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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
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Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Fitness testing involves carrying out a series of standardized procedures for the purpose of assessing an individual’s or a group’s skill-related and/or health-related physical competencies (Corbin et al., 2000). Testing children’s fitness can be done through laboratory procedures or field-based operations. It is important that health professionals know where the population is heading in terms of health so that they can provide any changes that are necessary. Field-based fitness testing includes cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body composition. (Harris & Cale, 2006) These are the most commonly measured fitness components, albeit the inclusion of body composition is often questionable despite its importance in relation to general health, as it is not considered a “performance measure” (Corbin et al., 2000). The field-based testing provides results that are indicative of health complications that may be present or developing. These tests can be done without the use of high cost laboratory equipment, qualified personnel, and most importantly can be done in the school setting (Artero et al., 2011) Skill related fitness testing involves more sport-specific measures such as speed, reaction time, agility, balance, coordination, and power, which are vital for the successful technical performance of a certain activity (Corbin et al., 2000). All of the aforementioned components can be tested at any age, under proper guidance and supervision, however in this article we will be focusing on fitness testing as it pertains to young children.

Importance and Purpose of Fitness Testing

Fitness tests are a vital way to monitor the motor development of children and to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of their physical abilities and activity level (Harris & Cale, 2006). Not only do fitness tests serve as baseline measures of general health, but they can also reflect the efficacy of extra-curricular or training programs that a child may partake in (Harris & Cale, 2006). As a result, realistic health and fitness goals can be set and training recommendations can be prescribed by a fitness professional to help address any functional limitations. Fitness testing of children has been shown to predict adult Physical Activity levels, which is crucial for early identification of individuals prone to potential health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle (Dennison et al, 1988). From an athletic standpoint, situations where fitness testing may play a role is that it can determine what sporting event best suits an athlete, provides a baseline for long-term athlete development, where the child’s fitness level is with respect to other children of the same age, and it can provide motivation to enhance the child’s health and fitness (Cumming, 1970). In addition, the purpose of fitness testing can be to highlight healthy behaviour and encourage children to participate in physical activity beginning at an early age (Seefeldt & Vogel , 1989). It is imperative fitness professionals and physical education teachers make room for fitness and encourage children to participate in physical activity to prevent them from being subject to chronic diseases which can decrease their quality of life. It also relieves the government from an exponential amount of money spent on health care due to chronic diseases and the capital saved can be reinvested into outdoor parks and playgrounds (JANSSEN, 2012).

Properties of a Successful Fitness Test

An accurate and applicable fitness test must be both valid and reliable (Artero et al, 2010). Validity refers to how well a test reflects the characteristic it is designed to assess. (Artero et al, 2010). There are two ways to measure validity, Criterion-related validity and Construct validity. Criterion-related validity compares the field test of a fitness component to the “gold standard.” Whereas construct validity measures the field test of the fitness component to other variables that are similar in theory – this is only used when there is no established gold standard (Freedson et al., 2000). Reliability refers to the reproducibility of results; meaning an objective standardized protocol must be in place to ensure that if a participant was to complete the test on two separate occasions within a short period of time, he/she would obtain similar scores (Artero et al., 2010).

Existing Fitness Test Batteries

There are currently 15 different fitness test batteries applied worldwide to assess the physical fitness of children and adolescents between the ages of 5-19 (Ruiz et al, 2011). Some of these include: EUROFIT applied in Europe, FITNESSGRAM, Physical Best, and the International Physical Fitness Test (IPFT) in the United States of America, The Canadian Physical Activity, Fitness & Lifestyle Approach Test Battery (CPAFLA) in Canada, National Fitness Test Program in the Popular Republic of China (NFTP-PRC) in China, and the Australian Fitness Education Award (AFEA) in Australia (Ruiz et al, 2011). As part of a recent study on the Instruments Assessing the Levels of Physical Activity and Fitness (ALPHA), an extensive review of many different health related fitness testing modalities was conducted, and a set of the most valid and reliable health-related fitness tests for children and adolescents (Artero et al., 2010). In addition to these different test batteries, the one discussed below for children with disabilities is known as the Brockport Fitness Test (BPFT) developed by the State University of New York, College at Brockport (Nelson et al., 2006). We will briefly discuss each of the categories below.

