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Changes in physical fitness and anthropometrics differ between female and male recruits during the Finnish military service
  1. Matti Santtila1,
  2. K Pihlainen2,
  3. J Vaara1,
  4. K Tokola3 and
  5. H Kyröläinen4
  1. 1Department of Leadership and Military Pedagogy, National Defence University, Helsinki, Finland
  2. 2Training Division, Defence Command, Helsinki, Finland
  3. 3UKK Institute for Health Promotion Research, UKK Institute, Tampere, Finland
  4. 4Department of Biology of Physical Activity, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Matti Santtila, National Defence University Department of Leadership and Military Pedagogy, Helsinki 00861, Finland; matti.santtila{at}


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

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  • Contributors All persons who meet authorship criteria are listed as authors, and all authors certify that they have participated sufficiently in the work to take public responsibility for the content, including participation in the concept, design, analysis, writing, or revision of the manuscript. MS, main author, design, plan and submit the study KP author, responsible of data collection, JV, author and statistics, KT, statistical analysis of data, HK, author, design and plan.The views expressed are solely those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Finnish Defence Forces. Furthermore, each author certifies that this material or similar material has not been and will not be submitted to or published in any other publication before its appearance in the BMJ Military Health.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval This study was approved by the Defence Command of Finnish Defence Forces.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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