The Test of Fitness

La Sierra High School
Theisen, Earl La Sierra High School. Look: Along the Iron Curtain January 30, 1962


If you happen to reside in the camp that believes that the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games were too difficult, especially due to the pegboard event, or worse, Murph, I invite you to go with me on a journey back in time.  The year is 1962, 9 months after John F. Kennedy presented his famous moon shot speech.  It was in this year that JFK challenged the nation once again.  This time, the challenge was to make America physically healthy.  In his own words, he stated that he believed that a physically healthy citizen would also be a spiritually and mentally healthy citizen.  JFK’s challenge to build a stronger America was known as the “Great National Effort”.  It was modeled after the PE programming of La Sierra High School.  Four thousand high schools across the nation rose to this challenge.

The La Sierra program was an ability-ranked physical fitness training program.  It has a broad range of tests which included a minimum requirement of pull ups that exceeded the minimums of the U.S. Marine Corps.  In fact, the minimum pull up requirement was double (6) of that of a Marine.  Think about that for a second.  A high school PE class called for more than a Marines boot camp.  The program, appropriately named after the high school in which it was developed, started with your freshmen year.  It’s core lessons as a freshmen revolved foundationally around proper breathing techniques.  The ranking system was based upon an athlete’ fitness level, which was designated by the color of their shorts.  In order to move up in rank, the athlete would have to pass a series of rigorous tests where the standards became increasingly more difficult at each stage.  In fact, standards of the tests were increased over time because the percentages of pass exceeded the outlined model.  Sounds familiar.  Similar to earning a black belt in martial arts, a student would work towards attaining the coveted navy blue shorts.  To do this,  a student athlete would have to perform 34 pull-ups (long before the advent of the butterfly pull up) and a grueling five mile fireman carry.  It is fair to mention few ever attained the top level of fitness in the program.  It was a place held only by the elite.

As a reminder, these were high school students that trained during the typical one hour PE classes.  These were not sponsored athletes whose careers revolved around continuous training.  For the CrossFit fans paying special attention, you’ve probably summed up that this was during an era that predates Coach Greg Glassman, a man who cherishes the classics of gymnastics and is well versed in the training tools that stem from a time many have forgotten.  The pegboard, for instance, was a tool which was commonplace before the de-emphasis on the importance of physical fitness in our educational system.  You will also find that the tenets of the La Sierra program parallel much of what one would find in the foundational training of the CrossFit Level 1 course.  For example, the equipment-less La Sierra training program focused on building strength, endurance, power, agility, and balance, five of the ten attributes of fitness outlined by CrossFit.  As for Murph, I have no doubt that the bearer of the elite status navy blue shorts would have had no trouble negotiating that obstacle.

The point is, until recently our nation had lost touch of the importance of fitness in our lives.  The magic of the Games is that the spectator is somehow connected to the competitors.  It can be argued that CrossFit has single-handedly been responsible for bringing back much of what was lost or was slowly dwindling away.  JFK said best, “We have become more and more not a nation of athletes but a nation of spectators.”  Instead of contemplating and bickering the fairness or difficulty of events at that Games, let’s get out there and continue to test ourselves and improve over yesterday.  The Games will always be increasingly more difficult and for the right reasons.  As a community we are getting more fit. The evolution is upon us.

Still not convinced?  Check out to learn more about this incredible story.

If you’re like us at Kilomodo and love fitness, you may also be interested in learning more about the #JFKChallenge where some thought leaders are working hard to spark up the discussion around getting this PE program back into our schools.  Wouldn’t that be something?

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