Military Life Active Duty Fitness

What is the Army tape test, and how do you pass it?

I never made weight for my height while in the Army, but it was obvious I wasn’t overweight.
Joshua Skovlund Avatar
Army tape test in action
An engineer with the 176th Engineer Company, is measured to ensure that she is within the Army height and weight standards at Snohomish National Guard Armory on Oct. 3, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Spc. Maggie Booker.)

Soldiers who hit the weights a little too hard, or maybe over-indulged during the holidays leading to a bit of weight gain, can find themselves failing the U.S. Army’s height and weight standards. When this happens, soldiers must be measured via tape test, which is known to lead soldiers down a path of unsafe weight loss methods to “make tape.”

AR 600-9, the U.S. Army’s Comprehensive Body Composition Program, regulates the overall well-being of rank-and-file soldiers. However, the “tape test” has come under fire for being unfair — in addition to promoting unsafe weight loss — to women or the athletically fit because of the outdated body mass index scale, which was never meant to be a measure of health or wellness. 

The Army says it is working to make its assessments of health and fitness in the military fair for all soldiers regardless of race, gender, or athletic build. But as long as the tape test remains in use, soldiers will have to find ways to pass it or avoid it. 

Before the tape test

Whether you get taped or not, it all boils down to the height and weight tables used to calculate — with a horrible lack of accuracy — a soldier’s body fat percentage. You must do a tape test once you fail to meet the published weight standard for your height.

There are a few recommendations for soldiers who are borderline on their weight. You can try to maximize your height, bumping you into a different weight class, by standing up straight and pushing your chest out, ensuring your body will be at full extension from head to toe. 

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Do not do anything that would be considered cheating or anything that endangers your health and well-being when it comes to the initial measurements. If you get used to rounding up on the height and weight, don’t forget the tape test rounds to the nearest half inch. 

I never made weight for my height while in the Army, but it was obvious I wasn’t overweight. At six foot and 225 pounds, I was over my max weight by 35 pounds — even though I crushed my PT tests. But getting taped wouldn’t have been an issue because I had a lean build despite my overall body weight. But that’s not the case for everyone. Some factors are unavoidable, like gender and your body type.

People are unique with some naturally having wider hips, muscular builds, a pear-shaped body type, and several other musculoskeletal differences. Either way, the one thing you can control is your fitness, so remember that crushing your ACFT will help you avoid all of the mess regarding the tape test. 

The Army’s tape test

The Army has made moves to make things fair and dropped the multi-set of measurements to the waist, in line with the belly button. The waist measurement is considered a more equitable practice for soldiers and all their different body types. If soldiers fail, the Army allows them to “request a supplemental body fat assessment if the means for such testing is reasonably available.”

Soldiers who score 540 or higher — with a minimum of 80 in each event — on the Army Combat Fitness Test forego the tape test regardless of height and weight. Everyone else who fails the height and weight standards will face the tape test. 

Soldiers administering the tape test are supposed to be trained and thoroughly understand the proper landmarks for the placement of the tape and the tension of it. Two NCOs administer the tape test; one is quality control and records the measurements on DA Form 5500, while the other NCO takes the measurements and reads them off.  

Three measurements of the waste will be recorded to the nearest half-inch. A fourth measurement is required if one of the previous measurements differs by more than 1 inch. An average is computed from the four measurements and then recorded. 

If you fail the tape test, you will be flagged for the Army Body Composition Program. The tape test isn’t allowed within seven days of an ACFT due to the risk of soldiers underperforming if they try to drop weight for the tape test. 

How to pass the tape test

We do not recommend any weight loss, height extending, or otherwise dangerous practices to try and drop weight or increase your height. 

You can find many recommendations on Reddit and across social media, some of which are good, but some commenters suggest dishonest or outright dangerous approaches, including extreme weight cuts, extended times in a sauna, doubling up socks, and multiple inserts in each shoe, among other bad practices. 

A few good recommendations include doing decompression techniques like upside-down hangs or simply hanging from a pullup bar with your hands can undo the shortening effect slouching has, but you generally have to do it regularly to maintain proper spacing in your spinal column. It may help with the inch round-up on the initial height measurement, but remember the tape test rounds to the nearest half inch. 

Working out your whole body is vital to maintain accurate measurements. Developing your back and abdominal muscles will help you stay within the maximum waist measurement. You don’t need a six-pack to maintain a waist within regulation, but a beer belly isn’t going to cut it. 

If you eat steel for breakfast and your muscles are massive, just ensure you can score 540 or higher on the ACFT, and making tape will be the least of your concerns while decreasing the risk of injuries.

Just like your initial height and weight measurements tactics, make sure you stand tall with your head level with the ground. If you slouch or misposition your hips, you could increase your waist circumference or decrease your height. 

Hitting the sauna is an excellent way to slim down the waist, but extended periods in the sauna or just too much total time in a day can lead to dangerous levels of dehydration. So, if you are getting taped, ensure you hydrate and replace lost electrolytes as soon as possible. 

Attaching weights to your head to ‘stretch’ out the neck is dangerous, so don’t do that. People used to focus on strengthening their neck to make it huge when that was one of the three measurements of the tape test, but with it only being a waist measurement, it’s unnecessary.  

So, you failed the tape test. What’s next?

Soldiers who fail the tape test aren’t kicked out immediately but are supposed to be offered a comprehensive approach to weight loss and lifestyle improvement. Drinking alcohol regularly, smashing fast food on the weekends, and a messed up circadian rhythm (which sometimes can’t be avoided in the military) can all lead to fat retention. 

Unfortunately, drinking and poor eating habits can accompany PTSD and a variety of other issues facing the military and veteran communities. There is a complex set of options available to soldiers who either need help with their mental health, addiction, substance abuse or simply learning more about fitness. 

If soldiers continue to fail the tape test, they may face UCMJ action, including a general under honorable conditions chapter separation from the Army. Pregnancy, extended hospital stays, and the loss of a limb are all examples of what can grant waivers on the tape test, but they vary in how long they will be in effect.  

But don’t worry, several steps happen before that, giving plenty of opportunity before a chapter is on the table. It’s all about how you want things to go. If you are remanded to the ABCP, follow the dietician’s advice, do the prescribed workouts, shred that fat, and return to being a lean, mean fighting machine.

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