Measuring Fitness

FitnessGram Assessment

Students participating in the FitnessGram assessment gain a better understanding of their own health-related fitness. Schools that include the FitnessGram assessment in their physical education programs are better equipped to meet student fitness needs and teach healthy habits that will last Well. Into the Future.


Aerobic Capacity

Aerobic capacity is evaluated using estimates of VO² max (also known as maximal oxygen uptake). VO² max reflects the maximum rate that the respiratory, cardiovascular, and muscular systems can take in, transport, and use oxygen during exercise. Good aerobic capacity (cardiorespiratory fitness) has been shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, obesity, diabetes, the metabolic syndrome, and some forms of cancer.

FitnessGram Tests      PACER    •    1-Mile Run    •    1-Mile Walk

All Healthy Fitness Zone scores for aerobic capacity are reported as estimates of VO² max. Higher VO² max scores reflect a greater ability to take in and use oxygen and a greater potential to perform endurance exercise.

Muscular Strength

Test components for the musculoskeletal system are broken down into three primary areas: muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility. FitnessGram® tests these three areas to assess the functional health status of the musculoskeletal system.

  • Muscular strength is the maximal force your muscles can exert in a single effort.
  • Muscular endurance is the ability to sustain, or repeat muscular activity, over time.
  • Flexibility describes the range of motion of muscles at the joint.

FitnessGram recommends tests of the upper body and the abdominal/trunk areas to assess musculoskeletal fitness because of their relationship to activities of daily living, good posture, and back health.

FitnessGram Tests  Abdominal Strength & Endurance    •    Trunk Extensor Strength & Flexibility    •    Upper Body Strength & Endurance    •    Flexibility

Musculoskeletal fitness helps an individual perform daily activities more easily, reduces the risk of injury, and improves abdominal and back health. Most important, helping children and youth be aware of the status of their muscular strength, endurance and flexibility can carry forward into adulthood, preventing health concerns and improving quality of life.

Body Composition

Body composition describes what part of total body weight is fat, and what part is fat free. Fat-free body weight includes bones and muscles. FitnessGram believes it is important to educate youth and parents about appropriate levels of body composition. Some body fat is needed for overall good health, but too much can lead to health problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Overweight youth are at a higher risk for becoming overweight adults. Therefore, by maintaining a healthy weight a child can potentially reduce their future risk of health problems.

FitnessGram Tests      Body Fat Percentage    •    Body Mass Index (BMI)

FitnessGram body composition standards are based on percent body fat. Although an assessment of percent body fat utilizing a bioelectric impendence device or skin-fold assessment would be ideal, practical application in schools is very difficult. Therefore, FitnessGram also provides standards for a widely-used alternative indicator of body composition known as Body Mass Index (BMI).

The BMI is based on weight relative to height and essentially indicates if the weight is appropriate for the height. BMI cannot measure fat directly, but it can help assess health risks related to a body weight that is too great or too little for the height. FitnessGram BMI standards for youth take into account age and sex as determined by the Centers for Disease Control.


Rather than focusing on percentile norms, which rank students against each other, FitnessGram by The Cooper Institute focuses on criterion-referenced standards. These standards, developed by the FitnessGram Advisory Board, determine if a student is at a health risk. The goal of FitnessGram is for all children to be in the Healthy Fitness Zone in all five components.

These fitness zones are based on clear potential health risks, and they take into account various age and gender differences. The Healthy Fitness Zones allow for more personalized feedback and makes it possible to provide more effective prescriptive messages to youth about their potential health risks and how to improve their fitness level.

Healthy Fitness Zone

This Healthy Fitness Zone® indicates that the student is considered to be fit enough for good overall health. Most students who are regularly active should be able to score within or above the Healthy Fitness Zone on most FitnessGram assessments.

Needs Improvement

This zone indicates a potential for future health risks if fitness doesn’t improve. Increased activity as well as eating a healthy, controlled diet could delay or reverse this potential risk. Students in the Needs Improvement Zone will see messaging on their FitnessGram Student Reports explaining how they can move into the Healthy Fitness Zone.

Health Risk

The Health Risk zone suggests that the student has a probability for future health problems if they don’t improve their physical fitness. The need for increased activity and eating a healthy diet is more urgent for students in this category than those in the Needs Improvement Zone.