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Fitness Testing Gets a Makeover

It has been several years since I underwent the battery of fitness tests in school.  Needless to say, I did not thoroughly enjoy being put in the spotlight and having my peers see how few pull-ups I could do or how I struggled with sit-ups or running the mile. (Thankfully, now, I do not struggle as much.)  I know that many kids in my class and those that followed me felt similarly and did not relish in these tests.  Going forward, however, kids do not need to worry as much since these fitness tests are undergoing a makeover.

What spurred the need to change up these tests?  The Centers for Disease Control conducted the 2012 NHANES National Youth Fitness Survey earlier this year.  Believe it or not, this type of survey is the first one to assess the fitness level of our nation’s youth since the mid-1980’s.  This is actually a longer timespan between updates that the recent facelift of the national nutrition standards.  In addition to this survey, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition recently adopted FITNESSGRAM as the official program of the President Youth Fitness Program to promote lifelong physical activity.  This program assesses students’ fitness level and activity and produces reports for school staff.

In September, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) Report was released, which recommended some changes to the fitness testing performed in schools.  The traditional fitness testing consisted of four different attributes: 1) heart and lung, 2) body composition, 3) muscular and skeletal fitness, and 4) flexibility.  After the IOM committee performed a thorough scientific review, they concluded that only three components were needed to adequately measure overall fitness in youth—cardiorespiratory endurance, body composition and musculoskeletal fitness.  Flexibility, it was concluded, did not find adequate evidence linking flexibility to health outcomes in the youth.

To assess cardiorespiratory endurance, the progressive shuttle run came out on top as the activity of choice.  This activity is where one needs to sprint back and forth between two points.  It gets the heart pumping and is an effective activity to measure youth’s cardiorespiratory health.  If a school is limited on space, the suggestion was made that instructors can use treadmills or an ergometer.  (Not sure if many schools have these either with their strained budgets)

Measuring body composition can get a bit dicey with young kids and teens and needs to be conducted in a discreet manner.  Schools can measure body composition by calculating BMI or measuring students’ waist circumference and/or skinfold thickness (e.g. with calipers).

There is evidence that shows a relationship between one’s musculoskeletal fitness to their bone health and body composition.   To assess musculoskeletal fitness, it is suggested that schools can perform handgrip strength and standing long jump tests.

Schools can still choose to incorporate other tests, such as the classic 1-mile run or pull ups, to supplement the above mentioned assessments as they can have an educational value. What is most important for schools to keep in mind when conducting the fitness tests is that the methods used need to be safe, reliable and realistic to perform in a school setting.  In addition, confidentiality and being sensitive to how students may react to the test result are imperative.

Change is inevitable.  Sometimes it is hated and other times it is praised. This is one of those “yahoo” moments.  I am happy to see that the fitness testing in schools have finally received its long overdue makeover.  This is one change, like the national nutrition guidelines, that was definitely warranted.

You can read this full report at or the brief at

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