How to help Scouts prepare for and pass fitness tests


MANY SCOUTS IN M.E.’s troop can’t do even a single pull-up after months of “practice.” She needs ideas for helping these boys meet their Tenderfoot requirements.

Editor’s Note: We posed M.E.’s question to Chris Hunt, advancement team leader for the Boy Scouts of America, who offers the following guidance: “If there has been no improvement — not even by a fraction of a pull-up — then in the Boy Scouting program, the requirement is not fulfilled. If a Cub Scout does his best, he is signed off even if he does not fulfill a requirement as it is written. In Boy Scouting the only exceptions to not meeting requirements as written are for Scouts who are not able to do so because of a disability.”

Hunt also suggests that the problem might be lack of practice more than lack of ability. “A non-threatening conversation with the Scout — such as might be held at a Scoutmaster conference — about when and where he practices, how difficult it has been and so forth may be helpful,” Hunt says. “Most Scouts, when approached in this way, will usually be candid about what’s been going on.”

Make sure a pull-up bar and a small, stable stool are positioned in the youth’s bedroom doorway. Every time he passes through, the boy should stand on the stool, hands on the bar in the “up” position, and sag his knees doing what I call a pull-down, resisting gravity as much as he can to slow the descent. He will be exercising the same muscles and will soon discover he can go back up! In 30 years, I have yet to find a single boy of any shape or size who failed his Tenderfoot fitness test after doing this for a month.

Advancement Chairman S.M.

The typical Tenderfoot Scout is prepubescent, which makes muscle growth — and therefore improvement in strength exercises — a more difficult proposition than for older boys. Even two or three months of practice may not be long enough, and it’s no big deal to wait that long.

Pull-ups are usually the sticking point. If there’s improvement in all the other metrics, and he’s truly practicing, going from nothing to nearly there is improvement in the broadest sense. Also, note that chin-ups are not the requirement; pull-ups are. And they are different. Pull-ups are palms facing away from you; chin-ups are palms facing toward you and are easier.

Assistant Scoutmaster C.G.

We have them do their first fitness tests shortly after they join, then do the follow-up tests either before or after summer camp. If after a few meetings they cannot do the pull-up, but have shown improvement in the other areas, we sign off. We look at it as an overall improvement; nothing in the requirement says they must do one more than they initially did.

Assistant Scoutmaster J.M.

Scouting allows for exemptions and alternative requirements for boys who have special needs and medical and physical challenges. That’s what makes Scouting the program for all boys. [For information on alternative advancement requirements, see section of the Guide to Advancement 2013, available online at]

Assistant Scoutmaster S.M.J.


  1. Pull-ups / Chin-ups are not easy. They are typically the most difficult exercise for both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

    “Pull-downs” are great exercise to help build up these muscles, as mentioned by previous post.

    You can also lay under a table and do pulls up (just pulling up your upper body) to the table to build up strength. If you have access to a gym, they have machines that make pull ups easier. This is another way to build up strength and to provide a test to see if the scout is progressing.

    Note the skill and strength doing pull-ups/chin-ups can really help with climbing.

  2. Many parks, and schools have “Monkey Bars”, or play structures. Many boys develop their upper body strength at different ages. If the “Tenderfoot” is practicing his sit-ups, push-ups, and has been Cub/Pack/Troop hikes, and is having “fun” ! This is the MOST important part of keeping “boys” focused on fitness at this age.

  3. I had this same question about the new scouts in our troop trying to get their Tenderfoot rank. Most of them, after many months of trying, still had a very difficult time pulling themselves even half way up once. At this point the boys are getting fed up and losing their scout spirit. One evening, we had a scout parent, he is a veteran and a Deputy Sheriff, attend our meeting while the boys again attempted their pull-ups. He shared with us a method used in Basic Training. While the scout is trying to do the pull-up, have them cross their ankles. Have and assistant hold only the weight of their legs while they do their pull-ups. This gives them less weight to pull-up allowing them to do their pull-up and many more. I was told that using this method, they are still building their strength and technique without losing hope and keeping their moral high. That night, all of our remaining scouts fulfilled their last hurdle to earn their Tenderfoot. For future scouts in my troop, I will still require them to give their best effort to complete this requirement on their own, but will use this technique to keep it from being drawn out over many months. This was a great idea that I thought should be shared throughout scouting volunteers.

  4. I have recently had success with the pullup requirement by using a Pull-up Assist Band. This elastic band has a foothold and will support a Scout’s entire weight. They still use the same muscles. The boys also seem to enjoy the success of doing a pull-up. I usually record the number of pullups and write “Assisted” to show how they were able to perform that many pullups. The only downside that I see is that the boy cannot usually practice at home unless they happen to have another band.

  5. Even adults have trouble with pull-ups. Here are a series of progressions I use to work up to pull-ups. I practice these progressions and already see some progress after a week (I went from one pullup to two). The key is consistent practice and proper form combined with appropriate nutrition. All content duplicated from They own it, not me. See the linked pages for more information, pictures, and guides.

    1. Dead hangs
    – Grip an overhead bar or rings and hang with feet suspended from the floor with arms extended.
    – Sustain the dead hang hold for as long as possible without starting to lose form, to strengthen your grip.
    – Rest and repeat.

    2. Flexed arm hangs
    – Grip the bar or rings with hands shoulder width apart and get into the top most pull-up position, with chin above the bar (you may need to use a bench or partner for assistance to achieve this).
    – Without any support other than your hands, simply try to hold your chin above the bar for as long as possible.
    – Rest and Repeat.

    3. Negative Pull-ups
    – Grip an overhead bar or rings and get into the top most position of the pull-up exercise (see flexed arm hang position arms flexed and chin above the bar). Use a partner or bench to help get into position if you’re not strong enough.
    – Slowly lower yourself down, taking as much time as possible, into the dead hang position (arms fully extended).
    – Get back to the starting position and repeat the process.

    4. Body rows
    – Grip a bar or rings that are suspended at around waist height, with the feet resting on the ground.
    – Squeeze the shoulder blades together and pull your chest up to the bar / rings.

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