Outlined below is a history of physical fitness since the Kraus-Weber Physical Fitness Report shook the nation in 1955. That same report jump-started the physical fitness and sports movement by alerting the medical community of the developing need to recognize physical fitness as a crucial form of preventative medicine.
Originally there was a Presidential Council for Children’s Fitness. This was later changed to the Presidential Council for Physical Fitness and Sports. The change of names diverted the attention for physical fitness away from the early physical education of American elementary school children during their peak developmental years. The tragedy of kid’s fitness failures in elementary school continues to be a national embarrassment.
Dr. Hans Kraus and Dr. Sonja Weber, who had a posture clinic at Columbia University Presbyterian Hospital, were responsible for developing the Kraus-Weber Minimum Test in 1954 in response to a puzzling finding. They had become perplexed when 80% of their patients’ X-rays did not demonstrate the signs and symptoms those patients complained about. Together they formed a physical fitness task force consisting of orthopedics, physiatrists, psychiatrists, social agencies and general physicians to study the health problem over a period of four and a half years.
Dr. Kraus and Dr. Weber then came up with this six-item medical fitness test to measure the strength and flexibity of key postural muscles that would become known as the Kraus-Weber Test. The test consisted of five strength challenges, and one general flexibility procedure. Their concept was: physical fitness of an individual could deteriorate to the level that the body’s muscular defense would cause pain and systemic dysfunction until relieved by conditioning, relaxation, postural reform, and a more active life style. The test was initially misunderstood to represent an examination demonstrating maximum physical fitness and some still make that mistake today.
Bonnie Prudden was closely involved with Dr. Hans Kraus as his research assistant. They collaborated on a number of physical fitness articles and were avid mountain climbers. They eventually tested over 5,000 European school children and equal numbers of American children. Their study revealed that only 8 percent of European children failed the test. In America the percentage of test failures was 57 percent.
It is worth noting that there were few overweight people at this time, meaning low-key postural fitness levels couldn't be blamed on the presence of obesity. The obesity trend began in the 1980’s with the dominating presence of the fast food industry. The more likely reason for the fitness failures was our population’s response to chronic inactivity.
John Kelly (Grace Kelly’s father) found out about the study and news traveled to President Eisenhower. John Kelly’s name is mentioned here because he was not only an Olympic rower, but was also the director of physical fitness for the government under the Roosevelt Administration. Bonnie Prudden responded to a call from President Eisenhower and hand-carried the test to the president in Washington D.C. They discussed the concern that Americans were growing soft from inactivity caused by the mechanized age. The information age started with the advent of the television and computers. Further chronic inactivity would lead to a worsening of the already-poor human performance and fitness response of the general public.
President Eisenhower became alarmed when, as Commander of the armed forces in Europe during World War II, he saw many of his troops die. They were not physically ready for battle. He developed the first Presidential Physical Fitness Council, which later included sports performance. The inclusion of sports was particularly important because most cities in 1954 only had perhaps a high school stadium and a local weight lifting center for lifting enthusiasts. There were few health clubs in the United States in 1954, with the main activity centers being the YMCA and YWCA. The Council for Physical Fitness and Sports gained immediate fame through the efforts of government agencies, celebrities, and sports figures. Schools throughout the nation were encouraged to give physical fitness tests, promote fitness, and encourage sports participation. As a result, thousands of fitness clubs opened all over America and large sports arenas were built in the wake of the physical fitness movement. Athletes went from making a few thousand a year in the 50’s to receiving millions of dollars in 2011. Little league and after-school sports activities developed overnight. Physical therapists and orthopedists added sports medicine to their practices to give the public the services they needed to recover from their injuries.
Dr. Kraus and Dr. Weber created their test to assess an acceptable level of strength and flexibility of key postural muscles... The two testing physicians classified four physical responses that contributed to pain and systems failure: tension, stiffness, muscular weakness, and spasms. After four and a half years, Columbia University came up with 21 exercises, in addition to treatment for restoring the body back to a normal functioning level. This intrigued the YMCA, and they created a program to deliver modified versions of the specific exercises they termed “The ‘Y’ Way to a Healthy Back”.
The YMCA delivered their program to 300,000 patients with an 80% success rate. They found that if people increased their physical fitness levels, the pain would decrease and could potentially be eliminated. Their emphasis was on: relaxation, flexibility, stretching, strengthening and conditioning.
