The Music of The FitnessGram Pacer Test

In 2011, the Cooper Institute dropped an eight track instrumental mixtape of back to back bangers. However, after seeing that the market for instrumental mixtapes was oversaturated, they overlaid a recording of a tired sounding man counting from 1 to 247. They then marketed their mixtape as an “exercise program” and it was distributed to elementary, middle, and high schools all over the United States.

This was the birth of the FitnessGram Pacer Test as we know it today. The test is simple. Run the length of 20 meters in less time than it takes for a chime to ring out. After your second time of coming shy of the 20 meter mark, you’ve finished the test, and you can go sit on the bleachers.

When most people think back on the FitnessGram Pacer Test, it draws to mind memories of pain, sorrow, and harsh blows to self-esteem. For some, the standout memory of the test is the spiel of instructions at the beginning. But why do people forget the most important aspect of this sweaty school gym gauntlet? Why do people always forget about the music? Let’s go through each and every song in the FitnessGram Pacer Test and look at the best, the worst, and those that shouldn’t exist.

Song 1: Level 1-2

The nice relaxed groove that everybody knows. The electric wah-d out guitar funkily shreds up the track. It also throws in a sound byte of a person coolly saying “feel it” on occasion. It’s laid back, and encourages listeners to pace themselves. This track sounds like it could be a water level in Mick And Mack Global Gladiators for the Sega Genesis.

Man with a beard, glasses, and hat holds up a copy of Mick and Mack Global Gladiators for the Sega Genesis. On the cover, there is a cartoon of a big green goop monster in the background with two adolescents standing in front of it. The title of the game is in big letters at the top of the box.
Average Mick & Mack Global Gladiators connoisseur. Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart, under Creative Commons.

Song 2: Level 3-4

The instrumentation, the beat, the everything. The drums are so crisp. It’s all so groovy. The flow matches beautifully with the pace of the test. This is also where the challenge starts to pick up. If you’re scouring for a runners high, this is where it’ll be found. There’s a great sense of depth to the track. It retains the cool-ness of the first track and expands on it. It’s hard to hear over the deafening squeak of sneakers against the gymnasium floor, but there’s a lot of detail going into this song. This is without a doubt the best track you will hear in the FitnessGram Pacer Test. 

Song 3: Level 5-7

Very synth oriented, but the brass isn’t to be counted out. There’s subtle arpeggiation in the “chorus” of the track, when mixed with the high up string really pushes you forward. The keyboard solo around lap 54 is also a neat highlight. Unfortunately, much of this track feels flat, especially when compared to the last track. The drums are weak, and the whole mix feels cheap. It’s still a mildly catchy melody though. Certainly not the worst track.

Song 4: Level 8-9

Bringing back the funk in a big way. Huge emphasis on the slap bass, with guitar highlights and a lead coming from the horns. Total fanfare for the tuckered out prepubescent soldiers still trooping through the middle school gymnasium. There’s also a nice sax solo tucked away in the song that deserves a shoutout. Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3 (2007) would dance to this.

Song 5: Level 10-14

Intimidating and minimalist. This is some Terminator music. If you are still in the running at this point, your gym teacher is going to turn into the Terminator and you will have to fight them to the death. It sounds like if Hans Zimmer did the soundtrack for Donkey Kong Country. It does a weird little switch up and turns into a total rip off of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. Even the music sounds bored at this point. It’s no longer trying to push anyone forward. It’s now speaking to the classmates of the one person still left going. “Look at this guy go,” it says, “you’re just going to have to wait this one out.” 

Song 6: Level 15-16

I guarantee you’ve never heard this song before, because this song is the start of part 2 of the FitnessGram Pacer Test, which no gym teacher has ever felt the need to put on. Regardless, it exists. The highlight here is this bizarrely stilted saxophone which winds up sounding like a quartet of clowns honking their noses. Aside from that, this track is pretty forgettable. No components of this track make an effort to stand out. I’d say it’s towards the bottom of the tracks in the FitnessGram Pacer Test.

Song 7: Level 17-19

This music should not exist. It is too upbeat. Between the fast paced organ and the midi piano, it’s just too much. Other elements come into the song to round it out a little better, but it’s not enough to save it. It’s cheap, awkward, and doesn’t properly hype up whatever superhuman This is the worst song in the whole thing.

Song 8: Level 20-21

This music should really not exist, but I’m sure glad it does. It’s a four-on-the-floor banger with nice chimes ringing out in the background. It’s a nice change of pace compared to the music we’ve gotten before. The beat is simple, but the sheen on the production is more than welcome after the rough quality of the last track. The synths fade out nicely as the final lap is called, and the test ends.


The pace at which you’re running by the time you’ve gotten to the final 247th lap of the FitnessGram Pacer Test is roughly 6 meters per second. This is about three times faster than the pace from the first lap. After running just over three miles at an average pace of 7 minutes and 26 seconds per mile, this is an astonishing feat.

I could only find evidence of one person completing the FitnessGram Pacer Test. I have to wonder if they even acknowledged the music as they were chugging along. Did they bob up and down to the beat? Did they match their strides with the notes? Or did the music remain banished to the background, with not so much as a thought passing through the champion’s mind?

Whatever the case, I’ll always be thankful for the musical highs and lows of the FitnessGram Pacer Test. While the tracks were oftentimes cheesy and antiquated, they kept me company. It made the whole ordeal bearable. Thanks Cooper Institute.