Sixty Years Ago Almost
“COME UP WITH something concrete… And don’t scatter your shots…. Make this physical fitness… Do something about girls.” Vice President Nixon

Bonnie describes this “as a moment of hope.” Vice President Nixon was outlining the tasks for the next three days during the welcoming of the Citizen’s Advisory Council on Youth Fitness at West Point in September 1957.

Sadly… “Three days later we had come up with a program as concrete as tapioca pudding. Physical fitness had given way to something quite nebulous called “total fitness,” which in effect meant that nobody could be pinned down, since no matter what he did was fine. “Total” took in everything. Girls were never mentioned again.” —Bonnie Prudden, How to Keep Your Child Fit From Birth to Six

After the third such meeting Bonnie resigned from the council she had co-founded saying, “I could not stay and keep my honor.”

In my last blog, Whatever Happened to Real Physical Education, I outlined what Bonnie considered to be the elements that came together in 1930 and which led to the death of physical education, the crippling of physical education for girls, and ultimately the undoing of fit American bodies.

“It never makes sense to complain about conditions unless you’ve put your mind to devising ways to change them.” —Bonnie Prudden

In the 40+ years that I worked with Bonnie I never heard her complain. I only saw her “step up” to whatever situation confronted her. Probably because of her lack of formal education she was able to see laser clear and uncover problems. Her ability to extract information had not been biased by a need to defend education. Bonnie had seen that the problem of Unfitness lay squarely with physical education itself. She also knew that she could develop a program that would solve the problem easily and inexpensively.

In 1962 Abraham Ribicoff was named Kennedy’s Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. Soon after his appointment Bonnie met with him and followed the meeting with a proposal, which he accepted. The proposal, less than 100 pages, was stunning in its profound simplicity and coverage. It:

  • Mapped out the fitness problems and the solutions for every grade level, including college;
  • Cited where the program – already in use – could be observed, and how it could be duplicated; and it
  • Included directions for equipment that could be built inexpensively.

All was a go to institute the plan nationwide when Ribicoff resigned his post.

Enter Bud Wilkinson, famed U of Oklahoma football coach, who was named to carry out Bonnie’s proposal in Ribicoff’s place. In a letter to Bonnie on White House stationary dated June 8, 1961, he wrote in part:

“I can’t say I am in agreement with some of the things which you said. However, I share your concern over the continuing lack of action. I am convinced we will get something started in a great number of schools this September.”

The trouble was Bud was a college football coach who knew nothing much about boys under 16 and nothing at all about the physical fitness needs or capabilities of girls. Bud’s solution was the notorious and much hated “CHICKEN FAT” tune with 11 exercises which could be done by the eleven football players (with the exception of the toe touch) and 6 cheerleaders (with the exception of the push-ups), but not by most others.

Back to Bonnie’s proposal.

Bonnie’s contention was that GIRLS and WOMEN are the key to a fit nation. By removing physical education from girls and removing girls from physical education, we removed the opportunity for them to know firsthand what the word PHYSICAL really meant. Thus we not only hurt them but we hurt their children and their children’s children.

Our national physical fitness problem cannot be solved with touch football, turning parking lots into basketball courts nor with bikes, skates, bowling alleys or diet pills. It starts with girls. Girls must be physically trained first; then they will train their young. Healthy youngsters not allowed to sit all day will amuse themselves running, climbing, skipping rope, racing and jumping.

No matter how much effort and money is spent on getting the football, basketball and baseball team in shape to “Beat Rye,” it will be the girls who have and must raise the children. It is the young woman who either lets the baby crawl free or puts him in a playpen, lets him walk or carries him, who won’t let him climb a tree for fear of falling, or prevents him from learning to swim for fear of drowning. These are “…young women who know little or nothing about bodies… their own or their children’s. Young women our nation raised that way.”

When we put real calisthenics back into the classroom, especially the elementary schools, we will have made the start. We need to:

  1. Educate elementary school teachers by preparing them in real calisthenics and nutrition, which can be performed and taught in the classroom from pre-school through 6th grade; and
  2. Prepare junior high teachers to teach teens (especially teenage girls) the importance of fitness from birth to six, and how to exercise babies and youngsters during those crucial years.

Back to the Ribicoff report.

In the last 7 pages of the report, in a chapter entitled PHYSICAL FITNESS FOR PEOPLE, Bonnie suggested that “if the President [in this case it was Kennedy] would consent to do six basic exercises, then every man in America would do them. The same for Mrs. Kennedy. And if Caroline would do them with her horse in the background (in this case her pony Macaroni), every child would do them… even if their horses are only in books.”

The exercises she was referring to are the Correctives for the Kraus-Weber Test, which I refer to often in my blog and in my newsletter: the exercises that address key posture muscles. Key posture muscles are those responsible for carrying you around all day and when they are strong and flexible, they are key to freedom from back pain.

If President Obama (and whoever is next) would post a chart with these exercises in the pool area, gym, track, and be seen doing them… if Mrs. Obama (or whoever is next) would be shown doing these exercises rather than push-ups (nothing wrong with push-ups but push-ups come AFTER the minimum)… if Malia and Sasha were shown doing them on the White House lawn along with Bo and Sunny, and also shown exercising babies… every child in America would do them too.

This New Year pledge is to get up and get going. Take the K-W Correctives, make them into a routine and then do them.

“There are 1,440 minutes in each day. Take at least five for yourself and act as though your life and happiness depend on them… because they do.” —Bonnie Prudden


For more information about Bonnie Prudden®, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®, workshops, books, self-help tools, DVDs, educational videos, and blogs, visit Or call 520-529-3979 if you have questions or need help. Enid Whittaker, Managing Director, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®