A Senate Committee recently proposed that the Army strengthen (no pun intended) the physical fitness standards for those who might face combat. According to Military.com, members of the Senate’s House Armed Services Committee voted to insert such requirements in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Adam Smith, D-Wash., who chairs the committee, argued against the amendment, saying that Army leaders should have direct control over standards for the force. "This basically takes away that flexibility in any regard," he said.
But what kind of flexibility was Smith wanting? According to the story, the amendment demands higher standards for combat roles, and forbids different requirements for men and women. I could say a lot about the fact that it is taken for granted that women should be in combat roles, but I will save that for another time.
What is interesting is that no one seems to expect people to actively try to exceed the physical standards, though it would be readily easy to do so. And no one expects them to surpass the requirements out of a sense of honor, or basic responsibility. No, everyone is expected to rot at their desk. Because the military population is not that far from the general American population and, in general, Americans celebrate physical activity and physical ability by watching it on a flat screen while consuming beer, pizza, and chips.
Obviously, people have many responsibilities. No one has a right to tell a stranger that he should neglect some other priority to strength train or develop their endurance. But it is pretty obvious, as reflected in the trouble recruiting fit soldiers, that Americans are generally overfed and undertrained.
But they don’t have to be. For a great majority, they could change this relatively cheaply, and only by sacrificing their Netflix binge-watching.
There are sub-populations in the U. S. that live completely differently, and have different outcomes. I remember, a few years ago, reading about women and military pull-up requirements. Anyone who looked at YouTube could find plenty of examples of women who could perform multiple pull-ups. So what was the problem? For some reason, women who have decided to develop their strength are not attracted to the military in large enough numbers. Maybe those women realize the culture in the military is lower strength standards, and that’s not a culture that they find attractive.
The godly wife in Proverbs 31 actually develops herself: “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong… Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” (vv 17, 25) The idea that we don’t need much strength because we can function without it in normal life misses the point, much as large segments of our ruling class aren’t worried about our troops facing real combat. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote in the forward to the Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life after Forty, you develop strength and endurance to face extremes, not normal stuff:
Just as systems learn from extremes, and for preparedness, calibrate themselves to withstand large shocks, so does the human body. Indeed, our body should be seen a risk management system meant to handle our environment, paying more attention to extremes than ordinary events, and learning from them. You will never get an idea of the strength of a bridge by driving several hundred cars on it, making sure they are all of different colors and makes, which would correspond to representative traffic. No, an engineer would subject it instead to a few multi-ton vehicles. You may not thus map all the risks, as heavy trucks will not show material fatigue, but you can get a solid picture of the overall safety. Likewise, to train pilots, we do not make them spend time on the tarmac flirting with flight attendants, then put the autopilot on and start daydreaming about vacations, thinking about mortgages or meditating about corporate airline intrigues – which represent about the bulk of the life of a pilot. We make pilots learn from storms, difficult landings, and intricate situations...
That’s why the wife who has “made her arms strong” can laugh “at the times to come.” She is prepared for tough times, including tough economic times.
If our society contained more members who used some of their free time to make themselves more capable and more productive, we would live in a society that was more capable of producing valuable soldiers, and much more. And while physical culture can, like anything else, become idolatrous and extreme, sloth is not the answer. We shouldn’t be outsourcing our excitement for adventure to action movies.
“Train yourself for godliness,” wrote the Apostle Paul. (1 Timothy 4:8) And he elaborates: “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (v. 8) Yes, that demotes physical training to godliness. But it doesn’t say that such training is useless or ill advised. And instead of distracting us from godliness, physical training might teach us that patience and discipline we need to pursue it.
In both cases, we are invited to be dissatisfied with our present selves and to become a better version of our selves, one that might help us avoid unnecessary medical costs and the largest medical cost of all: premature aging, and the inability to remain productive late into life.
Mark Horne has served as a pastor and worked as a writer. He is the author of The Victory According To Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel, Why Baptize Babies?,J. R. R. Tolkien, and Solomon Says: Directives for Young Men. He is the Executive Director of Logo Sapiens Communications and the writer for SolomonSays.net.