Farewell Flexed Arm Hang, Hello “Healthy Fitness Zones”!

The recent overhaul of our schools’ Presidential Fitness Testing is long overdue. The new testing benchmarks chart an individual child’s cardiovascular fitness, body composition, muscle strength, muscle endurance, and flexibility, instead of measuring performance of athletic tasks, such as sit ups or the broad jump, and comparing students on a percentile scale.

How Presidential Fitness Testing came about

In the 1950s, a study revealed that American children were far less fit than their European counterparts. More than half of American students failed at least one part of a fitness test that included toe touches, leg lifts, sit ups and trunk lifts. By contrast, only 8% of European children failed any component. Dismayed with these results, President Eisenhower established the President’s Council on Youth Fitness.

Over the years, testing components have been modified to include sprints, endurance activities and measures of upper-body and lower-body strength. Unfortunately, testing in the schools historically has shown little or no improvement among student populations. Instead, childhood overweight and obesity have become increasingly problematic among our nation’s youth. In a move that many find counterintuitive, schools across the country are scaling back physical education programs.

Why an overhaul of Presidential Fitness Testing makes sense

“Fitness is not a ‘one size fits all’ and the testing should reflect that,” says Karen Jashinsky, founder of O2 Max, a youth fitness company. She advocates a multi-pronged approach in evaluating a young person’s fitness level.

“As professionals, we look at fitness as encompassing multiple things, including strength, flexibility, endurance and core strength. So we should be testing kids on all of these things and recognizing that they can be tested in various ways,” says Jashinsky.

Jashinsky points out that the previous testing methods could in fact deter a child from participating in physical education activities. “Not all kids are runners. Putting them in a competitive environment might actually discourage them even further,” says Jashinsky. “I think that we can be testing for key things in multiple ways.”

Next steps

Though the recent revision of testing is certainly a step in the right direction, what are we doing to help our students develop long-term healthy habits? Now we can measure the problem “better”, but what can we do to address the root of the problem? How can we help students discover activities they can enjoy for a lifetime?