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


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
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.