Fitness testing and fitness education

Advice on fitness testing, measuring students and the use of fitness education in PDHPE.

What is physical fitness and how do we test it?

Our aim is to encourage children to be more physically active, not to turn them off activity.

Use fitness testing in PDHPE to:

  • offer opportunities for teaching and learning about fitness concepts and goal setting
  • develop students’ knowledge and understanding of the benefits and issues of health-related fitness through guided exploration of results and testing protocols
  • offer practical experience of the tests to help students to understand broader concepts, such as the nature of fitness, how it is developed, its links to health and how progress can be monitored
  • support and encourage students to set goals and increase participation in physical activity
  • offer opportunities for students to identify their strengths and work towards building on these and improving other areas.

Do not use fitness testing to:

  • assess student achievement against PDHPE outcomes
  • compare the performance or results of individual students with others in the state or against each other in the class.

Physical fitness is related to an individual’s capacity to perform activity. The components of physical fitness are often divided into two categories:

  • health-related fitness: i.e. body composition, aerobic capacity, flexibility, muscular endurance and muscular strength
  • skilled-related fitness: including agility, balance, anaerobic power and those specific motor skills, such as throwing and catching, required for performing different games and physical activities.

When people talk about fitness testing they are commonly referring to tests for health-related fitness. It is these health related components that are important for everyone to develop and maintain for their own personal health.

A range of fitness tests can be used to test each component of health-related fitness. Some tests are more easily administered in the school situation than others.

These include:

  • Body composition: height, weight, sum of skinfolds, body mass index (BMI)
  • Aerobic capacity: treadmill stress test, bicycle ergometer (VO2 max) test, multistage fitness test, 1.6 kilometre run/walk, Coopers 12 minute run
  • Muscular endurance: curl-up test, push-up test, bench jumps
  • Muscular strength: basketball throw, pull-ups, push/pull dynamometer, handgrip dynamometer
  • Flexibility: sit and reach, shoulder stretch, trunk hyperextension.

Measuring weight and body composition

Measuring student’s weight in class is a highly sensitive issue and is not recommended.

Many variables act on children’s weight as they grow and change, especially through the years of puberty. Measuring height and weight may make some students uncomfortable and self conscious.

Comparing individual students with others of their sex and age may raise concerns about weight or body shape that may not have existed previously. This action works against the key messages of PDHPE, as we teach students to question and challenge society’s obsession with body image.

For similar reasons, skinfold testing has no real place in schools, other than perhaps as a teaching and learning tool in the senior years or in elective classes in PDHPE. Taking skinfold readings often leads to unreliable results and introduces the issue of privacy.

Consider your students’ reactions and response to measurement and fitness testing.

  • Does it motivate students to try harder and encourage them to be more active outside school?
  • Do some students enjoy testing and measurement compared to others who do not? Are there reasons for these concerns?
  • What is the purpose of these tests and measurements? How will you and students use the data? Can this data be collected in another way?

Developing students' self-monitoring skills

Encourage students to plan and monitor their own fitness and physical activity as a part of teaching and learning about fitness concepts in PDHPE.

  • Progress charts: Students can monitor their progress on charts, recording information on fitness and physical activity.
  • Contracts: These are agreements which show what work is to be done by the student by a specified date.
  • Diary or journal: These can be online or written, verbal or video reflection on a particular issue or focus area. Students are encouraged to provide personal reflections rather than simple descriptions. When teaching about fitness concepts, this strategy supports students to record their results privately and reflect on any feelings or comments they may have.
  • Portfolio: This is a collection of items relating to fitness and physical activity. It may include such items as a gym program, details of participation in local sporting clubs or dance groups, a personal activity diary, evidence of encouraging others to participate e.g. coaching a junior team or playing with younger siblings. Generally, portfolios are longer-term projects and teachers must give clear guidelines on what they are looking for.

Key messages

  • Reconsider the use of fitness tests in a primary school.
  • Measuring students’ weight is not recommended.
  • Skinfold measurements should not be taken, unless it is on a voluntary basis and is used as a teaching and learning tool for senior students.
  • Results of health-related fitness tests should not be used to compare the performance of individual students with others.
  • Don’t rely on the results of fitness tests as the only source of evidence for making a judgement about students’ achievement.
  • Use health-related fitness testing and results as a way of encouraging students to develop and monitor their own personal fitness.
  • Surveying student activity patterns, identifying student attitudes and personal goals in relation to fitness and activity levels and monitoring the attainment of goals provides a richer set of information on which to base judgements than fitness test results.

Related content


  • Teaching and learning

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  • Educational Standards
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