Bonnie Prudden is 98 years old and still teaches Myotherapy workshops in Arizona. I would highly recommend attending her seminars to any practicing physical therapist, physical educator, and chiropractic or health fitness professional. Dr. Janet Travel would inject solutions into sensitive spots of muscles called trigger points. Bonnie soon found that the trigger points could be relieved with pressure and wrote a book about it called “Pain Erasure.“
Now, 50 plus years later, what is the health fitness status of the American people? There is a Council for Physical Fitness, and there are Sports appointees named by each new president, and hundreds of sports figures, celebrities, and fitness experts who are still promoting physical fitness. Each year, American schools administer a Presidential Physical Fitness Test. The internet is full of advice on sportswear, shoes, sports procedures, cookbooks, beauty treatments, relaxation techniques, and quick ways to a perfect body. After all of the above, the average citizen still is not motivated to improve a non-existent exercise program. The number of elementary school children who fail to score in acceptable health zones is dramatically increasing to 75% and above.
The Kraus-Weber test, used in the proper context, is still a valuable working tool for physical education teachers, parents, clinicians, and even the general public. The test gives valuable information about the key postural muscle readiness of elementary school children towards the goal of skill development. A K-W test and biomechanical evaluation can easily be performed the same day.
Dr. Hans Krause was a physician of physical medicine, and Dr. Sonja Weber had a posture fitness clinic and was an orthopedic physician. These two specialties have disappeared today. Many medical doctors have become physiatrists (this specialty also includes industrial medicine.) Posture and fitness physicians have become general orthopedic physicians, or specific orthopedic specialists of a particular area, i.e. a knee specialist, hand specialist or back specialist. Their primary objective is to treat an injury, not promote peak physical fitness. The sports movement produced a need for physicians to care for athletics injuries, so specialists in orthopedic medicine emerged as sports medicine physicians. These physicians treat sports injuries with orthopedic surgery, and promote recovery for jobs and sports. The new guy on the block is the human performance specialist; they evaluate and give advice to athletes and the general population on peak physical performance and maintaining physical fitness for longevity. There are only a few of these clinics in the large cities of the country; this is a profession set to explode. We need a human performance testing center in every medical clinic in America.
Physical Medicine and Posture Clinic Specialists didn't disappear entirely; they merely combined into a profession called Physical Therapy. This profession is further specializing into children’s, cardiac, sports, industrial, and general physical therapies. Other professions that have emerged because of the physical fitness movement are athletic trainers, exercise trainers for sports facilities and sports clubs, and exercise physiologists. The athletic trainer is associated with sports injury prevention and recovery of injured team members; the exercise physiologist works primarily at exercise clubs and health clinics, supervising human performance testing, measurements and exercise programs. More physicians’ M.D. specialties exist such as sports medicine, cardiologist, human performance physicians, and so on.
This change in medicine since the Kraus-Weber test shows the great need that has evolved for preventative medicine. We need early evaluation of children's physical fitness, directed exercise programs and medical intervention at elementary school in order to prevent our children from developing chronic diseases.
Physical evaluation should start in elementary school and involve testing strength and flexibility of key postural muscle, biomechanical analysis, skills achievement testing, and health-fitness VO2/Mets testing. All these test scores should be made part of the child’s scholastic and family doctor’s record. There should be e-mail and telephone correspondence between testers, parents and physicians. Physicians can follow the child’s development and target disease prevention. Communication would be established throughout the community so health clubs, schools, parents and physicians are on the same response page. Sharing of records of course, remains in the hands of the parents and is at their discretion.
The average doctor only has the first half of the health equation for treatment; they take pulse, blood pressure, and cholesterol readings which assess only sedentary health. When is the last time your family doctor gave you a test to determine your activity level, assess your longevity or write a valid exercise prescription you could hold in your hand? The second half of health is the child’s physical fitness status. Early intervention in elementary school should consist of having one hour of daily physical education to prevent disease and keep children in peak performance during their developing years. Building a high level functioning body is crucial to their social, emotional, physical and academic learning. Your physician presently does not have any of this test information in the child’s charts as standard practice.
Most professional physical educators, medical doctors and other health providers (or, certainly, members of the general public,) cannot give you a definition of minimum physical fitness, maximum physical fitness or fitness standards. Most cannot identify even what part of health, physical fitness represents. Physical educators, physicians and parents need to understand these definitions and concepts so that all can speak a common language, in order to put in place the greatest preventative medicine measure since vaccinations were introduced.
There have been great advances in public awareness and participation in physical fitness since the 1954 presidential report. However failure to address the original kids failed fitness problem then and now has resulted in a dismal and tragic national health fitness epidemic.
Please visit my website to become more educated about kidsfailedfitness.org. There are very comprehensive slides with voice and narration, in addition to a national proposal, and a sample ‘letter to the editor’ in case you decide to voice your opinion to your congress or senate representative. There is also a donation site if you care to help us fight kids failed fitness.
We are proposing a national health fitness proposal. We all need to become involved in the health-fitness effort to help our children have the opportunity to live a more healthy, productive and long life.