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Ace adulthood by acing this presidential fitness test

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Ace adulthood by acing this presidential fitness test
March 19, 2024
Soren Fallwell - LA Post

Remember the Presidential Fitness Test from your childhood gym classes? For decades, students anxiously lined up to run miles, crank out sit-ups, and squeeze through flexibility drills, striving for that coveted award.

Well, it turns out many of those old-school fitness challenges abandoned long ago still offer valuable insights today - if you approach them with the right mindset. Experts say rather than worrying about arbitrary benchmarks, focusing on personal progress can make elements of the Presidential Fitness Test timeless tools for improving functional fitness as adults.

So dust off your gym shoes and get ready to jog down memory lane. This piece explores how to bring back the best aspects of the Presidential Fitness Test to assess and upgrade your physical abilities now. With a few modern modifications and a spirit of self-compassion, you can rediscover the simple joy of challenging your body and celebrating new strengths at any age. The scores don't matter - but the sense of achievement as you surpass old limits just might.

For nearly 50 years, the Presidential Physical Fitness Test significantly impacted American schools. The Presidential Fitness Test originated in the Cold War era, a time characterized by increasing concerns over American students being seen as lacking fitness and resilience.

The selection of exercises in the test was specifically designed to replicate the physical challenges of battle, including the softball throw, which was intended to mirror the action of throwing a grenade. The main goal was improving youth fitness for military readiness.

However, times have evolved, and perspectives on fitness have also shifted. In the present times, professionals suggest that the focus has moved away from competing with peers towards establishing individual objectives and monitoring personal development over time.

As Dr. Dawn Coe, an associate professor of kinesiology, pointed out - the emphasis is no longer on comparing oneself to national standards. The priority now is directing attention towards your personal wellness and progress.

Tweaking the Test for Adults

Still, many of the Presidential Fitness Test's core components - with a few updates and modifications - can still provide valuable data points about key aspects of your physical fitness. The Presidential Fitness Test can assess cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, and more.

Take the mile run, for example. Exercise scientists agree it's a simple but effective assessment of aerobic fitness. For beginners, focusing on gradually challenging your cardiorespiratory system is an empowering approach. Start by walking a mile, then incorporate short running intervals. Improving your pace while lowering effort shows real advancement.

The Presidential Fitness Test has long used push-ups to assess upper body strength. Their relevance persists, but scale and modify them as needed. "I love teaching push-ups because it shows people their true capabilities," says Cadence Dubus, founder of Brooklyn Strength.

However, the emphasis on sheer speed in the mile run is somewhat arbitrary and potentially discouraging for non-runners. For beginners, focusing on gradually challenging your cardiorespiratory fitness is a better approach. Start by seeing how quickly you can walk a mile, then try incorporating short running intervals, paying attention to how the effort feels.

By gradually improving your pace while keeping your effort level the same or even lowering it, you are definitely advancing your cardiovascular health and endurance, regardless of your mile time.

When it comes to the shuttle run, which tested speed and agility by having kids race back and forth between lines, modern sports medicine experts advise caution for adults. The sudden direction changes carry a high injury risk. A safer alternative is the beep test, which ramps up running speed incrementally without risky pivots.

There’s also the sit-and-reach flexibility test. While it inherently favors certain body types, when practiced properly, it can track progress for tight areas like the hamstrings and lower back. Maintaining mobility promotes lifelong health and functionality.

Focus on Personal Progress, Not Perfection

Ultimately, the question of whether you could "pass" the Presidential Fitness Test today is somewhat beside the point. As a product of its era, the test had some biases. But with a few modern tweaks and the right mindset focused on self-improvement, many Presidential Fitness Test elements can become valuable tools for boosting functional fitness as adults.

Maybe you'll never ace pull-ups, but you can work up to a longer flexed-arm hang. Or perhaps the mile run isn't your thing, but you discover a new love for interval walk-jogs. The point is individual progress, not arbitrary standards.

By revisiting childhood fitness challenges with self-compassion and customization, adults can channel the simple excitement of testing their abilities and enjoying new accomplishments in a judgment-free way.

Because really, isn't that feeling of achievement and pride in your evolving body what lifelong fitness is all about? The scores are irrelevant - but the sense of surpassing your limits matters tremendously.

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