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Changes in physical fitness and anthropometrics differ between female and male recruits during the Finnish military service


Introduction Military training programmes are often similar for male and female recruits despite sex differences in physical performance that may influence training adaptations during military service. The present study aimed to compare changes in physical fitness and anthropometrics between Finnish female and male recruits during military service.

Methods A total of 234 690 male and 3549 female recruits participated in fitness tests at the beginning and end of military service between 2005 and 2015. Anthropometric measurements were body mass, height, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC). Fitness tests consisted 12 min running, standing long jump, and sit-ups and push-ups.

Results No changes were observed in anthropometrics, while both sexes improved most of the fitness test results. After adjustment for service time, branch, age, initial fitness test results, BMI and WC, improvement in running test performance was 158 m (95% CI 142 to 173, p≤0.001) greater in male than female recruits. Similarly, improvements were larger in male recruits for push-ups (5 reps/min, 95% CI 5 to 6, p≤0.001), sit-ups (2 reps/min, 95% CI 2 to 3, p≤0.001) and standing long jump (12 cm, 95% CI 11 to 13, p≤0.001) when compared with women.

Conclusions The study revealed sex differences in adaptations to the standardised military training. Both male and female recruits improved their physical fitness, but smaller gains were observed in women using the same training programme. The mechanisms explaining sex differences in adaptations to military training, and whether tailored training programmes are needed specifically for female recruits to reduce sex differences during military service, warrants further studies.

  • basic sciences
  • physiology
  • education & training (see medical education & training)
  • sports medicine

Data availability statement

No data are available. Data belong to the Finnish Defence Forces.

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