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Reference Curves for Field Tests of Musculoskeletal Fitness in U.S. Children and Adolescents: The 2012 NHANES National Youth Fitness Survey

Laurson, Kelly R.1; Saint-Maurice, Pedro F.2; Welk, Gregory J.2; Eisenmann, Joey C.3

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: August 2017 - Volume 31 - Issue 8 - p 2075–2082
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001678
Original Research

Laurson, KR, Saint-Maurice, PF, Welk, GJ, and Eisenmann, JC. Reference curves for field tests of musculoskeletal fitness in U.S. children and adolescents: The 2012 NHANES National Youth Fitness Survey. J Strength Cond Res 31(8): 2075–2082, 2017—The purpose of the study was to describe current levels of musculoskeletal fitness (MSF) in U.S. youth by creating nationally representative age-specific and sex-specific growth curves for handgrip strength (including relative and allometrically scaled handgrip), modified pull-ups, and the plank test. Participants in the National Youth Fitness Survey (n = 1,453) were tested on MSF, aerobic capacity (via submaximal treadmill test), and body composition (body mass index [BMI], waist circumference, and skinfolds). Using LMS regression, age-specific and sex-specific smoothed percentile curves of MSF were created and existing percentiles were used to assign age-specific and sex-specific z-scores for aerobic capacity and body composition. Correlation matrices were created to assess the relationships between z-scores on MSF, aerobic capacity, and body composition. At younger ages (3–10 years), boys scored higher than girls for handgrip strength and modified pull-ups, but not for the plank. By ages 13–15, differences between the boys and girls curves were more pronounced, with boys scoring higher on all tests. Correlations between tests of MSF and aerobic capacity were positive and low-to-moderate in strength. Correlations between tests of MSF and body composition were negative, excluding absolute handgrip strength, which was inversely related to other MSF tests and aerobic capacity but positively associated with body composition. The growth curves herein can be used as normative reference values or a starting point for creating health-related criterion reference standards for these tests. Comparisons with prior national surveys of physical fitness indicate that some components of MSF have likely decreased in the United States over time.

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1School of Kinesiology and Recreation, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois;

2Department of Kinesiology, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa; and

3Department of Radiology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan

Address correspondence to Dr. Kelly R. Laurson,

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Copyright © 2017 by the National Strength & Conditioning Association.