Could you pass the Presidential Fitness Test today?


If you went to an American public school between 1966 and 2012, you probably have memories of sweating during the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, a gym class test that included a mile run, sit-ups, pull-ups (or push-ups), a sit-up, -and-reach and a shuttle tour.

For those who were athletically inclined, it was a chance to shine: Kids who scored in the top 15 percent were honored with a Presidential Physical Fitness Award. (At my elementary school, those kids had their names painted on the gym wall.) For those who don’t, it could be a source of fear: proof that you simply weren’t cut out for exercise. Does anyone else remember hanging from a pull-up bar in vain?

Born out of Cold War-era fears that the United States was becoming “soft,” the test was first introduced by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966. The goal was to improve the aptitude of the country’s youth for the military service, said Dawn Coe, associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The original test also included a softball toss, which mimicked the throwing of a grenade.

President Barack Obama eliminated the test in 2012 and replaced it with an assessment called FitnessGram that is less about outperforming your classmates and more about improving individual health. “It’s no longer a one-size-fits-all approach,” Dr. Coe said.

Some of us who struggled with the test later found ways to appreciate the exercise and made peace with the fact that some parts blatantly flatter certain body types.

But if you’ve ever wondered how your older, wiser (and perhaps buffering) self would fare on the Presidential Fitness Test, I asked the experts how each of the events holds up as a measure of physical fitness in the present. With a few updates and modifications, it can provide useful information about your cardiovascular fitness, strength, and flexibility, all of which are key to quality of life and longevity.

Most importantly, when you test yourself today, focus on your own fitness level and progress, experts said, and remember that health is not a competition. It’s not about how many pull-ups you can do, but about feeling stronger over time and maybe even being able to take on new challenges.

The proof: Run or walk a mile at a challenging pace and time yourself.

What it does well: This is a simple measure of cardiovascular health and endurance. If you have excellent aerobic fitness or are an experienced runner, it can also be a fun way to find your upper speed limit, said Rick Richey, an expert trainer at the National Academy of Sports Medicine in New York. (If you’re curious, compare your time to other people your age.)

What goes wrong: The focus on speed is arbitrary and the test can be an exercise in pain and exhaustion that deters people from running. A more important question than speed, Dr. Richey said, is: “How much are you challenging your cardiorespiratory system?”

How to use it today: If you’re a beginner, start by walking one mile and then gradually incorporate running intervals. Along the way, make a mental note of how the exercise feels. If you can increase your speed over time or feel better and better while going at the same pace, you’re winning, Dr. Richey said.

The proof: Using a pull-up bar, start in a fully hanging position with your knuckles facing outward or toward your face (kids can choose, although the former is usually easier). Lift until your chin is above the bar. Count how many you can do, without time limit.

What it does well: Pull-ups and chin-ups are a good measure of upper body strength, in theory.

What goes wrong: Many people simply do not have the strength or physiology to fully stand up without specific training.

How to use it today: If the challenge intrigues you, doing pull-ups is a worthwhile and achievable goal. Exercise develops back, shoulder and arm muscles, as well as grip strength, which is linked to a longer, healthier life.

If full pull-ups feel out of reach, start by seeing how long you can hang from a bar, Dr. Richey said. Move on to bent-arm hangs and then assisted pull-ups with resistance bands, which make lifting easier. Gradually progress to doing pull-ups without assistance.

The proof: Schools had the option of offering children a pull-up or push-up test, although many chose the former. Perform as many push-ups as you can until you fail. Without time limit.

What it does well: Exercise scientists agree that the push-up is a gold standard test of not only upper-body strength, but also full-body strength and endurance, because it requires awareness of each part. of the body, from head to toe.

What goes wrong: Nothing, if done correctly. But it’s important to do push-ups with proper form: starting in a plank position, making sure your abdomen doesn’t drop and your back doesn’t arch. It is better to do one correctly than five with poor form.

How to use it today: “I love teaching pushups because it’s a wonderful way for people to really rewrite their story about their abilities and their strength,” said Cadence Dubus, founder of the virtual training program Brooklyn Strength.

If you are able to do a push-up, see how many you can do before your form suffers and then stop immediately. Don’t focus on a specific number, focus on improving. If you are a beginner, start with modified push-ups with your knees on the floor.

The proof: Technically a curl up, this exercise is a partial sit-up, performed with your back in a C shape and your arms crossed over your chest. The presidential test required doing as many as possible in 60 seconds, usually with another child sitting on your feet to support them.

What it does well: Not much.

What goes wrong: More than any other event, the curl-up test draws the attention of modern exercise scientists. Not only does it have the potential to exacerbate back pain by stressing the lower spine, but it also works the front layers of your core muscles.

What to do instead: A better way to train and test core strength, which is important for long-term health, is to time how long you can hold a plank while maintaining proper form, said Mary Winfrey-Kovell, professor of exercise science at Ball University. State. .

If you’re new to the exercise, start with a modified plank, keeping your knees on the floor, or do a standing plank with your forearms on the wall. As you gain core strength, transition to classic planks and work on holding a position for up to 60 seconds.

The proof: Run back and forth between two lines, 30 feet apart, twice, as fast as possible. Each time you cross a line, take a block of wood (or a whiteboard eraser) and drop it on the other line.

What it does well: The shuttle race tests speed and agility.

What goes wrong: If you don’t already practice speed or agility training in your daily life, experts advise against taking this test.

“When I think about adult shuttle running, I just think about injuries,” said Dr. Calvin Duffaut, a sports physician and team physician for UCLA Athletics. “The changes in direction: if someone doesn’t have experience in it, I worry.”

What to do instead: Schools have replaced the shuttle ride with the beep test, which requires you to speed up and slow down, but not They require you to quickly change direction just as quickly. This makes the beep test safer than the shuttle ride, Dr. Duffaut said.

That said, working on your agility, which includes your ability to change direction in the blink of an eye, can be beneficial both in recreational sports like pickleball and in daily life. You can also try and improve your agility with exercises like lateral plyometric jumps, gradually increasing your speed each week.

The proof: Take off your shoes and sit with your legs stretched out against a ruler box to sit and stretch. Lean as far forward as possible. (If your school didn’t have a box of rules, you may have practiced the V stretch, which simply requires sitting with your feet eight to 12 inches apart and seeing how far you can go.)

What it does well: This test measures how far you could reach, which can reflect the flexibility of your lower back and hamstrings.

What goes wrong: These tests aren’t exactly fair: People with relatively short arms or long legs are at a disadvantage, Dr. Richey said. (He could do a three-way split, he said, but he still scored poorly on sit-and-reach.)

How to use it today: If you’re only competing against yourself and using proper form (turning from the hips and not rounding your back), how far you can go can be a decent measure of flexibility, Dr. Richey said.

“Being able to reach the foot and ankle is something that can be lost and that can have consequences,” Dubus added. The more you practice sitting and reaching, the easier it will become, especially when combined with stretches that improve hip mobility, like the 90/90 stretch.

You may also like...