Presidents Day and the Presidential Physical Fitness Test

Today many are enjoying a day off of work in honor of some of America’s greatest presidents with the President’s Day holiday. This got us at Zims reminiscing about a memorable era of fitness directed by the president himself: the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. Could this rite of passage in gym classes for so many years be a gauge of fitness today? Let’s take a look.

The Presidential Physical Fitness Test has an interesting backstory. It started in 1956 when President Eisenhower created the President’s Council on Youth Fitness (current name President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition). In 1966 President Johnson created the Presidential Physical Fitness Award which created the idea of the test in schools. It originally included a softball throw, a broad jump, a 50-yard dash and a 600-yard walk/run.

However, where many of us probably first heard about the test is in the late 80s and early 90s when President HW Bush put an emphasis on it and appointed actor Arnold Schwarzenegger to lead the initiative.

At that time the test included 5 main components:

(expected numbers listed are for 10 year old boys and girls)

Pull ups (or sometimes push ups)- 6 for boys, 2 for girls

Sit-and-Reach- 30 for boys, 33 for girls

Sit ups (or curls)- 45 for boys, 40 for girls

30 ft Shuttle Run- 10.3 for boys, 10.8 for girls

One-Mile Run (wasn’t this the bane of every kids existence growing up?)- 8 min for boys, 9 minutes for girls

The problem  with the Presidential Fitness Test is its competitive nature. Instead of focusing on individual health and improvement it pitted kids against each other. By declaring certain kids as athletic and others as below average it may have discouraged athletic participation more than it helped.

However, the test itself is interesting. It covers upper body strength with pull up, flexibility with sit and reach, cardiovascular strength and endurance with the runs and muscle strength with the sit-ups. Theoretically if we worked on these areas we would be a very healthy person.

There isn’t a trainer alive who would argue focusing on these 5 areas is a good basis for physical fitness. The problem is when we compare our results to others and get discouraged. Nevertheless, if you added an element of each of the fitness categories covered to your workout you’d be a healthier person.

This Presidents Day hopefully we can get some inspiration from our past presidents and the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. It’s a fun part of recent American History and a helpful tool in designing a workout program.

Do you have memories of taking the Presidential Physical Fitness Test as a child? Hopefully they aren’t too traumatizing to share with all of us in the comments section!

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