JFK’s Fitness Programme (1961-1962)


Part of a mid-century scare about America’s children and the future of the American military, the following post details the 35th President of the United States, J. F. Kennedy’s efforts to test and improve the population’s health.

The previous decade had seen the roll out of mass physical testing requirements for American schoolchildren, a point we shall return to in a future post. J.F.K’s election saw the President express his desire to tackle the Nation’s ill health. Upon his election in 1961, the President and his team released over 200,000 copies of the below work to American schools.

Termed the US Physical Fitness Program, it aimed to increase the Nation’s strength. Aside from circulating the book, a core group of almost a quarter of a million schoolchildren took part in pilot projects in six states to test Kennedy’s approved training system.

The result? More children passed the President’s fitness test than before. It seemed to have worked.

What was this magical system? See for yourself. Can you do all ten exercises? Furthermore, what exercises would you use nowadays to challenge children?


Conditioning Exercises

      1. Bend and Stretch 10 reps
      2. Knee Lift 10 left, 10 right
      3. Wing Stretch 20 reps
      4. Half Knee Bend 10 reps
      5. Arm Circles 15 each way
      6. Body Bend 10 left, 10 right
      7. Prone Arch 10 reps
      8. Knee Pushup 6
      9. Head and Shoulder Crawl 5
      10. Ankle Stretch 15 reps


  1. Circulatory Activity 


  1. Walking 1/2 Mile
  2. Rope (Skip 15 secs, Rest 60 secs) 3 series

As always…Happy Lifting!




10 thoughts on “JFK’s Fitness Programme (1961-1962)

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  1. I remember doing the Fifteen For Fitness exercises in elementary schoo[ ; We did them to a record that led us through the exercises. Afterwands we would run or play a sport before returning to class. I have a copy of the record and wonder what a collector would pay for it. It was a healthy program and was started over each year. With a history challenge ask kids to try it!

  2. In the School I attended was High School 1964-1967 just at the time Viet Nam was really heating up. We had coaches that were Korean War Vets and they were tough. We were trained just like in Boot Camp for an hour each day. Running, climbing bleachers yelling Commando then hand to hand combat. Calisthentics were a daily chore. And if you had not dressed out properly there was a punishment. I got a nice big wack on the bottom with a board with holes in it. So I look back now and realize that they were preparing us for the dirty deeds that went on then and in the near future.

    1. That is just incredible Allin. Thanks so much for sharing. It’s remarkable to think just how militarised physical education became during the Cold War. It’d be interesting to track how it is being done now – I suspect it’s much less strict!

  3. In today’s world they’d call him a fascist for federalizing the fitness program. And he’d be considered a conservative for speaking about personal accountability as well as God and country. It’s really amazing how everything has flipflopped.

  4. It is a shame these things are not preserved and saved. I lost my copy of the book but would give quite a bit to find a copy.

  5. In the summer of 1962 I was 14 and signed up and completely the 50 mile swim we were being transferred a month after I signed up so I had to swim e dry day I have never stopped swimming and this fitness program stuck with me for a life I thought it was a great idea

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