Sunday, December 2, 2012

Presidential Fitness Test

Yesterday, I spent some time venting about how I want to be fit, not skinny, and how this places me in an awkward fitness category.  I'm not trying to lose weight, I don't want to become a professional bodybuilder, I'm not an exercise beginner, and I don't have "trouble spots" that I solely want to focus on.  I want a well-rounded total body fitness routine that incorporates my 8 key aspects of training and is an appropriate challenge for my fitness level.

But how can you judge your success if your goals are so ill-defined?  I can't measure my progress on the scale or even by just the weight I'm able to lift.  Where can I find a measurement of my well-rounded fitness level?  This got me thinking...

Who remembers the Presidential Fitness Test from good ol' elementary/middle/high school?  Everyone's favorite test of the year... not.  Even as a competitive athlete, I used to dread these pre- and post-tests.  I would get really nervous leading up, particularly on the day we had to do the 1 mile run.  Every year I was afraid I wouldn't make the cut.  Endurance was not (and is still not) my thing.

And then there was the time that I fell down in front of everyone during the shuttle run and had to repeat it not twice, but three times in order to get a measurement recorded.  The first time, I dropped the eraser.  The second time, I slipped and fell right on my butt, of course landing in a pose with my arm up in the air and gymnastics hands (thank you, Coach Jen, for always making us look pretty when we fall).  Mortifying.  At least I was able to get it right the third time (and surpass the Presidential level).

Or the time I decided to show off (hey, I wanted to break our school record) and did over 100 push-ups in 8th grade.  Those poor classmates of mine who had to just sit there and watch.  To the students in my gym class, I'm so sorry.  And holy cow, I have no idea how I did that many push-ups (today I could only do 20!).

Let's chat about this Presidential Fitness Test that we remember from grade school.  It's not perfect, but it's something.  It covers endurance (1 mile run), agility and speed (shuttle run), strength (push-ups, pull-ups, and curl-ups), and flexibility (sit-and-reach).  Alright, so it's lacking in balance, grace, and power from my top 8 list, but hey, 5/8 isn't too bad.  I began to wonder whether there was an adult version...

And lo and behold... there is!  Check out this adult fitness test.  It has a 1.5 mile run (or 1 mile walk if you aren't fit enough to run), half sit-up test, push-ups, sit-and-reach, BMI, and waist circumference.  I wanted a standard way to test my fitness level, see improvements over time, and learn where I need to modify my workouts to improve more significantly... and it looks like I found it.

Today, I decided to do this President's Challenge Adult Fitness Test.  Nick was my partner (counting my curl-up and push-up reps, measuring my waist and sit-and-reach).  Hello grade school all over again.  Consider this my pre-test.  I plugged in my measurements online and found out where I stand compared to the "rest" of the nation.  More importantly, I recorded all the information in a document so I can keep track of my improvements.  I hope to repeat this test once a month and evaluate where I need to improve and change my workouts.  I'm disappointed that the pull-ups and shuttle run have been removed in the adult version; tomorrow I plan to test myself in those as well because I think they are valuable fitness measures.

I still don't have a measure for all 8 key aspects of training, but at least I've found a standard measurement for some of them.  And like I said before, I know this is not a perfect test, but it does provide some baseline that I can use to my benefit.  Has anyone else attempted the President's Challenge Adult Fitness Test?

I sometimes contemplate whether it would be valuable to incorporate such a test in the workplace.  I mean, we used to get graded in school based on how well we did on this test; why can't we do something similar in the office?  Obviously, there aren't grades involved... but there is money and health care coverage.  I know some companies (Boeing and Ethicon Endo-Surgery, for example) offer incentives to those who exercise (at Boeing, Nick received a gift card for using a pedometer and going a certain number of steps a day; at EES, I received a t-shirt for exercising a certain number of times a week).  These measurements are subjective, however, and say little about the current fitness level of the person.  Is there a way we could standardize this?  I know employers may be reluctant to such a thing, particularly when this is not the focus of their company (they are there to make profits and meet the demands of their customers); however, a company benefits (in terms of reduced cost and improved efficiency) by having healthy employees.  Do you think employers should consider incorporating fitness incentives or taking on a standard fitness test for all employees?  Do companies have a responsibility of encouraging their employees to take care of their health?


  1. Sarah - just reading the first two paragraphs of your post, it sounds like CrossFit is exactly what you are looking for. There are 10 general physical skills we strive for, and each workout is measured so that you can actually track your fitness and see measurable, observable, repeatable results. Check out these videos on the purpose of CrossFit and the original "What is Fitness" article. I think you would find a lot of things you like on and in the CrossFit Journal!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Julie! I'm sure I would fall in love with CrossFit, especially after hearing nothing but amazing stories from you over the past few years! Great links-- I really appreciate that CrossFit clearly defines their goals as a training program and includes science backing (the bioengineering PhD student in me is pretty geeked out reading about oxidative vs. glycolytic pathways). And of course the gymnastics aspects make my heart flutter a little bit. Interestingly, reading through CrossFit's 10 general physical skills, they are remarkably similar to my own "8 key aspects of training": I promise I didn't cheat and steal CrossFit's physical skills when I developed my own!

      There are two things that prevent me from joining an official box, though: 1) Cost- We have our own gym in our apartment complex, and as a grad student I can't justify/afford spending $200/mo for the nearest CrossFit box right now and 2) I'd like to still do more of the grace and flexibility aspects that I love so much (dance-related exercises) in addition to the strength/endurance/power training. I am planning to incorporate some at-home CrossFit WODs because I definitely believe in CrossFit as a training program. I've done some searching and have found several WODs that I think I could do on my own-- if you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them! Unfortunately, I won't get the same awesome sense of community at home as I would joining a box! I'd love your input/expertise, Julie, as I proceed!