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Force Fitness Instructor (FFI) Trainers demonstrate proper pull-up technique for the class of FFI students before executing practical application as part of their course requirement at Marine Corps Base Quantico. FFIs will be a cornerstone of the new Force Fitness division recently created to oversee all aspects of physical fitness for Marines.

Photo by Sgt. Melissa Marnell

Marine Corps creates new division to head up fitness

17 Apr 2017 | Jeremy Beale/Staff Writer Marine Corps Combat Development Command

After a shift in the dynamic of Marine Corps fitness in 2016, and a physical fitness system that has been spread throughout different commands, the Marine Corps has taken steps to strengthen the physical fitness program by putting all aspects of physical fitness under the newly created Force Fitness Division (FFD) that will operate under the Training and Education Command (TECOM), based out of Marine Corps Base Quantico. 


With the establishment of the FFD, the focus will be on providing a service-level division for development and implementation of policy, standards, guidance and reporting of all matters related to general physical fitness, occupational fitness, performance nutrition, body composition, martial arts, water survival, sports medicine and injury prevention.


The revamp of the physical fitness program began with the implementation of new Physical Fitness Test (PFT), Combat Fitness Test (CFT) and Body Composition Program (BCP) standards, which went into effect Jan. 1. This was paralleled by the creation of the Force Fitness Instructor (FFI) Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) last year, making the Corps’ mission clear—to ensure that Marines are at the highest state of readiness to protect the nation.


“The Marine Corps is making sweeping changes to greatly enhance the physical fitness program so Marines can be more resilient and lethal on the battlefield,” said Col. Michael Watkins, who was chosen to head up the new Force Fitness Division.  “We will now have a shared, common goal.”


“For too long, we have accepted an amateur approach to physical fitness, expecting leaders with little or no formal training in physical fitness to design and execute physical training programs for their units,” said a Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC) release authorized by Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh last year. “We have frequently employed a ‘one size fits all’ approach to unit Physical Training (PT) while paying little attention to individual fitness differences.”


New workouts have been designed to mirror a professional athlete’s strength and conditioning, infusing performance nutrition and injury prevention as the pillars of methodology, according to a recent MARADMIN. It is the goal of the Marine Corps that Marines operating in every occupational specialty will possess a baseline knowledge of human performance and how it applies to successfully completing the mission of the Corps.  Education in the area of physical fitness and all it encompasses will begin in basic training and continue throughout a Marine’s career now, according to Watkins.


However, with the term warrior athlete commonly being used for the past decade, Watkins believes the mission should not be confused with the production of power-lifters, marathon runners, or bodybuilders within the Marines, but the implementation of a concise plan designed to benefit the progression of continuous healthy nutrition and workout regimens that will build every Marine into a physically and mentally fit war fighter.


Although the FFI serves to provide resources for Marines to learn how to easily follow beneficial goal-oriented workout plans in preparation for the realities of modern war, they also aid in lengthening the careers of Marines within the service.


Watkins believes that far too many Marines have lost their career due to hidden injuries spurred by the “tough it out” mentality.


A survey by the Department of Defense showed that since 2000 repetitive motion injuries have increased, caused by doing the same exercises over and over, affecting the readiness in all the military services.  With one of the goals of the FFD being to have an FFI at every unit, this problem should be able to be reduced.


“There are more than 500 motions that can be done in an exercise program,”  FFI Trainer Gunnery Sgt. Sara Pacheco said.  “So, even if a Marine has an injury, the FFI at their unit can design an exercise program suitable to that specific injury.”  In addition, the FFI will be able to tailor workouts to specific units, meaning that workouts will be geared specifically to units who deploy to mountain terrains or deserts, for example.


The Marine Corps also understands the plight of weight gain and increased body fat as a result of decreased physical activity due to injuries, which is one of the reasons that FFIs are so important to the Corps.  In addition to being experts in exercise, they will also be able to counsel Marines in the BCP program about nutrition, every day if the Marine needs it.


If anything the FFI program is meant to make programs such as BCP easier to maintain, through shorter intense workouts, which may entail shorter, faster runs, (which will apply to all Marines) to improve endurance, versus a long and grueling 9-mile run, for example.

According to Marine Corps Body Composition and Military Appearance Program (MCBCMAP) body fat standards for Marines are not to exceed 18 percent for males and 26 percent for females. It has been Marines’ failure to comply with initiatives such as MCBCMAP and the appearance standards that has resulted in administrative actions limiting promotions, retention, assignments and under certain criteria a Marine ultimately being discharged from the United States Marine Corps. Leaders are hoping to alleviate these types of problems through the support of their FFIs.


However, it was the uniformity of these distinctively separate entities that has fallen under review as some Marines in the past have risked their health in order to achieve appearance and fitness standards.


Watkins believes that Marines should not fear meeting standards nor should they sacrifice their well-being to attempt to meet them, but rather let the program help incentivize them to reach these standards in a more uniform approach.


Retired Marine Lt. Col. Joseph Shusko has directed the beta tests of the Force Fitness Instructor program since October 2016 and states with each graduating class the course comes closer to yielding a more organized fitness solution.


As of April, the course entered into its third round of beta testing, with testing projected to be completed as early as December 31, 2017. However, the operations or the end goal of one FFI per unit is not anticipated to become a reality until the end of 2018.


The ultimate goal is to have more than 900 noncommissioned officers serving as FFIs by 2018—approximately one for every 200 Marines within a unit.


For accessibility to the latest information regarding individual and unit workout regimes, nutrition, health related news/trends/practices, and current Marine Corps directives regarding FFI, PFT, CFT and BCP standards visit: In the near future, FFP plans on developing an app where Marines can easily access information on the latest in fitness every day.