Could You Pass the Presidential Physical Fitness Test Today?

Health Information Lifestyle


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

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

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

President Barack Obama got rid of the test in 2012, replacing it with an assessment called the FitnessGram that is less about besting 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 exercise — and made peace with the fact that some parts blatantly favor certain body types.

But if you’ve ever wondered how your older, wiser (and maybe buffer) self would fare on the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, I asked experts how each of the events holds up as a measure of fitness today. With a few updates and modifications, it can provide useful insights into your cardiovascular fitness, strength and flexibility, all of which are key for quality of life and longevity.

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