Presidential Physical Fitness Test: Can You Pass It Now?


Truth be told, maintaining the fitness of the youth has always been a concern for the USA. 

Many think Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program on childhood obesity is a new concept, but that isn’t right. That’s because those who attended public school before 2012 in the USA certainly had to take the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. 

While the newly revised Presidential Youth Fitness Program of 2012 is based on science and technology, the Presidential Physical Fitness Test was a taxing bi-annual physical test. As it was a nationwide test, many students feared failure or the inability to achieve the 85th percentile, which guaranteed an award. 

Over time, the methods of testing used for the Presidential Physical Fitness Test have fallen out of favor due to their pitfalls. But, it’s always interesting to have a look at this old school program. 

History Of The Presidential Fitness Test

The Presidential Fitness Test can be traced back to the times of President Dwight Eisenhower. It was based on the Kraus-Weber Test developed by Dr. Hans Kraus and Dr. Sonya Weber in the 1950s to determine minimum fitness levels using six basic exercises.

While experimenting with the test, Dr. Kraus found out that school children in the USA lacked fitness compared to their European counterparts. This led him to conclude that children in the USA didn’t get sufficient exercise to maintain the minimum level of muscular fitness, which needed changing. 

The results of the study were presented to President Eisenhower in 1955 by several government officials and it led to the formation of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness in 1956. This gave rise to the President’s Challenge, better known as the Presidential Fitness Test and the first nationwide test was hosted in 1958 as part of Youth Fitness Week.

It’s interesting to note that modern scholars refute the claims made by the Kraus-Weber comparative study. One fatal flaw was its focus on the plush standard of living for American children without the results taking into account whether children were from wealthy or poor backgrounds.

Also note that President John F. Kennedy was quite invested in the fitness test. He had previously written an article, “The Soft American,” on the topic of American kids failing to build strong bodies, like in the Cold War era. Failure in the test was seen as hurting the future of the USA as a nation. 

However, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s council was the one to establish the Presidential Physical Fitness Award Program in 1966, making the test more competitive. 

Exercises Included In The Presidential Physical Fitness Test 

Here are the basic exercises that were part of the test: 

  • Sit-ups 
  • Pull-ups, flexed arm hang, or right angle push-ups
  • 30-foot shuttle run
  • V-sit reach or sit and reach 
  • One-mile run 

Initially, softball throw was a part of the test, but it was discontinued in 1976 as it was taken to be a skill rather than a true measure of fitness. 

Most people will agree that this isn’t the best way of testing the full-body fitness of children in the age group of 6-17. It was only designed to test the overall strength, agility, and flexibility of children. 

Later in 2013, President Obama replaced it with the Presidential Youth Fitness Program, which focused on developing a genuine interest in fitness through a comprehensive program. 

How To Take The Presidential Physical Fitness Test

Do you miss the fun of attending gym class during your school days? Don’t worry; try the following exercises from the Presidential Physical Fitness Test to challenge your fitness levels. 

1. Sit-Ups Or Curl-Ups 

This exercise is meant to test your abdominal strength and endurance. You’ll need to perform 44-55 curl-ups or 58-66 partial curl-ups in 1 minute to reach the 85th percentile standards for 17-year-old male and female students. 

2. Shuttle Run 

Use a measuring tape to measure a distance of 30-feet, mark both ends with two lines, and place two objects at the ends. The shuttle run requires you to cover the distance four times totaling 120-feet. You’re expected to complete it within 8.7-10 seconds to qualify for the 85th percentile.

3. V-Sit Reach 

Start by marking a 2 feet long straight line on the floor, which will act as the baseline to achieve a 7-8 inch reach to get the 85th percentile. There’s also the option to opt for the sit and reach, which requires the construction of a sit and reach box. 

4. One-Mile Run 

This is quite self-explanatory as all you need to do is run for one-mile in the shortest possible time. It’s an excellent test for measuring aerobic capacity and to qualify for the Presidential Award, try achieving a time within 6-8 minutes. 

5. Pull-Ups 

Pull-ups and flexed arm hangs were introduced into the test for upper body strength, arm strength, and endurance. You’ll need to perform as many as possible in a single rep, with 2 being the standard for females and 13 for males to achieve the 85th percentile. 

Also, when opting for push-ups, aim for 16-37 in a single rep. 

Final Words 

If you have memories of taking this physical test in school, it might be a good time to try it out once again. Compare your scores against the standards needed to qualify for the national or Presidential award. 

Having said that, remember not to tax your body too much, especially if you’re used to a sedentary lifestyle. The fitness of our body changes dramatically with age and can seldom be compared to the level of flexibility or strength we had while attending school. 

This Presidential Fitness Test was never a proper way of measuring fitness among children, but it can be a fun challenge to see how you fair against the kids. Also, those who have worked hard to build muscular and core strength might be surprised by the improved test results. 

Niklas Lampi

My name is Niklas Lampi and I work as a fitness writer, nutritional consultant and personal trainer. My favourite exercise is the bench press and my favourite food is pizza!

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