Finding Your Fitness Level

It’s also helpful for you to know your fitness level as you start a new fitness program, explore your many exercise options, or even just as a “check-up” if you’re currently active.

Studio 5 Health and Fitness Contributor Melanie Douglass, R.D., NASM shares 4 quick tests that will help you determine your fitness level.

This little adventure is about discovering your areas of strength and weakness… so that you can then ask for, shop for, or pinpoint fitness programs to help you in the areas you see a need for improvement. You may be able to say “I need to work on my flexibility… I’m going to try Yoga.”, or “I need to improve my upper body strength, I’m going to buy a strength-training DVD workout”, and so forth. Your results will be unique to you and you can decide how to act on them.

*Note, these are approximations to be used as fitness markers and motivational tools. Please consult with your doctor before starting this or any exercise program.

Follow these steps to assess your physical strengths and weaknesses.

1. Start with a warm up

March or jog in place for 3 – 5 minutes; be sure to move your arms as you march/jog to improve circulation throughout your entire body.

2. Do the Push-up Test

This is a test for upper body muscular strength and endurance. Push-ups require strength and endurance mainly from the chest, shoulders, triceps and core, but also require total body stabilization throughout the entire movement. So love ’em or hate ’em… they are good for you!

To do the test, get in push up position (toes for the guys; knees for the ladies!) and place your hands shoulder width apart. Keep a straight line from the knees (or toes) to the shoulders and lower down until your elbows are at a 90 degree angle and push back up. That’s one rep. Now simply see how many you can do… with good form. The minute you lose your form, you’re done. Compare your max results to the chart below:

Men Age: 20-29 Age: 30-39 Age: 40-49 Age: 50-59 Age: 60+
Excellent 54 or more 44 or more 39 or more 34 or more 29 or more
Good 45-54 35-44 30-39 25-34 20-29
Average 35-44 24-34 20-29 15-24 10-19
Poor 20-34 15-24 12-19 8-14 5-9
Very Poor 20 or fewer 15 or fewer 12 or fewer 8 or fewer 5 or fewer

Women Age: 20-29 Age: 30-39 Age: 40-49 Age: 50-59 Age: 60+
Excellent 48 or more 39 or more 34 or more 29 or more 19 or more
Good 34-48 25-39 20-34 15-29 5-19
Average 17-33 12-24 8-19 6-14 3-4
Poor 6-16 4-11 3-7 2-5 1-2
Very Poor 6 or fewer 4 or fewer 3 or fewer 2 or fewer 1 or fewer

Source: McArdle W.D. et al, Essentials of Exercise Physiology, 2000, 2006. Published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

3. Do the Step Test

This is a test to determine your aerobic/cardiovascular fitness level. It measures how quickly your heart rate recovers after aerobic exercise (so a lower score is better here; a lower score means your heart is stronger and more efficient).

To do the test, you’ll need a 12″ step, rizor or box (it has to be 12″ or results will be a bit off), a metronome, and a stopwatch or clock. Set the metronome to exactly 96 beats per minute, then time yourself stepping “up up down down” (or “right left right left” to the beat of 96 bpm) for 3 full minutes. Then after 3 minutes, take your pulse for a full 60 seconds and compare your results below:

Post Step Test 60-second Pulse, Men Based on Age

18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65+
Excellent 50-76 51-76 49-76 56-82 60-77 59-81
Good 79-84 79-85 80-88 87-93 86-94 87-92
Above Average 88-93 88-94 92-88 95-101 97-100 94-102
Average 95-100 96-102 100-105 103-111 103-109 104-110
Below Average 102-107 104-110 108-113 113-119 111-117 114-118
Poor 111-119 114-121 116-124 121-126 119-128 121-126
Very Poor 124-157 126-161 130-163 131-159 131-154 130-151

Post Step Test 60-second Pulse, Women Based on Age

18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65+
Excellent 52-81 58-80 51-84 63-91 60-92 70-92
Good 85-93 85-92 89-96 95-101 97-103 96-101
Above Average 96-102 95-101 100-104 104-110 106-111 104-111
Average 104-110 104-110 107-112 113-118 113-118 116-121
Below Average 113-120 113-119 115-120 120-124 119-127 123-126
Poor 122-131 122-129 124-132 126-132 129-135 128-133
Very Poor 135-169 134-171 137-169 137-171 141-174 135-155

4. Do the Overhead Squat Test

This test is for muscular balance, strength and flexibility–throughout your entire body. When your in perfect balance (few of us are!) your body stays properly aligned as you squat. Muscular imbalances cause pain, weakness and unnecessary fatigue… so it’s good to identify which parts of your body are weak and/or imbalanced.

Stand facing a full-length mirror with feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed straight ahead; raise your arms straight overhead. Squat down until your knees bend to 90 degrees. Do this three times and hold the pose at the lowest point in your third squat. Take note of your body position. Then turn your body to the side and repeat the “3-squat, hold-on-the-3rd” test and look at your alignment in the lowest position from the side view. Look at the following areas:

– Are your toes turning out?
(if so, the outer calf muscles are too tight)

– Do your knees collapse inward?
(if so, your inner thigh muscles are too tight, and the outer thighs are weak which can increase risk for knee injuries)

– Are you leaning excessively forward from the hips?
(then the calves are likely too tight! Strange, but think about it, tight calves limit the ankles from proper flexion and the upper body has to compensate)

– Did your arms fall forward?
(if so, the chest and back muscles are probably too tight)

“Yes” to 4/4 questions = Very Poor

“Yes” to 3/4 questions = Poor

“Yes” to 2/4 questions = Average

“Yes” to 1/4 questions = Good

“Yes” to 0/4 questions = Excellent

5. Do the “Sit-and-Reach” Flexibility Test

This tests flexibility in your back and hamstrings — which, if too inflexible, can lead to chronic back pain and/or injuries. You’ll need a yardstick or measuring tape for this test.

Place the yardstick on the floor with the zero mark closest to you. Sit on the floor with the yardstick/measuring tape between your legs and your feet 10-12″ apart and with your heels lined up at the 15-inch mark. Place one hand over the other and slowly stretch forward without bouncing or jerking and reach as far as you comfortably can and take note of your measurement on the yardstick or measuring tape. (or have a friend read it for you; also, it’s is recommended you do this test 3 times and take the best score.)

Visit the Shape up America website to see assess your results on the sit-and-reach test:

6. Tally!

If you score “poor” or “very poor” in 3-4 of the 4 tests, you are likely a beginner.

If you score “poor” or “very poor” in 1-2 of the 4 tests, you are likely an intermediate exerciser.

If you score “poor” or “very poor” in 0-1 of the 4 tests, you are likely an advanced exerciser.

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