In this article, I will discuss an alternative theory and method to fitness testing within our schools, as opposed to the conventional standardized fitness testing seen in many school systems today. We only have to look around to see that our students are not any stronger, fitter or leaner as compared to twenty years ago. Statistics prove this. Statistics such as 73% of 7th and 8th graders, according to 2 years of testing within our pilot program, are unable to perform ONE perfect push-up. Another 81% are unable to perform 1 chin up, and over 50% have core imbalances. In addition, a large percentage of students (and many more adults) are unable to squat pain free to a full depth. This is one of the strongest indicators of an individual losing functional independence… can we say early admittance into a nursing home? We are 100% supportive and respectful of the effort and attention that many people within our government are putting towards making our youth healthier. It’s a noble cause, but there has to be a better way, and I would be surprised if anyone reading this didn’t agree.
So let’s get started…
There are 6 fitness components within the Presidential Fitness Challenge (PFC), with a few alternative exercises as optional components for teachers.
- The Curl Up
Essentially, this is the standard “crunch.” While I commend the fact they removed the sit up due to numerous research studies proving to have negative effects on the low back, this is still an inefficient way to test core strength. I am a firm believer in testing core strength with static holds, as these promote spinal stability versus spinal flexion and extension, and is much more “real life’ relevant. How many times do we need to perform 75 curl ups during our normal day? NEVER. How many times do we need to provide proper balanced support to our spinal column while walking, running, lifting objects of the floor etc..? ALL THE TIME.
Testing the curl up also dismisses the lateral (side) core muscles which we have found to be imbalanced in over 50% of the population we tested. Long term core imbalances lead to hip and shoulder injuries due to poor posture and overcompensation.
- The 90 degree Pushup
I am not too sure where the 90 degrees originated from… I’m assuming it’s because the vast majority of students (73%) can no longer perform a true chest to the floor pushup. So why did we lower the standard on this test?
The 90 degree pushup trains the upper body to move through a partial range of motion which over time is unhealthy and negates the effect of training. Another factor that goes into play here is poor posture. With a generation of video game players we have a natural tendency to slump forward with rounded shoulders which shortens and tightens the chest muscles. When a muscle is short and tight it is also weak at end ranges of motion. The full chest to deck pushup needs to be brought back to PE.
Push Up Alternatives:
This is where stuff gets a little confusing. The PFC provides three alternatives to the push up: the modified pull up, the pull up, and the bent arm hang. (No, you didn’t read that wrong, they actually use a pull up as an alternative to a push up) The three alternatives test the antagonist (complete opposite) muscle groups as the push up.
Progressions need to be built into the push up, giving students the ability to succeed with that movement, instead of having the option to “opt out” and train an entirely different set of muscle groups.
I’ll break down the alternative movements that are given to students who cannot perform a push up:
The modified pull up is similar to a ring row, but done on a barbell balanced in a squat rack.
I love this movement, especially for beginners who are unable to perform a pull up or chin up (81%). The issue with the standards set forth in the PFC is that students only need to pull up to a 90 degree arm bend, therefore neglecting almost every muscle group in the upper back. The last half of the modified pull up is the most challenging and provides instant feedback into a student’s upper back strength (which I’m assuming they are testing here).
Reducing the range of motion by 50% seems like lowering the criteria in order for more kids pass a state exam. A simple modification such as changing the bar height and measuring the bar height as a score, versus how many partial range of motion reps can you complete would be a much more accurate way to test this. (assuming you want to test the upper back and not chest and tricep strength as seen in the pushup)
The pull up
I love this movement. It is a true test of upper body pulling strength. At Fit Kids Fit Future, we also test this movement (in the form of a chin up). No comments needed here.
The Bent arm hang
This exercise only tests the very top range of motion and does not test true upper body pulling strength. A student may be able to hang for 60 seconds but is unable to get 20% of the way up on a pull up…why? Again, totally different muscle groups are being tested….not consistent with what is being tested. We have tested this many times. Try it for yourself.
3. The Pacer Test or 1 Mile Run
Both are great tests. They truly test aerobic capacity. After working with students for numerous years we have come to the conclusion that they hate running and MOST do not put 100% effort into this test. While I believe this test should be administered, the fact is that if they are not putting 100% effort into the test due to lack of interest, the results are not valid and the test itself is not benefitting the student. In our opinion, jump roping is not only fun, but provides a great aerobic test, challenges students with balance, hand-eye coordination, and skill. We have seen a renewed enthusiasm in our students while performing the jump rope assessments.
