Why the Pullup Test May Mean Trouble for Female Marines

Do you suck at pullups? I do. A lot of women do. And apparently this problem with pullups could be bad news for women in the military. Starting in 2014, every woman in the Marines Corps was to be required to pass a physical activity test that includes performing three pullups — but that requirement was suspended indefinitely amid the finding that most female marines couldn't make the bar.

Now the pullup issue is reigniting the debate over whether women have what it takes to be Marines. The Marine Corps has been using pullups to test upper body strength for more than 40 years, and only about 1 percent of men fail the test, according to NPR. Until recently, female Marines were held to a different standard, with a passing mark awarded for holding their chins above the pullup bar for at least 15 seconds (called the "flexed arm hang"). When required recently to do three pullups instead, 55 percent of female Marines failed.

If female Marines want to take part in ground combat — something that's supposed to start happening in 2016 — upper arm strength is vital, military experts say. But is the pullup test really an accurate reflection of upper arm strength? Could there be some sort of hidden gender bias at play?

Maybe a little, but though women "generally are not adept at pull-ups ... it’s a myth that women can’t accomplish many," writes Richard Leiby at the Washington Post. Men do have a natural advantage because they carry more lean muscle mass and less body fat. They're also more likely to have grown up doing upper body strength training, whereas women are steered away from exercising biceps, triceps, and pectorals.

But "you can train anyone to do a pull up,” Lisa Reed, a Virginia-based personal trainer, told the Post. It will be harder for women than men, but with practice and proper training they should be able to up their pullup prowess. So let's just give female Marines a little more time before we call the whole thing off, no?