Health-Related Fitness Testing

As previously discussed, health-related fitness components are important measures of the general well-being and reflect the overall health status of an individual. They are cardiorespiratory fitness, musculoskeletal strength and endurance, body composition, and flexibility.

Cardiorespiratory Fitness

Cardiorespiratory tests measures the maximum oxygen uptake the athlete requires for the heart to pump blood to the working muscles (Cumming, 1970). In addition to having an efficient heart, other factors affect one’s cardiorespiratory fitness includes, “the maximum oxygen uptake which is dependent on the stroke volume of the heart, a higher total body hemoglobin and oxygen transports, and an increase in capillarization of the muscles to be able to receive and remove oxygen from the blood” (Cumming, 1970). The ALPHA-FIT test battery uses a 20 metre shuttle run test, where the child must run back and forth between two lines that are 20 metres apart in continually decreasing time intervals (indicated by an audio signal) until fatigue or inability to reach the necessary speed (The Alpha Project, 2009). Alternative cardiorespiratory fitness tests include the 1-mile or ½-mile run, among others (Artero et al., 2010).

Musculoskeletal Fitness

Muscular strength

Testing muscular strength shows how much force the child can generate. To target the upper limb, a hand dynamometer is used and the Handgrip Strength test can be analysed at an inexpensive but accurate way that can easily be reproduced therefore making it a test that is often used. (Artero et al., 2011) The lower body can be tested through the use of the Standing Long Jump where the child must jump from two feet as far as possible and maintain upright balance upon landing (The Alpha Project, 2009)

Muscular endurance

Muscular endurance is defined by the ability to maintain a forceful contraction over time. (Artero et al., 2011) To measure muscular endurance, common tests performed were push-ups to failure or a flexed arm hang until the child is no longer maintaining a 90 degree angle within the elbow. (Freedson et al., 2000) Other examples of musculoskeletal fitness tests include the curl-up (or sit-up) (Harris & Cale, 2006), leg press for strength (Miliken et al., 2008), trunk extension, push-ups and modified pull-up (Artero et al., 2011)

Body Build and Composition

This term refers to the form and structure of the body and can encompass any of the following: height, weight, Body Mass Index (BMI), waist circumference, skinfold thickness, and percentage of body fat (Artero et al., 2010). The strongest evidence of test reliability was achieved with the skinfolds measurements. They are to be taken from various sites of the body, for children, either the sum of the subscapular region and the triceps will suffice or the calf and triceps skinfolds have proved to be valid indicator of obesity during the later stages of life (Freedson et al., 2000.) Knowing the athlete’s somatotype helps identify which sport or event they would be best suited for. Different biomechanical advantages can be given to each athlete, for example, a muscular athlete would be better suited for a sprinting event whereas longer distance runners are more slender (Cumming, 1970).


Although the ALPHA-FIT model did not include flexibility as one of its’ fitness test components, it is still a vital component of efficient daily motor function and is a part of many test batteries (Castro-Pinero et al., 2009). Flexibility is the ability to move and the limbs freely without restriction through a wide range of motion (Artero et al., 2011). A common flexibility test is the sit-and-reach where laxity of the muscles of the lower back and hamstrings are tested. (Freedson et al., 2000) The child sits on the floor with knees fully extended and feet flat against a specially constructed box, next the child reaches forward slowly sliding the hands over a ruler on top of said box to a maximally flexed but stable position (Castro-Pinero et al., 2009). Further examples of testing flexibility are the shoulder stretch, and arm-lift (Harris & Cale, 2006).

Skill-Related Fitness Testing

Skill-related fitness tests are administered in a more sport-specific setting and are deemed “not absolutely necessary” for the maintenance of overall health (Rink et al., 2010). Since the 1970’s there has been progressively less emphasis on skill-related fitness testing in schools as it is believed to have a large genetic component and more useful in a sport performance context (Rink et al., 2010). There are six skill-related fitness components. Agility is measured via a shuttle or zig zag run, balance is measured by a balance beam or stork stand test, and coordination is measured by any hand-eye coordination task such as dribbling (Corbin et al., 2000). In addition, power can be measured by a vertical jump, speed by any type of short sprint, and reaction time measure by a ruler drop test (Corbin et al., 2000). Skill-related fitness testing is probably more likely to be seen in countries such as China and Russia where early talent identification is an integral part of the school curriculum.

