If, like many people around the world, you intend to kick start your year with a new fitness regime, it may be useful to find out exactly where you are starting in terms of your current levels of strength, muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness.
This provides you with an idea of what your strengths and weaknesses are so you can design a tailor-made program based on your physiological needs and also gives you some useful measures that you can monitor over the coming year to assess the success of your training program.
We have selected a group of tests to assess your all-round fitness so it’s important you do them all. However, if you have a particular interest in one area, for example cardiovascular fitness, feel free to focus on that particular test. General exercises should be looking to perform equally well in all the tests.
Because fitness tests are challenging, it is essential you warm up properly. Perform a few minutes of cardio followed by some dynamic stretches then practice the techniques of each test at a low level of intensity.
Only attempt the test once you are ready. Also, if you want to score as well as possible, perform different tests on different days and make sure you are as well rested as possible. It is not a good idea to attempt a maximal speed 1.5 mile run the day after a hard leg workout!
Test of Strength
Strength, commonly expressed as your one repetition maximum or 1RM for short, is all about exerting maximal effort and lifting the heaviest weight you can safely manage.
You can measure the strength of just about any muscle or muscle group but in terms of function, your ability to pick heavy objects off the floor and lift them overhead are key tasks excellent measures of strength. For this reason, your strength tests are the deadlift and barbell overhead press.
For the purposes of these tests, a beginner has been training specifically for strength for six to nine months, an intermediate for more than eighteen months and advanced for twenty four months or more. All weights have been adjusted to the nearest 2.5kg as this is commonly the lowest increment available.
If you don’t fancy trying an all out 1RM test, you can predict your 1RM using this simple calculation:
Weight lifted x maximum repetitions performed x 0.0333 + weight lifted = estimated 1RM
For accuracy, try to max out using 10 reps or less.
For example; 45kgs x 7 repetitions = 315 x 0.0333 = 10.49 + 45 = 55.48kgs (round up or down to nearest 2.5/5kg to find your estimated 1RM)
Rest a barbell on the floor and attach the correct amount of weight to each end. Approach the bar keeping your feet shoulder width apart and pointed forward. From a squatting motion, carefully grab the bar.
Lower the hips so that the thighs are level to the floor. Keeping eyes forward, carefully straighten your back.
Stand up, raise your hips and shoulders, and carefully lift the bar off the ground. Keeping eyes forward, carefully straighten your back. For complete instructions and video on how to do the deadlift click here.
Barbell Overhead Press
Place a barbell at mid-chest height in a squat rack. Grasp the bar with an overhand, slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. With your elbows below your hands and your wrists straight, unrack the bar and take a small step backwards.
The bar should be resting across the fronts of your shoulders. Inhale and, with your legs completely straight, push the bar up and overhead to arms’ length.
The rep only counts if you lock the bar out and hold it steady for a second or so. Lower the bar back down and re-rack it. Do not lean back when performing this movement as this places an inordinate amount of stress on your lower back. Any backward lean should be only enough to allow the bar to pass in front of your head without hitting you in the nose or chin.
|1RM Deadlift – Men|
|1RM Deadlift – Women|
|1RM Barbell Overhead Press – Men|
|1RM Barbell Overhead Press – Women|
Muscular endurance is your ability to generate a relatively low amount of force for an extended period of time. Having great muscular endurance makes you more fatigue resistant which is an important factor in sport and day to day physical activities.
Two of the most commonly used tests for muscular endurance are push ups and bent-legged sit ups. Both tests are used by the military and law enforcement as well as personal trainers and other fitness professionals.
As with all types of testing, it is essential that your results are repeatable so make sure you use correct technique every time you perform these tests. A change in technique may produce a false result so make sure you follow the instructions for each exercise to the letter!
Push Ups – maximal repetitions
Press ups may be the most commonly performed exercise on the planet but they are also one of the most poorly performed. For this test to be accurate, it is essential you perform each repetition properly.
Men – Place your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Walk your feet back until your heels, hips and shoulders form a straight line. Without piking your hips or arching/rounding your back, bend your arms and lower your chest until it lightly touches the floor.
Extend your arms and push up so your elbows are extended. That’s one rep – keep going until you can no longer continue. Make a note of your score and compare to the chart below.
|Excellent||> 56||> 47||> 41||> 34||> 31||> 30|
Women – there is nothing to stop you performing full press ups but the chart below is designed specifically for women and the use of three-quarter press ups. Place your hands on the floor and then walk your feet back until your heels, hips and shoulders form a straight line.
Bend your legs and place your knees on the floor. Your knees, hips and shoulders should now form a line and your feet should be resting lightly on the floor. Bend your arms and lower your chest to the floor and then push back up to full arm extension. Perform as many reps as you can and then compare your score to the chart below.
|Excellent||> 35||> 36||> 37||> 31||> 25||> 23|
One minute Sit-ups Test
The one minute sit-ups test assesses abdominal and hip flexor muscular endurance. This is a slightly controversial test as it requires you to anchor your feet which is something generally frowned upon in personal training circles.
The argument against anchoring your feet is that doing so increases hip flexor activity and takes tension off of the abdominals. While this is true, this is an endurance test and not a conditioning exercise and anchoring your feet will allow you to perform the exercise using better technique than would otherwise be possible.
That being said, the increased hip flexor activity can be problematic for lower back pain sufferers so if you are in the least bit worried about lower back problems, I suggest avoiding this particular test.
Men and Women
There are no gender-specific differences for performing sit-ups. Lie on your back with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor. Have a training partner hold your feet down or place them under an immovable object.
Lie back and put your hands against the side of your head. Sit up until your elbows touch your knees and then lie back until your elbows touch the floor. This constitutes one repetition. Do as many repetitions as you can in 60 seconds and then compare your results to the appropriate table below.
Aerobic fitness is your ability to take in, transport and utilize oxygen and is commonly expressed as your VO2 max. While there are lots of ways to estimate your VO2 max, they are all either very complicated, require sophisticated equipment and/or testing protocols or are nothing better than an educated guess.
Rather than bog you down with science, I have selected the Cooper 1.5 (2.4km) mile walk/run test as it is accessible and the results are easy to interpret.
The Cooper 1.5mile/2.4km walk/run test is very simple. Using a treadmill, track or flat measure course, walk/run as fast as you can and note your completion time. Compare your time to the tables below.
Treat this test as a time trial – your aim is to cross the finish line totally spent and confident you couldn’t have gone any faster.
|MEN: 1.5 Mile Walk/Run||13-19||20-29||30-39|
|WOMEN: 1.5 Mile Walk/Run||13-19||20-29||30-39|
Now you know exactly how fit you are and what, if any, are your areas of weakness. Repeat these tests in three months time and assess your progress.
Ideally, if your program is doing its job and your diet and lifestyle factors such as sleep and rest are in order, you should see a marked increase in your performance. If you don’t see much in the way of an increase, you may need to revisit your workout and design a new one.