Secular Trends in the Physical Fitness of United States Army Recruits on Entry to Service, 1975–2013

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Knapik, JJ, Sharp, MA, and Steelman, RA. Secular trends in the physical fitness of United States Army recruits on entry to service, 1975–2013. J Strength Cond Res 31(7): 2030–2052, 2017—A systematic literature search was conducted to identify and analyze articles that reported on physical fitness of new US Army recruits. The National Library of Medicine's PubMed and the Defense Technical Information Center were searched using the keywords (military personnel OR trainee OR recruit OR soldier) AND (physical fitness OR strength OR endurance OR flexibility OR balance OR coordination OR muscle contraction OR running OR exercise OR physical conditioning). Reference lists of obtained articles and contact with authors enhanced the search. Studies were selected if they involved recruits in Basic Combat Training or One-Station Unit Training, provided a quantitative assessment of at least one fitness measure, and the fitness measure(s) were obtained early in training. Average values for each fitness measure were obtained, plotted by the year of data collection, and fitted to linear regression models (fitness measure × year). Fifty-three articles met the review criteria. Regression analysis indicated little temporal change in height, but body weight, body mass index, body fat, and fat-free mass increased over time. Limited V[Combining Dot Above]O2max data suggested no temporal change in male recruits, but those in female recruits V[Combining Dot Above]O2max seem to have slightly improved. Apparently contradicting the V[Combining Dot Above]O2max findings, performance on endurance runs (1- and 2-mile) declined, possibly because of the increase in body weight. Muscular endurance (push-ups, sit-ups) demonstrated little systematic change over time. Limited but multiple measures of muscular strength suggest a temporal increase in strength. Specific components of US Army recruit fitness seem to have changed over time.

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