Challenge yourself with an old-school fitness test

Remember squat-thrusts? In gym suits?

The president's fitness challenge is still around, and it's not just for schoolkids anymore.

The President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition now gives people of all ages a chance to earn presidential fitness awards, along with the opportunity to acquire medals, patches and certificates associated with varying levels of achievement.

Thankfully, the squat-thrust has been retired.

"If you weren't able to receive the award when you were younger, here's your chance," said Jeff McClaine, a fitness specialist at Indiana University who administers what's now called the President's Challenge.

Couch potatoes can aim for an achievably low bar called the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award. "It's kind of a first step," McClaine said. To win it, you commit to being active for 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week, for six weeks. Alternatively, you can log 8,500 daily "activity steps" using a pedometer.

Adults who are already getting some regular exercise can join the Presidential Champions challenge, which pushes them to step up their workouts. The challenge works on a points plan, during which you go for a bronze, silver, gold or even platinum fitness medal by acccumulating point credits for exercising.

Champions challengers log their points through an online account and can choose from any of 110 activities, "from aerobics to yoga," including baton twriling, darts, mountain climbing, rowing machine, trampoline and trap & skeet, along with more typical pursuits like basketball, bicycling, running, swimming and weight training

Finally, anyone feeling nostalgic about those gym-class Presidential Fitness Tests can take an updated adult version. You'll need to walk a timed mile (or run 1.5 miles) and measure your pulse rate afterward; do situps, pushups and a flexibility test; and calculate your body-mass index based on your height and weight.

Not to worry, though. The President's Challenge doesn't count your BMI against you in the prize calculations - or even record the shameful numbers.

The badges and certificates for the various tests and challenges are sold (on the honor system) at the President's Challenge website, www.presidentschallenge.org. Cloth badges with the presidential fitness seal start at 75 cents. Add 50 cents for an 8-by-10 certificate with President Obama's signature. Medals range from $6 to $7.

If you're looking for a throwback soundtrack to inspire you as you aim for presidential fitness, visit www.philly.com/chickenfat to link to the song "Chicken Fat," composed for President John F. Kennedy's youth fitness program in the early 1960s. (The composer is Meredith Willson, of "Music Man" fame, and the song is sung by the Music Man himself, Robert Preston.)

Copies of "Chicken Fat," a/k/a "The Youth Fitness Song," were sent to schools throughout the country to get American kids in shape to vanquish Cold War adversaries. To this day, the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition organizes mass "Chicken Fat" workouts at sporting events, including one in Colorado this summer where Shrek joined in.

That said, "It's mostly the older folks who recognize it," said council spokeswoman Shannon Feaster.

Our link takes you to the website of the JFK Presidential Library and Museum, in Boston, which offers a downloadable six-minute version.