4. The Trunk Lift
This is simply a poorly designed test, There is no other way of frosting the cake here.
The testing instructions within the PFC manual state it themselves, so I am unsure why this is being tested.
See below quote.
“Research has shown that isokinetic trunk endurance, torso length, body weight, passive trunk extension, trunk extension endurance, trunk strength, and flexibility all contribute to performance of the trunk lift. However, as a single repetition, partially body weight limited, restricted range item, this test is a minimal assessment of the components of trunk strength and flexibility. Most school-aged individuals will pass this test easily.
5. The Back Saver Sit and Reach
The standard sit and reach (seated toe touch) was replaced with this movement. They switched to this test so they could accurately assess unilateral hamstring length to determine imbalances. Good idea, except I tested this stretch many different times and the limiting factor in almost all the tests were hip flexion, (in the bent leg) not the hamstring (straight leg). I am still a firm believer in the standard standing toe touch as an accurate way to test hamstring length. Are there better tests out there? Sure, but in the PE setting that will suffice. If you have one hamstring tighter than the other, it will limit your range of motion and you will be scored accordingly. If you continue to train the standing toe touch you will stretch out the tighter side until it catches up with the more flexible hamstring instead of stretching both sides separately making the problem worse.
6. The Shoulder Stretch
This is a great stretch, no issues here.
So far we have reviewed the elements tested within the Presidential Fitness Challenge. Below are elements that are not tested, but have a direct effect on quality of life.
- Balance: to help avoid slip and falls, along with reaction time and depth perception.
- Bilateral leg strength: Lower body strength is vital to movement and a functional life.
- Glute function: Without strong glutes our lower body is running at half throttle.
- Ability to get up and down off the floor: Sounds simple, many students have a hard time with this, especially for more than 1 rep.
- Unilateral core strength: Todays sedentary lifestyle is producing high levels of muscular imbalances due to sitting for long periods of time. Testing our right and left strength is imperative to a balanced body.
- Unilateral leg strength: Want to avoid back pain, hip replacements and knee surgeries? Practice unilateral pushing and pulling movements.
All of these elements plus many more are built into our simple and extremely effective Fit and Ready Assessment. Our progressions allow every student to participate, and provide a clear path to learning how to improve upon each movement, versus the standard “how many reps can you get?” mindset. We also provide students with the WHY behind each movement, which has been an absolute homerun in renewing their interest in fitness. When a student realizes that lacking the ability to perform an air squat directly correlates to getting out of bed or off the toilet, and therefore can contribute to early admittance into a nursing home, they are often heard walking down the halls says “Mrs. Alcott wants us to do airsquats so we don’t end up in a nursing home someday.” Gold.
The most exciting part:
All 11 universal movements tested within our Fit and Ready Assessment directly correlate to avoiding the commonly seen adult ailments (we have assessed over 200 50-60 year olds to determine their functional weaknesses). Image a world where adults didn’t suffer from back pain, poor posture, or muscular imbalances that lead to injury and poor balance.
Our health care crisis would be well on its way to fixing itself.
In addition to our groundbreaking assessment, we provide schools with fun and exciting adventure games (free sample lessons here and here), along with a leadership component that builds upon the importance of 21st century skills. The best part is students are improving upon their Fit and Ready Score. Our curriculum is designed to intertwine with your current curriculum so you can keep on doing the great things you are already doing.
Bio-marker for life long physical health:
How many students perform the Presidential Fitness Challenge after they graduate?
Honestly…. I’d wager on 0%.
What if there was 1 simple way to determine functional independence at ANY age, 5- 95?
There is….the Fit and Ready Assessment Level 1. This allows students to receive a score at any age, and get instant feedback on where they stand in relation to their functional health. AND it’s fun. Nowhere in the market is this currently happening.
The new paradigm for approaching PE testing and fitness training within our schools has arrived. It’s no secret that fitter kids are smarter kids.
In the words of JFK, “a country is only as strong as its citizens, and I think that mental and physical health, mental and physical vigor, go hand and hand”
We look forward to your comments and receiving any inquiries regarding our program.
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Onwards and upwards,
Fit Kids Fit Future