In a previous column I discussed the PACER, a test of cardiovascular fitness that is part of the national youth physical fitness test battery (FITNESSGRAM). FITNESSGRAM, was developed at the Cooper Institute in Dallas and is now offered as a cooperative program with the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition (PCFSN) and the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (AAHPERD). In addition to assessing cardiovascular fitness, the FITNESSGRAM Test Battery includes tests of muscle fitness, flexibility, and body composition.
Muscle fitness includes strength and muscular endurance. Strength is the ability to lift a heavy weight or exert force when the muscles contract. Muscular endurance is the ability to use the muscles for a long time without fatigue. There are three tests of muscle fitness in the FITNESSGRAM Test Battery. The first is the 90-degree push-up. Instead of lowering the chest or chin to the floor as in a regular push-up, the push-up is complete when the elbow reaches a 90-degree angle. The second test is the curl-up. It is similar to a sit-up with the knees bent. Instead of sitting “all of the way up” the head and shoulders “curl-up.” The arms are held straight and reach across a pre-marked band to indicate when the curl-up is complete. The final test is the trunk lift. Lying on the floor (face down) with the hands and arms at the sides, the trunk and head are lifted off the floor. The goal is to lift the chin 12 inches in the air and hold it there for three seconds.
The first few repetitions of the push-up and curl-up assess strength, as does the trunk lift. The ability to complete additional repetitions of the push-up and the curl-up provides evidence of muscular endurance. The items were chosen because they assess muscle fitness of different parts of the body. Recent research reports indicate that muscle fitness is related to health in both adults and youth. An Institute of Medicine (IOM) report in 2012 indicated that muscular fitness in adults is associated with reduced incidence of back pain, improved personal independence and quality of life, improved functional ability, reduced risk of heart disease and osteoporosis (risk of bone fractures), and better cognitive function. The link to health among youth is not as strong, but there is evidence that good muscular fitness among youth is associated with healthy bones, lower body fat levels, lower systolic blood pressure, better blood lipid profiles, less risk of back pain, and improved quality of life and well-being.
Students who take the entire FITNESSGRAM Test Battery typically receive a fitness report card that informs parents whether their child is in the “healthy fitness zone,” or is in need of improvement. Messages are provided to help parents and students make plans for improving their muscle fitness. Is your child in the healthy fitness zone for muscular fitness? If you don’t know, then you may want to find out. Ask the physical education teacher if you can get a FITNESSGRAM report. If your child falls below the healthy fitness zone (needs improvement) find ways to help your child to be more active, especially in activities that require the muscles to work harder than normal (climbing on outdoor equipment, elastic band exercises, fun exercises, jumping activities). Of course, daily physical education will help your child to be more active and to learn muscle fitness activities that can be performed outside of school.
If a child is not doing well in math or language arts, we make special efforts to help the child catch up. If he or she is lacking in muscle fitness, special help may also be needed. The health of our children depends on it.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Dr. Charles “Chuck” Corbin is professor emeritus at Arizona State University. He is the author of more than 90 books on fitness and exercise, was the first chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition Science Board, and served on the Institute of Medicine Committee on Fitness Measures and Health Outcomes in Youth. He was a charter member of the advisory board for FITNESSGRAM.