the Presidential Fitness Test?
Better yet, were you personally victimized and perhaps scarred by this historical relic?
In honor of Presidents Day, we're taking a dive into the history of this annual test that featured a series of exercises - the flexed-arm hang, shuttle run, & sit and reach among my personal nightmare-inspiring favorites.
According to Vox.com -
It all began when two rock-climbing pioneers scared Dwight D. Eisenhower into creating a new fitness regimen.
Dr. Hans Kraus and Bonnie Prudden were two fitness activists who met while climbing in the 1930s. They later became two of the top climbers in the world.
The two also shared a passion for fitness, and Kraus, an orthopedic surgeon, helped develop the Kraus-Weber test (along with Sonja Weber). This test helped gauge fitness through a series of exercises that focused on core strength and flexibility. Prudden began giving the test to American schoolchildren and became disturbed by the poor results.
In the early 1950s, Kraus and Prudden administered the Kraus-Weber tests to 4,000 United States kids and 3,000 kids in Switzerland, Italy, and Austria. Their results were horrifying for America: 58 percent of US kids failed, compared with just 8 percent of the Europeans.
The report was widely circulated, and a panicked President Eisenhower summoned them to a sit-down. At the event, which was covered by Sports Illustrated, Kraus and Prudden presented their findings. "Many youngsters today have no bodies," Prudden warned the audience, which included Willie Mays. "Let youngsters climb trees and fences to develop their muscles."
So Eisenhower acted. In 1956, he created the President's Council on Youth Fitness, in the hopes of making American kids fit enough to compete with the Swiss. The next year, the group initiated a pilot study of a national fitness test — the Presidential Fitness Challenge.
The only problem? The test was nothing like the Kraus-Weber tests that started the fitness scare in the first place.
As the test was designed by committee, it reflected the goals of the country and the priorities of people who'd formed their fitness philosophy during training in World War II. In the version developed in 1957, fitness professionals ended up with pull-ups, sit-ups, the standing broad jump, the shuttle run, the 50-yard dash, the softball throw, and the 600-yard run. There were tweaks to the test, but the foundation stayed for decades. It was completely different from the test that inspired Eisenhower to act in the first place.
Even members of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, the organization that designed the test, argued that it was closer to a military training exercise than a fitness regimen.
Pull-ups were great for soldiers to get themselves out of foxholes, but not for kids staying fit. Softball throws were good practice for throwing grenades — but what did that have to do with overall fitness? But by that point, momentum was too strong to go back and revise it completely. And further presidents decided to build on the program rather than start over.
John F. Kennedy, for instance, had long advocated for a similar regimen for kids. He even penned an essay called "The Soft American" for Sports Illustrated shortly after the election. Kennedy couldn't force local schools to administer the test, so instead he initiated a massive PR campaign and offered carrots to students who passed. He changed the name of the department to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and displayed his own fitness through long walks. Schools got on board.
Under President Lyndon Johnson, the name changed yet again — to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports — but the test remained as grueling. Johnson also added the Physical Fitness Award for the fittest kids, reserving it for the top 15 percent of achievers.
Subsequent presidents made only modest tweaks to the acronyms and methodology.
Later, celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger ensured the test continued to help students experience crippling shame in front of their peers.
Kids across the country were forced to take the test in the name of personal fitness, even though it was less likely to inspire a love of exercise and more likely to inspire a sense of dread.
Eventually the test was abolished — because it was sadistic.
Even gym teachers conceded that the Presidential Fitness Test was scarring kids who were certain to fail. NPR quoted one teacher as saying, "We knew who was going to be last, and we were embarrassing them."
Thankfully (following decades of night terrors and a visceral fear of sit-ups), the test was discontinued in 2012 and an updated version of the classic regimen was released.
Should you feel so inclined, on this presidential holiday, try out the following exercises to determine whether or not you are Presidentially fit:
Sit and Reach
While sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you, clasp your hands together and slowly reach forward as far as possible. Hold this stretch for three full seconds.
Each participant was required to run thirty feet, pick up a block, sprint back to the starting line, deposit the block, and then repeat.
Run or walk (or a combination of the two) for a distance of one mile.
20 of these will put you over the 85th percentile.
Lie on a clean, cushioned surface with knees bent and feet shoulder-width apart. Cross arms and raise trunk. Did you touch your elbows to your thighs? Then you’ve earned a point for one sit-up.