For more than 30 years, children from 5 to 18 years old have been tested using the FitnessGram Healthy Fitness Zone standards. Parents often wonder: What are these standards and how do the calculations reflect children’s health and fitness?
The most I remember from taking part in the FitnessGram back in the day was trying to reach for my toes and then getting pinched in the back of my arm. But the FitnessGram is more than just a measure of body fat and flexibility. The test items are used to determine body composition and aerobic capacity in children. They present a multi-dimensional view of children’s health. The test items reinforce health-related fitness research. The results serve to teach students and parents that just modest amounts of physical activity can improve their performance. The program helps children and parents better understand and appreciate a physically active lifestyle. The assessment does not compare one child to another and it tests fitness, not skill.
So what are the test items in the FitnessGram and what area of fitness do they measure?
To measure Aerobic Capacity (The ability to perform big muscle group high intensity exercises for a long period of time, such as running, jumping, and walking):
- PACER test, Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run, is a multi-stage endurance test, with twenty-one levels that increase in difficulty as children run 20 meter laps that gets faster and faster with each lap.
- 1-Mile Run tests a child’s endurance and is a great indicator of fitness
- Walk-test also helps to measure aerobic capacity, or the body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently.
To measure Muscle Strength (the ability of muscles to exert an external force) and Muscle Endurance (muscles’ ability to repeatedly exert an external force without fatigue):
- Pull-ups are a measure of upper body strength and endurance
- Push-ups are a measure of upper body and trunk strength and endurance
- Curl-ups are a measure of abdominal strength and endurance
- Trunk lift is a measure of back muscle strength and endurance
To measure Flexibility (the range of motion across a joint and the ability for muscles to stretch):
- Sit and reach tests for flexibility of the trunk.
- Shoulder stretch tests for the flexibility of one the shoulder, which is one of the most flexible joints in the body.
To measure for Body Composition (the makeup of the body and the ratio of fat tissue to non-fat tissue such as muscle and bone):
- Body Mass Index (BMI)
- Skinfold Measurement
- Bioelectric Impedance Analyzers
The results of the test classify children’s performance as Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ) or Needs Improvement (NI) zone. Children who score in the Needs Improvement zone receive reports that let them and their parents know that their currently at risk for future health problems. Some children may even score in the Health Risk category of the Needs Improvement zone. If they continue to live a sedentary lifestyle, there will be clear and potential health problems. Overall, The FitnessGram has been widely accepted in schools as a great educational tool for parents, teachers, and coaches. It builds a strong healthy foundation in children as young as elementary school. The program teaches them, through a hands-on approach, that being physical active in childhood pays off later on in life.
Plowman, S.A. Muscular Strength, Endurance, and Flexibility Assessments. In S. A. Plowman & M.D. Meredith (Eds.), Fitnessgram/Activitygram Reference Guide (pp. Internet Resource). (2014) Dallas, TX: The Cooper Institute.
Plowman, S.A. & Meredith, M.D. (Eds.). Fitnessgram/Activitygram Reference Guide. (2014) Dallas, TX: The Cooper Institute.