10 things you never knew about the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge

50s workout

As least you didn't have to wear this frock for your physical fitness test

How did the fitness test that plagued the nation’s gym classes and tortured its students get its start?

Scroll through these ten fun facts about the history and development of the Presidential Physical Fitness Challenge:

1. New York University professor (and mountain climber) Dr. Hans Kraus was the first person to bring attention to the declining health of Americans. In 1953, he warned that children were losing muscle tone because of “the affluent lifestyle of 20th century America.” He also showed that American kids were way more out-of-shape than their pen pals in Europe. (And this was before video games!)

2. Because of Kraus’ findings, President Eisenhower created the President’s Council on Youth Fitness in 1956. (Its name has changed many times, and today is called the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, & Nutrition.)

3. President Kennedy made physical fitness a huge part of his campaign and administration, writing two articles in Sports Illustrated (“The Soft American” and “The Vigor We Need”). His Council developed a physical fitness curriculum.

4. In 1966, the Presidential Physical Fitness Award was finally created, by President Lyndon B. Johnson, after conducting the second national fitness survey in 1964.

5. The original test included a softball throw, a broad jump, a 50-yard dash, and 600-yard walk/run.

6. George H.W. Bush was able to popularize the Council and the Physical Fitness Award by appointing Arnold Schwarzenegger chairman during his presidency.

7. Today, Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes and the New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees co-chair the Council.

8. How to be a winner: To qualify for the President’s Challenge Fitness award today, students must fall into the 85th percentile in all five of the test’s activities. For a 15-year-old girl, that means finishing 38 crunches in a minute, running an eight-minute mile, the shuttle run, two pull-ups, a 10-second shuttle run (short sprint) and reaching 8 inches past her feet in a V-Sit Reach.

9. The Physical Fitness Test graduated high school in 2003, when the Council, under George W. Bush, introduced the Adult Fitness Challenge. Bush’s Council also added the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA), which recognized a regular fitness routine instead of a one-shot test.

10. Since Obama took office, First Lady Michelle Obama added another initiative to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. Her movement to end childhood obesity, Let’s Move, does not affect the Physical Fitness Test, but it helps introduce healthy foods and more physical fitness into the nation’s schools. —Breanne McCarthy and Lisa Elaine Held

For more info, visit www.presidentschallenge.org

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4 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. July 31st, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    A healthy generation makes a healthy society and a prosperous nation. We all know the final outcome of child obesity in mass scale and inertia towards fitness. Still most parents give any interest to their child’s fitness training as they do to their study. So in this scenario, the involvement of presidents really have boosted their morale in this direction.

  2. September 27th, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    I took these tests in the 1960’s when I was in elementary school. The problem is, the standards are so high that to pass all 6 only 11 in a million could do it (if all the tests had zero covariance, but of course, they do not). Since there was no instruction on how to train the pass the test, these tests seemed like Eugenics testing to me !!!

  3. November 22nd, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    […] a reply In the 1970s public school children were subjected to something called the presidential physical fitness test. It was a test mostly of strength.  What I remember of the test were three events “the […]

  4. September 1st, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    “8. How to be a winner” I teach that they’re all winners if they do their very best. Might wanna change that sentence. This implies those who aren’t winners, are losers…

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