Fitness Testing: Helpful or Hurtful?

Students performing PACER testWhen pre-service teachers are asked to reflect on their experiences of fitness testing, few of them recall why they were participating in them or learning how these activities could help them make healthier choices throughout their lives.

Many recall having to do the “beep test”, but were not made aware of how this could be an indicator of one’s cardiorespiratory fitness or how the results could be used to create an action plan to improve one’s physical fitness. In addition, they dreaded the experience as it was a public display of who was fit and who was not in their PE class.

A recent article in the Sport, Education, and Society Journal shed light on a research study, involving adolescent students using wearable trackers, such as a Fitbit, for eight weeks to see if their levels of motivation to be physically active changed over time. Very interesting results were found; over time many of the students wearing the digital fitness trackers were less motivated to take part in physical activity as they felt pressured and had feelings of guilt or inadequacy if they couldn’t beat their peer’s step count or achieve 10,000 steps. Those who were already active could easily achieve the goal of 10,000 steps per day. End result, students felt devices shouldn’t be used as it made some students feel less confident in their physical ability.

Too often, fitness testing can do more harm than good. It can be a very intimating and threatening experience for our students leaving them with feelings of inadequacy and less confidence in their abilities; moreover, students can become less motivated and less engaged to be physically active. Yet, we know that physical activity is paramount for one’s physical, mental, spiritual and social health and that physical fitness is a changing condition throughout one’s life.

Do you remember the last time you formally assessed your physical fitness? Or perhaps while running for the bus or walking a few flights of stairs, you felt a shortness of breath and said to yourself…“ I need to do more aerobic activity!”

This raises the question, “What are the most effective means to assess physical fitness in physical education classes to help students monitor changes in their physical fitness overtime?”

The framework “why, what and how” can be easily applied to guide PE teachers to deliver effective fitness testing that can be helpful.

Why implement fitness testing?

  • Students can identify their strength and weaknesses related to personal fitness, participate in a variety of fitness appraisals that are suitable to their own stage of development and physical fitness, gather data from the appraisals and use this data to set personal goals using the SMART principle.

What and How to implement essential learning outcomes of physical fitness?

According to the Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum, the following outcomes help students understand the importance of being physically active, develop a commitment and motivation to be physically active and provide them with the tools to assess and refine their fitness plans over time.

  • Participate regularly in sustained moderate to vigorous physical activity to the best of one’s ability for a minimum of 20 minutes
  • Describe short-term and long-term benefits of developing health-related fitness (e.g., cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility) and skill related fitness (e.g., power, speed, agility, balance, reaction time, coordination)
    • Students communicate the benefits of various types of fitness and why they may choose to include them in their fitness plan.

For example, a one student might describe “I am a soccer goalie so engaging in activities that help me improve my hand eye coordination and reaction time such as a wall ball toss is important for me to be able to react quickly in a game situation to stop a goal”. While another student might share, “I want to be able to run a 5km community race with my friend so focusing on aerobic activities that help me run continuously for a period of time without feeling fatigued are important in my fitness plan”.

  • Assess level of health-related fitness and monitor changes over time
    • Students understand that fitness is a changing condition and apply various ways to assess their fitness that might be best suitable to their physical fitness at a given point of time
      •  Caution: the beep test, a maximal 20 m shuttle, is not the only appraisal to be used to assess cardiorespiratory fitness – it is a great tool for those students who are physically fit but can be discouraging for those students who are less fit and lack motivation
      • Consider providing a variety of appraisals for students to choose from, however be sure to be consistent with the same choice of appraisal for the next testing round. A variety of cardiorespiratory appraisals are listed below:
        • Cooper Test: 12 Minute Run – maximal running test where participants try to cover as much distance in 12 minutes
        • Rockport One-Mile Walking test – submaximal walking test where participants walk for one mile as fast as they can; very good for those with lower aerobic fitness level
        • MCaft (modified Canadian Aerobic fitness test) – submaximal test where participants move up and down a few steps to a cadence/rhythm.
        • YoYo Intermittent Test – variation of Beep Test with short active breaks
        • [30:15] Intermittent Test – participants run 30 seconds alternated with 15 seconds of walking repeatedly
  • Develop, implement and revise a personal fitness plan
    • Students create an action plan using various training principles such as the FITT principle, overload principle, SMART principle
    • In a student led interview, peer sharing or fitness journal, students describe how they developed, implemented and revised their plan throughout the school year. What were some barriers? How did they overcome barriers? What do they wish to focus on in the summer and into the following year?

How to implement effective fitness testing into your PE program?

Explore these resources to create meaningful experiences for fitness testing for students.

  1. OPHEA’s Quality Assessment to Support the Development of Physical Literacy Skills in HPE Position Paper Provides guidelines for appropriate use of assessment methods and tools e.g., physical assessment results/scores should not be used as a grade, assessments should be inclusive, student-centered, personalized and consistent throughout the year.
  2. PHE Canada’s Passport for Life  – A K-12 Program that supports the understanding, assessment and development of physical literacy among students.
  3. Thompson Educational Publishing – resources that support the delivery of quality well planned inclusive HPE programs.
  4. Gopher Fitness Testing Equipment – a variety of fitness testing equipment that can be used for your PE program.

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