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"Culture of Fitness": Navy to Unveil New Fitness Requirements

The Navy is set to unveil new regulations Monday that will change the BMI requirements for sailors.

Navy sailors can be a little bit thicker, as of this week—but their margin of error got, well, thinner.

The Navy is set to announce changes to the official fitness standards, meaning that sailors can have slightly higher body mass indexes and body measurements—but the new regulations also emphasize the importance of being able to complete the physical challenges required in the Physical Readiness Test (PRT), military blogs Stars and Stripes and The Navy Times reported.

"We like to speak of a culture of fitness, but we really haven’t implemented a culture of fitness across the Navy," Vice Admiral Bill Moran, Chief of Naval Personnel, told The Navy Times.

Sailors will more easily be able to pass the Body Composition Assessment (BCA), which measures body-fat, and move on to the PRT. This second stage may be amped up in the months to come, requiring heavier weights and more reps. Those who fail the BCA but are still under the maximum weight will still take the PRT, and then attend nutritional counseling and enter a Fitness Enhancement Program (FEP). 

Sailors will be subject to spot checks at their leaders' discretion and be limited to failing the test three times in four years before expulsion. Current sailors who are pending separation after failing several tests are being granted a clean(er) slate. Retesting will occur in December, when their test failures will be reduced to just one.

So yes, body fat can be a little higher. But the standards overall are not necessarily becoming more relaxed; rather, they place a stronger emphasis on strength, rather than body shape. 

In the past, the Navy has enforced a strict body-fat percentage standard, which is tested in the bi-annual BCA. The body fat cut-off was 22 percent for men under forty. The new regulations set those standards at 26 percent for men and 35 percent for women, matching the standards of the Department of Defense. The CDC considers 18.5 to 24.9 percent to be "normal or healthy weight."

Naval Secretary Ray Mabus heralded the coming changes in a May speech at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he told midshipmen and Marines about new health initiatives that he believes will change the Navy’s fitness culture.

"Our pass/fail system that only, and often inaccurately, assesses one aspect of overall fitness will end," Mabus said. "We will instead focus on evaluating health, not shape."

Other measures to boost the troops' health? New gyms and access to healthy food. The Navy intends to open 24-hour, 7 day a week gyms on every naval base worldwide. Mabus also announced the broader implementation of the "Fuel to Fight" program, which was first launched by a group of SEALS. This means that by 2017, all ships will be supplied with lean protein, veggies, and complex carbs. 

The Navy is making an effort to get better measures of health and fitness to ensure that the troops are the strongest and best that they can be, and to end losses in numbers due to the admittedly faulty test. So next time you hit the gym, consider this: If the Navy is upping its health game, you can be, too.

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