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What does the presidential fitness test include?

What is the presidential fitness test?

The President’s Challenge (also known as President’s Champions) encourages children to lead an active and healthy lifestyle through the Presidential Fitness Test Standards. These standards have been modified over time and include activities such as sit-ups and pull-ups.

Although the school program including a physical fitness test ended at the end of the 2012/13 school year, and the award program for the President’s Challenge ended in 2018, the end benefit is still improved health!

Presidential Fitness Test Date

Dr. Hans Krause, a naturopath and colleague, Dr. Bonnie Pruden, first sounded the alarm about the sedentary lifestyle of many American children in 1953. In their paper, they expressed concern that this lifestyle was turning children into “couch potatoes.”

Out of curiosity, the researchers tested children from different countries with a special physical fitness assessment.

The results revealed that children from European countries such as Italy, Austria and Switzerland had a very high success rate, with approximately 8% failure, while children in America had a much lower success rate of 58%.

Krause and Brodin presented their discoveries to the federal government in Washington, and on July 16, 1956, President Eisenhower acted by executive order creating the “President’s Council on Fitness for Youth,” which is now known as the “President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.”

This board endorsed children’s physical fitness and sought help from local groups, schools, and researchers to find ways to encourage physical activity across the United States. One solution was the presidential fitness test.

The original presidential fitness test

The Presidential Fitness Test was developed in the 1950s by the Youth Fitness Program of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness, which was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The original test consisted of 6 parts:

  1. Pull-ups (boys), modified pull-ups or arm holds (girls)

  2. sit ups

  3. Shuttle run

  4. Standing wide jump

  5. 50 yard dash

  6. Throw a softball for distance

  7. 600 yard march (which was added at a later stage)

The children were tested twice a year and the purpose of the test was to assess the physical fitness of American schoolchildren and to give them an incentive to stay physically active.

The test has evolved over the years, changed during different presidencies, but its goal has remained the same: To promote physical fitness among American youth.

Vintage Kids' PT Classes - Photo by Eric Bard Corbis

Here’s how US presidents felt about fitness among young adults.

John F. Kennedy

The rise of John F. Kennedy’s accession to the presidency marked the beginning of a new period of fitness testing. Before becoming president, Kennedy wrote an article for Sports Illustrated titled “Soft American” Which encouraged physical exercise among young people.

Kennedy expressed concern that children would spend too much time in front of the TV instead of doing sports and fitness. He linked the physical health of American children to the long-term safety and prosperity of the nation, and laid the foundation for his administration’s fitness-testing initiative.

Kennedy changed the name to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness with the goal of addressing all age groups rather than just children.

Lyndon Johnson

In 1966, the Presidential Physical Fitness Award Program was created by the President’s Board of Lyndon B. Johnson, to honor those young men who achieved the 85th percentile or better on all seven test items. This program drew much criticism, encouraging competition and reintroducing relative standards into physical education classes across the country.

Carter and Reagan

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the physical fitness test was revised. In 1976, the softball throw was eliminated, the sitting position was changed, and distance running was added as an option.

The presidential fitness test is still widely used, and the award program was expanded to include sports during the Carter and Reagan presidencies. The focus continued to be on the outstanding achievements of individual students, and to honor those who achieved the highest marks.

Clinton and Bush

Under Bill Clinton, the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition launched initiatives to include all children, not just those who achieved the best results on physical fitness tests.

The George W. Bush Council has maintained this focus on engaging less able children and highlighted the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award, which aims to encourage Americans and especially children to be active every day.

President George W. Bush discusses the President's Challenge Physical Activity Program. Image from


During the Obama administration, the Presidential Fitness Test was replaced by the Presidential Fitness Program for Youth in 2013. The program was designed to promote the physical and mental health of young people across the United States, and used science and technology to do so.

Many Americans were pleased with the change, calling the earlier forms of Presidential Physical Fitness Test as a frustration for children. The aim of the program was to encourage children to be physically fit and healthy, and those finishing in the top 15% were given prizes in recognition of their work.

Many objected that this strategy only strengthened students who were already in good shape and had high levels of fitness. This sparked the idea that children who were not good at sports and failed to do well on youth physical fitness tests were forced to struggle and embarrass themselves in front of their peers, causing them to become alienated from physical fitness and exercise.

Are you fitter than a fifth grader?

Although it’s no longer part of the school curriculum, many fitness enthusiasts still take the fitness challenge with the Presidential Fitness Exam – often wanting to prove they’re fitter than a fifth grader!

This is what the test requires:

sit ups: Try to do as many sit-ups, also known as curl-ups, as you can in 60 seconds with proper technique.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, and your feet planted flat about 8 to 12 inches from your buttocks.

  2. Cross your arms across your chest and rotate your torso toward your knees until your back is close to perpendicular to the floor.

  3. Reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

  4. Keep your feet flat on the floor for each repetition and make sure your head touches the floor before moving on to the next step; If not, the delegate will not be counted.

push up: Do as many push-ups as you can without stopping.

Start in a plank position with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders and your feet extended behind you. Keep your body in a straight line from head to toe, making sure not to lift your lower back and hips or sag your butt.

  1. Lower your chest to the floor until your elbows form a right angle, then push your body back to the starting position.

  2. Each iteration must meet these criteria in order to be counted.

Shuttle run: Draw two lines on the ground 30 feet apart. Place two items, such as plastic cups, yoga blocks, or water bottles, behind one of the lines.

  1. Stand on the other line and set the timer.

  2. Run quickly to the objects, pick one up, and run back to the starting line.

  3. Place the item behind the line and run back to the objects to pick up the second item.

  4. When you cross the starting line with the second item, stop the timer to record the time you took. You will have a total of 120 feet long (30 feet long).

V- Sitting and Reaching: Draw a two-foot line on the ground (this is the “baseline”), then place a tape measure perpendicular to the line’s midpoint. Sit across from the baseline with your legs apart and feet about 8-12 inches apart, and your heels directly behind the line. The measuring tape should line up with the middle of your body.

  1. Raise your arms forward with your palms facing down and your hands overlapping,

  2. Without bending your knees or moving your feet over the baseline, step forward and touch the tape measure.

  3. Have a partner log your reach. (This may sound complicated, but it’s clearly demonstrated in the video below.)

Run one mile: Run about a mile at full speed, preferably on an outdoor track, which many high schools offer for free. If that’s not an option, you can do it on a treadmill.

  1. Note how long it takes you to complete a one-mile run.

How do schools deal with physical fitness now?

The new program, the Presidential Youth Fitness Program (PYFP), is elective and offers body composition assessment, as well as professional development and encouragement to motivate young people to become more active.

The main difference from the current test is the shift from assessing athletic ability to measuring health-related fitness and delivering physical education programmes. Now, the focus in fitness goals is not only physical activity, but also healthy eating habits and awareness of health issues related to body weight. There are many examples of the positive effects of physical activity. Some huge bonuses included Brain health.

The Presidential Active Lifestyle Award, or PALA+, recognizes both physical exercise and healthy nutrition and is open to people of all ages.

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