The Marine Corps service branch is known for its physical fitness. In fact, Eleanor Roosevelt famously said about Marines that “The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!”
As other services update their physical fitness tests, it is now the Marine Corps turn. It’s change in the physical fitness test may surprise you.
The MARADMIN release in August of 2021 stated that planks will now be a mandatory component of the physical fitness test, replacing the old exercise of crunches. This replacement will be in full effect in 2023. The alternative of planks for crunches has been in place since 2019 when then Commandant Neller approved it to be so, although not many Marines have chosen this option over the crunches. Plank scoring adjustments will be made and go in effect in 2022. The minimum time to hold a plank will be one minute and 10 seconds, with the maximum points given for a plank held for 3 minutes and 45 seconds.
The reason for the change is simple – this is a move in injury reduction. While crunches are known to help develop a strong core (abdominal muscles), they are awful for the lower back often causing low back pain or increasing previously occurring low back pain. In addition, crunches require another person holding the feet down which can lead to potential injury to the lower leg. Maj. Lindsey Slyman, the programs and assessments section head, Human Performance Branch, Policy and Standards Division, Training and Education Command told a military newspaper that while there was no specific research on what the injury risk reduction would be “we do know that the crunches place stress on the spinal column, neck, and cervical spine due to the repetitive loading and increased use of hip flexors.”
Beyond risk reduction, the physiological evaluation of core strength is better tested with a plank than with crunches. The plank requires muscle activation of the lateral and central abdominal muscles, and given that they are required to be activated for a longer period of time, they provide a better test of endurance and strength of the core muscles.
For active Marines, getting ready for the plank addition to the PFT should happen now. Start slow and in small increments. Doing a plank for 30 seconds for a week straight will increase the strength and ability to increase the time the following week to maybe 45-60 seconds. If staying in a plank position is difficult, try alternating between elbows and up to hands to see if this will help pass the time in addition. The key with any plank is to keep the back flat to avoid any lumbar strain. Check out YouTube if you need help determining how to maintain the appropriate posture, or ask your buddies at work.
Remember a Marine over the age of 60 held a plank long enough to break the Guinness World Record holding it for 8 hours, 15 minutes and 15 seconds. Three minutes should be a piece of cake in comparison!