Military studying hyperfit women to help others achieve special operations status

Army Rangers, hyperfit women, Kristen Griest, Shaye Haver
Capt. Kristen Griest (L) and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver wave to friends and family gathered during the graduation ceremony of the United States Army’s Ranger School on August 21, 2015 at Fort Benning, Georgia . Griest and Haver are the first women ever to successfully complete the U.S. Army’s Ranger School. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Since the military opened all combat positions to women four years ago, many women have passed the rigorous tests required to join the ranks of the military’s special operations forces. Now, Army researchers want to study these women to better understand what qualities helped them pass these tests, according to The Associated Press.

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If scientists can figure out what biological or psychological factors help certain hyperfit women pass the most grueling tests in the military, they can pass that information on to other women who want to find the same success.

Participation in the study is voluntary, but the plan is to have the women go to the United States Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts, in groups of two or three and complete a series of physical and psychological tests. 

These include testing their VO2 Max score, a key fitness indicator that measures the amount of oxygen the body uses at a person’s peak exercise rate. Other tests are expected to examine the chemical makeup of each woman’s blood and their bone density. On the psychological side, the tests will ask questions meant to determine their resilience.

“We’re really interested in those elite women that are the first to make it through physically demanding training,” said Holly McClung, a nutritional physiologist at the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. “The real point of the study is to characterize this unique cohort of women that has made it through these traditionally male trainings.”

McClung said identifying the attributes that make these women fit enough to pass these tests could enable other women to find the same success.

When the discussion about opening all military positions to women started, military leaders were skeptical women could complete the same harsh training regimen as men, according to reporting by the Associated Press. Since then, 30 women have earned an Army Ranger tab, two graduated from Marine infantry school and three have passed the initial assessment to become a Green Beret.

To qualify for the special forces, Army soldiers must pass physically demanding tests such as combat water survival, day and night land navigation, long road marches carrying heavy packs, extended patrols in various climates, and extensive mental, psychological and leadership testing.

McClung also told the AP she hopes to compare the results of the test with the results of similarly hyperfit men. Funding was approved on July 12, and McClung said if more women graduate from military training courses, they could be added to the study.

Jason Krell is a master’s student in sports journalism at Arizona State University

Editor’s note: For the coming 2019-2020 academic year, the Global Sport Institute’s research theme will be “Sport and the body.” The Institute will conduct and fund research and host events that will explore a myriad of topics related to the body.