Fitness Testing Children with Disabilities

Children with disabilities should be given extra care when concerned with physical activity. Although they have the same physiological, anatomical, and psychological capacity to participate in the activities, these children participate in less physical activities and are subject to a decline in their health (Freedson et al., 2000). This puts children with disabilities at a greater risk for chronic diseases which can make life in the later stages more difficult. To meet demands of physical tests for children with disabilities, the College at Brockport developed a set of physical fitness test known as the Brockport Fitness Test (BPFT), it had many of the same tests that were mentioned above such as grip strength, the modified curl-up, the sit-and-reach for flexibility, as well as the flexed arm hang that indicated upper body strength. (Nelson et al., 2006) In addition, the BPFT includes Trunk lift and cardiovascular fitness test called the Pacer test (Beep Test) for subjects to run back and forth within a certain distance that was determined by age (16 meters for children 10-12 years of age; 20 meters for adolescence 13-17 years of age) before the second beep sounded. If they failed to reach the opposing side before the next sound, their fitness test would be over. The BPFT focused on subjects with mental retardation and some of the tests proved to be difficult as subjects did not understand the instructions, had attention and/or memory deficits that interrupted the task at hand (Nelson et al., 2006).

Advantages and Limitations


An advantage of field-based fitness testing when compared to laboratory settings is that it is easier to administer and is time efficient (Harris & Cale, 2006). It is also low in cost and relatively safe therefore teachers can test the class during a regular physical education block. Considerable thought has gone into the scientific research supporting the tests emphasizing the evaluation and education aspects of health to children (Harris & Cale, 2006). Furthermore, many resources exist for the guidance and administration of these test, as well as additional instruction on improving the associated health components (Harris & Cale, 2006).


The methodology for fitness testing of children does not account for important variables such as genetics, a wide range of maturation (physical and cognitive) within an age group, motivational factors, test conditions, and the influence of family values and lifestyle (Harris & Cale, 2006). There is also little consideration to the physiological aspects of health when fitness testing since the tests is only a measure of the child’s individual physical fitness (Harris & Cale, 2006). In addition to the limitations listed above, the misuse of fitness test scores can have negative consequences on the children from a loss of interest in physical activity, students cheating to achieve a higher mark, as well as a loss of confidence in those who are unable to achieve a desired score (Harris & Cale, 2006). Furthermore, there is much debate on how much fitness testing actually reflects the “clinical health status” of a child, and the complex effects of fitness testing on motivation do not show any clear correlation for increasing levels of physical activity (Harris & Cale, 2006).


Fitness professionals and physical education teachers should continue to encourage children to participate in physical activity. They should provide tests that have a positive and meaningful outcome where the child is learning and not under scrutiny. Since fitness tests are potentially embarrassing and meaningless to many children, teachers should not publicly discuss test scores but only with the individual in a private setting. Fitness testing for children should always have age-appropriate protocols and the focus should continue to shift away from skill-related fitness components as not every child will strive to become an elite athlete. However each child should strive to become a healthy and active adult. If the child cannot perform well on the tests, teachers should provide appropriate support and encouragement. Fitness testing should be used to highlight the importance of physical health by encouraging positive attitudes and promote a life-long commitment to health related fitness (Harris & Cale, 2006).

Recommendations for Children with Disabilities

Modifications should be made to the BPFT to ensure proper testing of children with disabilities. For example, many subjects with Down syndrome and mental retardation were unable to perform well on the Pacer test as they were either distracted by the beeping noise, or the colored tape at the other end. A cardiovascular test better suited for this population may include run for a certain amount of time or the amount of time it takes to complete a certain distance. The flexed arm hang test also had very low passing rates and is not a reliable musculoskeletal test for children with mental retardation, using the push-up or modified push-up test would be more applicable in this situation. (Nelson et al., 2006)


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Castro-Piñero, J., Chillón, P., Ortega, F. B., Montesinos, J. L., Sjöström, M., Ruiz, J.R. (2009). Criterion-related validity of sit-and-reach and modified sit-and-reach test for estimating hamstring flexibility in children and adolescents aged 6-17 years. International Jouranl of Sports Medicine. 30(9):658-62. doi: 10.1055/s-0029-1224175.

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