You are amped to get fit!
What is the first thing you need to do?
Determine your fitness baseline, then decide what you want to accomplish!
Starting a new fitness program is exciting! You might want to jump straight in. However, if you slow down and take time to do these 3 things, you will stay excited and committed to your fitness:
I. Determine your fitness baseline
II. Write inspiring fitness goals
III. Track your progress
In this post we’ll explore:
I. Determining your fitness baseline (your current fitness level)
The more information you collect about your fitness baseline, the more powerful your fitness goals and progress tracking. Use as many of these fitness baseline tests as possible!
Fitness Baseline Tests
For each fitness baseline test, I outline the reason, the measurements, the method, alternative methods, and resources for more information.
1. Body Composition – BI Analysis
Rationale: Body weight gives you an indication of how much weight your bones, joints and muscles are carrying around everyday. It is easy and quick to track, and it is likely that you have a history of body weight measurements to compare your baseline to already. Body composition is a more powerful measurement of fitness, since it takes into account that muscles are heavier than fat. These measurements together are excellent to track because they tell you how your body is responding to your fitness program in small increments.
Measurements: Total Body Weight and Body Fat %
Method: Use a scale with biometrical impedance analysis, which uses electrical currents to determine your body fat percentage. While these scales are not the most accurate way to measure body fat percentage, they are the simplest and easiest to replicate over time. It is more important to measure weight and body fat percentage using the same method and conditions to compare results, than it is to get a more accurate reading once and not track your progress. Use these 2 measurements together for goal setting as body weight alone does not directly correlate to fitness level. See alternative methods, and chose this one or one that you can replicate monthly.
Context: It can be helpful to have context about how your performance compares to others in your age group. You can compare your results here, though remember progress over time is the main goal. Do not judge yourself for where you are now, but think of where you want to be. You may also want to use the charts and ratings to set your fitness goals.
Alternative Methods/ Tests: Skins calipers, anthropometric, hydrostatic weighing, DEXA (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) Scan, Whole Body Plethysmography, and comparison photos.
2. Muscular Endurance – Push Up Test (Upper Body)
Rationale: This tests your upper body strength and endurance. It is a great idea to test both your upper and lower body separately, because the results could be very different depending on your current activities.
Measurement: Maximum # push ups
Method: This test is really easy to do at home or in a gym. Set yourself up on the floor with a mat and plenty of space. For men, the correct push up technique is military style with only hand and toes on the floor. Complete as many push ups as possible, maintaining a flat back and touching chest to ground on each push up. Your score is the total number of push ups you complete without stopping. For women, you have the option to lower your knees to the ground and complete the push ups from this position. Ensure that you maintain a flat back and complete as many push ups as possible.
Context: You can compare your scores here, taking into account whether you used the modified knee push up or the full push up.
Alternative Methods / Tests: 1 minute maximum push ups, cadence push up test, pull up test, arm hang test, 1 rep max bench press.
3. Muscular Endurance – Wall Sit Test (Lower Body)
Rationale: This tests your lower body strength and endurance, especially in your quadriceps. By testing your upper and lower body separately, you can measure your progress for both groups of muscles. This test also allows you to compare your left and right leg strength to see if there are any imbalances.
Measurement: # of seconds hold for each leg
Method: You need a smooth wall, a stopwatch and a mirror if possible. Stand with your feet hip width apart and your back on the wall. Slide down the wall until your hip and knees are at a 90 degree angle. Lift one leg off the ground, start your stopwatch and time how many seconds you can keep your leg off the ground for. Rest, then repeat for the other side.
Context: Here is a chart to compare your results to norms for this test.
Alternative Methods / Tests: Squat test, 1 Leg Squat test, Box jumps.
4. Cardiovascular Fitness – Cooper 12 minute Run Test
Rationale: Cardiovascular fitness measures the efficiency of your heart and lungs in supplying your muscles with oxygen and the effectiveness of your muscles converting the oxygen into energy. It is a fundamental part of your health! The Cooper 12 Minute Run Test is simple, scalable and widely used internationally.
Measurement: Distance (meters) run or walked in 12 minutes
Method: Head to your nearest outdoor track, or pre-measure distances for your run with markers. Use a stopwatch to time 12 minutes and run (or walk) as far as you can in 12 minutes. Record your distance in meters.
Context: Compare your results here, and remember that the aim is to improve over time regardless of your starting point.
Alternative Methods / Tests: 1km Run, 2.4km Run, Queen’s College Step Test, Beep Test.
5. Flexibility – V-Sit Reach Test
Rationale: Flexibility is an important part of fitness, since low flexibility can inhibit correct alignment and increase risk of injury in exercises. The V-Sit Reach Test is a variation of the widely used Sit and Reach Test, and only required a measuring tape and tape marker. This test specifically measures hamstring and lower back flexibility, which is where most people are tight. See Additional Methods / Tests for shoulder flexibility tests, if you want to measure your shoulder flexibility as well.
Measurement: Length in cm from the baseline to where your hands reach
Method: Use an existing straight line on the floor, or mark 1m of straight line to use as your baseline. Then draw a line perpendicular to your baseline, marking every 1/2 cm to 20 cm’s on both sides of your baseline. Take your shoes off and sit with both feet directly behind the baseline. With one hand on top of the other, palms facing down, slow reach forward to see how far you can reach towards your feet. Repeat this reach a couple of times to warm up. Now, repeat the same action, and take record your measurement. Your baseline represents a zero (0) score, and the measurements closest to you are negative measurement scores, while the measurements on the other side of the baseline are positive measurement scores. Make sure you complete the test slowly and hold the reach for 3 seconds so you are not using momentum to gain length.
Context: Compare your own results over time for this test. The test results depend on arm and leg length, so comparing to other people’s results is not useful.
Alternative Methods / Tests: Sit and Reach Test, Modified Sit and Reach Test, Back Scratch Test.
6. Core Strength – 7 Stage Sit Up Test
Rationale: A strong core is fundamental to all exercises and protecting your lower back. The 7 Stage Sit Up Test is widely used and simple to test.
Measurement: Level completed (1-7)
Method: To complete this test you will need a mat to lay on, a 2.5kg plate, and a 5kg plate. Place your back on your mat, knees bent, feet at hip width, and arms extended towards your knees. For a stage to be complete, you need to keep your feet on the ground for the entire sit up. You may attempt the stage a second time if you do not complete it on the first attempt.
Stage 1: Complete a sit up so your wrists slide up your legs and move past your knees.
Stage 2: Complete a sit up so your elbows move past your knees.
Stage 3: Place your arms across your abdominals, sit up and touch your chest to your thighs.
Stage 4: Place your hands on opposite shoulders with your arms across your chest, sit up and touch your forearms to thighs.
Stage 5: Place your hands behind your head, and sit up touching chest to thighs.
Stage 6: Hold a 2.5kg weight behind your head, complete a sit up, touch your chest to thighs.
Stage 7: Hold a 5kg weight behind you head, complete a sit up, touch your chest to thighs.
Context: Your result is the stage that you completed. Compare your results here.
Alternative Methods / Tests: 1 Minute Maximum Sit Ups, Eurofit Sit Up Test, Plank Test,
Record all your results including the date and time completed. The next time you test yourself, you will want to keep the conditions as similar as possible as the first test so that any changes to your results, is from your exercise program. Use your fitness baseline results to create specific fitness goals for yourself. I will take a detailed look into how to do this in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!