To tape or not to tape

by Michael Bates
Ramstein Health and Wellness Center exercise physiologist

Abdominal measurement brings questions to fitness assessment

That is the question, right? Whether the abdominal circumference measurement should be included in the Air Force fitness assessment is a highly debated topic. It is such a hot-button issue that Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody spoke on the topic when he visited Ramstein in March. He mentioned the Air Force “has appointed a team of experts to evaluate whether or not the waist measurement should be tied to the fitness test.”

I’m sure everyone has their own opinion about the topic; allow me to offer my perspective as both a prior enlisted active-duty member and a current civilian exercise physiologist.

In the early years of my six-year enlistment, I relied primarily on youthful ignorance. I didn’t work out specifically, but I enjoyed playing sports and that was enough for me to maintain some sort of conditioning to pass the fitness assessment.

Then, on a deployment, something happened. I started working out with a friend. I saw positive changes in my body, mood and attitude. The endorphins were flooding my body daily. I was hooked. Addicted. I have maintained an active lifestyle ever since. So, what does this have to do with the AC measurement? Let me explain what I believe to be the intent of the current fitness standards.

As we all know, fitness testing has been around for a long time, at least since the great wars. Only recently has the Air Force stepped up its fitness standards. Currently, the fitness assessment involves a cardiovascular component, strength component and a body composition component. I think the current standards are fair. However, people who are unhappy with the current standards argue an individual can pass both the cardiovascular and strength component but fail the waist measurement and consequently bust the whole test. I’ve heard arguments the waist measurement is a measure of health and should be addressed during the annual physical health assessment with a medical provider. That leaves the cardiovascular and strength components to measure physical performance, which some believe is the intent of the fitness assessment. If you are physically capable of passing the cardiovascular and strength components, should the size of your waist matter?

Call me naive, but I believe the Air Force has Airmen’s best interests in mind when deciding the policy for the fitness standards. How many times have you seen someone start working out for a month or so prior to their test? I saw it all too often amongst my friends and co-workers. This may be effective for the cardiovascular and strength components, but you can’t significantly change your abdominal circumference in a month. The waist measurement highlights those individuals who don’t lead a healthy lifestyle. They aren’t conscientious about what they eat and over time they start to add inches to their waist.

The Air Force wants its members to be physically fit and healthy. The military lifestyle is demanding, both physically and mentally. Having an active lifestyle will help you cope with the daily stresses that come from being in the military.