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One officer's opinion: Marines who can't do pullups are 'broke or lazy'

Feb. 18, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Flexed-arm hang out, pullups in
A female Marine does pullups during an initial assessment at Camp Foster on Okinawa, Japan. (Pfc. Kasey Peacock/Marine Corps)
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What do you think?

Are female Marines getting the training they need to master this classic test of upper-body strength? Are women being graded properly? Share your ideas for improving the training or methodology at

(Maj. Jess Mullen, a 37-year-old mother of four, says all Marines can do pullups if they put their mind to it and train effectively. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps needs to make adjustments to its methodology for gathering pullup data, she writes. Her letter to the editor appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of Marine Corps Times. — Ed.)

This female pullup issue is a mess [“Commandant: Get ready for pullups,” Feb. 3]. I believe it can be fixed if we address training, the Training Management System — which leadership pulls data from to make decisions — and individual motivation.

First, to female Marines: You must understand that pullups will become the single standard measure of physical fitness (Marine administrative message 035/14). The flexed-arm hang is an antiquated test that is no longer applicable. Get it out of your head that it is an acceptable measure of fitness.

United States Marines, of any MOS or gender, should be required — and able — to pull their body weight up and into a window, over a wall or into a helicopter.

If you have not reached a minimum of three pullups by June 2014, you must fall into one of two categories: broke or lazy. Those of you who are broken: get healthy. Those of you who are lazy: get up and get training.

A choice between the flexed-arm hang and pullups was no choice at all. Any hard-charger with an ounce of commitment would have trained to pullups. If you are not currently training for pullups, you have broken faith with the boss. Pullups were an opportunity to advance the front line, and instead of stepping up and getting the job done, you waved off.

How utterly, horribly, irritatingly un-Marine. Marines don’t sit back and enjoy the scenery from the hill we’ve taken. We consolidate and look for more real estate to occupy.

The headlines claim that females are weak. Let’s fix it. Welcome to 2014, when every Marine is expected to pull his or her own weight. Literally, that’s the challenge: pull your own weight up to the bar (repeat 3 times).

If you are a female Marine and are performing pullups like a motivator should, do them in public whenever and wherever you can. Females on the pullup bar exposes your brothers to the miracle of female upper-body strength, and it also serves as peer pressure for your sisters.

As to the Marines in charge of the Training Management System, you should know that last year, my Physical Fitness Test was initially marked as a fail because the system couldn’t comprehend a female doing 11 pullups. Thanks for that vote of confidence.

It was politely suggested that I perform the flexed-arm hang in order to legitimately rate 100 points. Although unwilling to retreat to the flexed-arm hang, eventually I was forced to admit partial defeat and my 11 pullups were input as eight. Note: If a male Marine performs 23 pullups, it can be recorded as 23.

“During the past year, Training and Education Command studied PFT pullup performance training with a focus on improving physical fitness and female PFT standards,” according to MARADMIN 035/14. However, data gathered from TMS is flawed because no score better than an 8 was recorded in TMS. This problem still exists; let’s fix it. If you want to study pullup performance, there are females right here aboard Quantico who can demonstrate. Invite us out.

To anyone in charge of training soon-to-be Marines or junior Marines: 90 percent of the high school girls volleyball teams in the nation could be trained to do three pullups in three months. I am a 37-year-old mother of four. I run like a basset hound and work hard to make my yearly 23-something 3-mile run. However, with nothing but a pullup bar and a bad attitude, I went from zero to 11 pullups in five months. When 55 percent of a group of 18-year-olds can’t perform three pullups by the completion of a 13-week training period, it’s a training issue: let’s fix it. These young people need more time on the bar.

Finally, to those of you out there who hope to become Marines in the future: start training. There are no tricks. If you can’t do a pullup, then do assisted pullups. Do them a lot. Then, when you graduate to one unassisted pullup, do more. And when you hit eight, keep going. Because we can.

— Maj. Jess Mullen, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

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