What is the military tape test? Some military-oriented blogs describe it as a body mass measurement technique for military officers, but looking at individual military service official sites, one finds no such distinction (officers only) for who gets the test.
What Is The Tape Test?
The so-called tape test is described as a way to measure a service member’s body fat. The name implies what the test does–the chest, neck, and other parts of the body are measured with a tape and the results are compared to the set of acceptable physical standards set by each branch of military service.
The tape test may, depending on the branch of service, be part of the initial fitness evaluation or it may be assigned to those who are marginal or who have trouble meeting military fitness standards. The margin of error for the tape test varies but may be roughly plus or minus four percent but can be as wide as 15 percent depending on the test, the test giver, and the person receiving the test.
Military Tape Test Example
Every branch of military service is different in how it approaches fitness standards including weight issues. The United States Navy’s published policy guidelines for weight standards includes a mandatory tape test, but only under certain conditions.
However, Navy policies in this area can be viewed as a good example of the general approach the DoD takes toward what the Navy describes as “body composition assessments.”
The basic initial review a sailor is given at fitness assessment time (and any other time the Navy sees fit) includes a height measurement and a weight measurement. There are standards for weight based on age and height, and those who do not meet the guidelines in this area are subject to a tape test, which is described as a “body composition assessment” or BCA.
Navy instructions for such scenarios are fairly simple and direct. According to official Navy documents (see below), the following applies:
‘If a member’s weight is less than or equal to the maximum weight listed for their gender, they are considered to be within BCA standards and percentage body fat determination is not required.” So not all sailors may be administered the tape test. But for those who must be taped, the stakes can be high. Why?
High Stakes Tape Tests
Repeated failure to maintain weight and fitness standards can result in disciplinary action, denial of reenlistment, or even out-processing depending on the nature and severity of the problem.
Navy instructions for conducting the tape test include the following measurements:
- Maximum weight for height
- Single site abdominal circumference measurement
- Body composition assessment measurements.
Tape test procedures can include a single abdominal circumference measurement but can also involve other areas and tape test guidelines differ for men and women. You may be measured at the neck and abdomen, the hips, and elsewhere. Each branch of service will administer its own version of the tape test and the Navy example is not indicative of how all branches apply the test.
The Navy allows no substitutes or alternatives to the tape test–it specifically mentions several alternative techniques by name as “not to be used”:
- Underwater weighing
- Skin fold calipers
- Body mass index
Once a tape test has been properly administered, the official result is final “and will not be reversed by a subsequent medical waiver” for the body composition assessment.
The Navy’s tape test must be administered only by authorized personnel. According to the 2019 Navy Physical Readiness Program instructions, “Per OPNAVINST 6110.1 series only certified Command Fitness Leaders (CFL) or trained Assistant CFLs (ACFL) are authorized” to conduct official measurements such as the tape test.
Furthermore, body composition assessments “conducted by Medical and/or Morale Welfare and Recreation personnel cannot be used for official reporting nor do they override measurements taken by the CFL or ACFL”
Tape Test Controversy
This test is controversial because the accuracy issue–one of the chief complaints about the military tape test is that it seems to favor those with bigger necks. And with that in mind, there are both healthy and unhealthy ways to game the system to pass this test. Whether those methods actually work or not remains to be seen, but some are less safe than others.
There are plenty of ill-advised tricks to “beat the tape test” such as dehydration and the use of diuretics. This is actually a very old Hollywood trick used by actors to “prepare” for roles that require nude scenes or partially nude scenes, but dehydration in this manner is NOT advised as there are elevated risks of heart attacks, stroke, and other medical issues associated with dehydration. Simply put, don’t do this. Ever.
One bit of advice for those struggling to pass the tape test that actually has some merit involves paying attention to your diet to identify foods that may cause inflammation due to allergic reactions or other problems. You may not have a severe wheat allergy, for example, but drinking a beer or eating pizza may cause enough inflammation to interfere with a tape test under certain circumstances.
Cutting out foods, drink, or other indulgences that result in inflammation isn’t just a good idea for passing the tape test, it’s a very good health adjustment overall.
But in general, many of the tricks you might hear about to pass the tape test are not recommended, and the military itself is aware of these techniques and has policies addressing them. Back to our Navy example, the Navy Fitness Program guidelines published by the U.S. Navy include the following caveat:
“Members are to be discouraged from using extreme body fat reducing tricks to meet BCA standards. Dehydration methods are dangerous and Sailors put themselves at risk during the PRT if they have not reduced fat through a proper diet and exercise program.”
But that’s not all–officials responsible for performing these tape tests are required, “to keep their eyes out for members who attempt to alter their BCA measurements. Using body wraps, starvation, and sauna suits is prohibited.”
What does the Navy say about such behavior? If “temporary altering” is discovered, the testee “will be required to wait at least 72 hours before attempting the official BCA measurement.”
That is an excellent example of how seriously these issues are viewed by the chain of command. The tape test may be controversial and there may be questions as to the accuracy of these tests, but at press time they are still something to be reckoned with by those in uniform.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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