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Body Composition and Military Performance—Many Things to Many People

Friedl, Karl E.

The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: July 2012 - Volume 26 - Issue - p S87–S100
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825ced6c
Brief Review

Friedl, KE. Body composition and military performance—Many things to many people. J Strength Cond Res 26(7): S87–S100, 2012—Soldiers are expected to maintain the highest possible level of physical readiness because they must be ready to mobilize and perform their duties anywhere in the world at any time. The objective of Army body composition standards is to motivate physical training and good nutrition habits to ensure a high state of readiness. Establishment of enforceable and rational standards to support this objective has been challenging even at extremes of body size. Morbidly obese individuals are clearly not suited to military service, but very large muscular individuals may be superbly qualified for soldier performance demands. For this reason, large individuals are measured for body fat using a waist circumference-based equation (female soldiers are also measured for hip circumference). The main challenge comes in setting appropriate fat standards to support the full range of Army requirements. Military appearance ideals dictate the most stringent body fat standards, whereas health risk thresholds anchor the most liberal standards, and physical performance associations fall on a spectrum between these 2 poles. Standards should not exclude or penalize specialized performance capabilities such as endurance running or power lifting across a spectrum of body sizes and fat. The full integration of women into the military further complicates the issue because of sexually dimorphic characteristics that make gender-appropriate standards essential and where inappropriately stringent standards can compromise both health and performance of this segment of the force. Other associations with body composition such as stress effects on intraabdominal fat distribution patterns and metabolic implications of a fat reserve for survival in extreme environments are also relevant considerations. This is a review of the science that underpins the U.S. Army body composition standards.

Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center, U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, Fort Detrick, Maryland

Address correspondence to Karl E. Friedl,

The opinions and assertions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or views of the Department of the Army or the Department of Defense.

Copyright © 2012 by the National Strength & Conditioning Association.