is a point in which a soldier has to evacuate or get to a location quickly. Women will have to improve their cardio vascular fitness as much as they can. Although  women’s hearts and lungs are smaller training can alter previous fitness levels.


Bone mass can be increased, but the structure of the female skeleton will not change.  That explains the disparity with in regards to the number of stress fractures. One solution could be to alter boots for soldiers to relieve some of the strain on their feet. Basic ergonomics can prevent injuries. One example is to bend with your knees when picking up objects. More relevant to this topic is to have women practice carrying packs to get use to the rigor of it. This could minimize some of the sex differences, but not all.

      Based on the two reports, there are some conclusions that  can be made . Women can improve their performance, if trained properly. One case was the three pull-ups requirement. When women were taught to pull-ups rather than the flexed arm hang, more passed. Women must build up their bone and muscle strength through weight training. If they are to keep up with a mixed sex unit this is necessary. The Marine Corps report even acknowledged that “strength training, fitness, calcium/ vitamin D supplements reduces injury to women.” This was not released or mentioned due to the fact of fourteen pages of the report were released. The world is rapidly changing and the military must adjust. Seeing as the US is acting as an occupy force globally, combat has changed. The warfare has become irregular in nature. Women who were restricted from combat found themselves in combat when they went to Iraq and Afghanistan. There was no front line. Women serving in combat will not degrade the US military; aggressive wars,  failed policies, and inability to address veterans issues will. Women have been police officers, firefighters, astronauts,  and construction workers. Collectively, they are few in number because a majority of women would not be able to meet the physical fitness standards. Yet, there are women who can and they should be given the position based on their skill set. It should be the same for the US military.


   Cepedes, Andrea. “How Much Muscle Can a Woman Gain With Strength Training?” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Nov. 2015. <http://www.livestrong.com/article/198318-how-much-muscle-can-a-woman-gain-with-strength-training/&gt;.

 Sharette, Luke. “Women in the Infantry? Forget about It, Says Female Marine Officer.” NBC News. N.p., 12 July 2012. Web. 28 Nov. 2015. <http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/07/12/12684555-women-in-the-infantry-forget-about-it-says-female-marine-officer&gt;.

Seck, Hope. “New Training Requirement Marks Key Shift in Marines’ Female Grunt Strategy.” Marine Corps Times.com. N.p., 12 July 2014. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. <http://archive.marinecorpstimes.com/article/20140712/NEWS/307120032/New-training-requirement-marks-key-shift-Marines-female-grunt-strategy&gt;.

Cauley, Pamela. “The Biomechanics of Women in Combat.” Pamela Cauley Bush.com. N.p., 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 11 Aug. 2015. <http://pamelamccauleybush.com/leadership-innovation/innovation-methods/biomechanics-women-combat/&gt;.

Murline, Anna. “Why Marines, unlike Army and Navy, Are so against Women in Combat.” Csmonitor.com. N.p., 11 Sept. 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. <http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2015/0911/Why-Marines-unlike-Army-and-Navy-are-so-against-women-in-combat&gt;.


Women in Combat : Are They Physiologically Capable of the Physical Demands ?

2 thoughts on “Women in Combat : Are They Physiologically Capable of the Physical Demands ?

  1. Ed says:

    The full quote from Jane Grieme, instead of being cut off…

    “However, I don’t believe in equality. Women and men are not equal. We are different. Men and women have totally different strengths, so we need to understand those and work together to get the job done. I love my job. The only downside that I don’t like is the crass and disgusting “humor.” It’s unnecessary and disrespectful! “


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