If your school days are behind you, you’ll probably remember a gym-class passing ceremony: the President’s Physical Fitness Test.
You’re all lucky to have escaped this public school tradition – which, fortunately, ended in 2012 – this test battery was given to schoolchildren twice a year.
An eight-year-old team hangs through a cross between a cattle show and NFL reunion and you’ll get a pretty good idea about all of the tests.
I recently wondered: What on earth were we? Thoughts? And what if I test now?
A brief history of the Presidential Fitness Test
It turns out that the test can be found all the way to President Dwight Eisenhower. In 1953, Dr. Hans Krauss and Bonnie Pruden published a study on the fitness level of American students.
In the study, they conducted a cross-web test for students in the United States, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria – a pass-fail fitness test consisting of one representative in each of the six basic exercises, such as sit-ups and leg lifts.
About 60 percent of U.S. students fail one or more exams. Eisenhower got into trouble – not least because investigations suggest our kids were unfit for military service, so the whole effort tasted a little patriotic.
In 1956, he founded Youth Fitness (now known as the Presidential Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition).
What was the President’s physical fitness test?
The experiment has evolved over the decades, but recent versions usually consist of at least five of the following exercises:
- Sit-up (scheduled for one minute)
- Push-ups (as much as possible without rest)
- Pull-up (as much as possible) or arm hanging (as long as possible)
- A 30-foot “shuttle run”
- “V-Seat Receipt” (to measure flexibility)
- Run one mile
If you scored above 85 percent, you were eligible for the President’s Physical Fitness Award. But is it a reliable way to measure your fitness level?
Is the President’s fitness test an effective measure?
Yes and no. The good thing about this test – and any fitness test – is that it gives you something to track and improve. In that sense, Eisenhower & Co.
Now that I’m a fitness pro, however, I’ve come to recognize that the presidential fitness test is fundamentally flawed. As you compete against other kids your age across the country, success depends not only on staying fit, but also on staying fit.ter Compared to other students.
Through the magic of the internet, I tracked down Debbie Franzoni, a PE teacher who conducted those tests at my elementary school in the 70’s and 80’s. He agreed that the test had problems.
“We were taught to teach those who entered [85th percentile] Or above because they’re going to the athletic team, “said Franzoni. Anyone under 50 percent will “do best in a French club.” Ouch.
But in 1987, the experiment changed. “Instead of standing up to each other, the kids were tested to see if they fell into a healthy standard in each ingredient,” Franzoni said.
In other words, it was no longer about identifying exceptional performers, it was about improving the health of the whole class. The average pass rate for his students is 50 to 90 percent – a win for the future psychological well-being of children everywhere.
Taking the President’s Fitness Test: Then Vs. Now
In elementary school, I swallowed the whole thing of hooks, lines and sinkers. Me too Trained For this, sit-up and shuttle run out in the backyard. I was in the middle of dodgeball and fridge tags, but boy, can I nail those presidents.
If memory works, I’m best with my 60-second score at Flexed-Arm Hang, more than 90 percent of the country’s 10-year-old population.
Nowadays, the Presidential Fitness Test has been replaced with comprehensive health and fitness programs, such as Let’s Move, and more recently, the Presidential Youth Fitness Program, which claims to be “more than a test.”
But for a fitness nord like me, the appeal of that original, uncompromising fitness standard is still huge. That’s why, on a recent Sunday morning, I broke out in a sweat and headed for the track to examine my fitness-obsessed 45-year-old body (again).
I compared my results for 17 year old boys in the chart found here.
- Pull-ups: 20 (over 85%)
- V-seat-and-reach: 7.25 (over 85%)
- Sit-up: 53 per minute (just below the 85th percentile)
- 30-foot shuttle run: 9.6 seconds (just below the 50th percentile)
- One Mile Run: 8:30 (well below 50th percentile)
As much as I hate to admit it, these scores are a fairly accurate reflection of my athletic strengths and weaknesses. I have always had decent upper-body strength, and over the years, I have worked to develop good flexibility.
But running speed and explosiveness were never my strong suit and training was not a priority, so these results were predictably low. Maybe it’s because I’ve fallen into a general fitness trap: playing with my strengths while avoiding my weaknesses.
On the bottom line, the Presidential Fitness Test is not an accurate measure of fitness (if I get these scores as a teenager, I won’t get any rewards) but it can be a fun way to challenge yourself and see where there is room to look at the improvement track.