In order to create an exercise plan that works best for you, it’s important to know what you need to change, where your faults lie and at what intensity you should start your workout. Once you find your starting line, or baseline, realistic goals can be made that you can accomplish in time.
Here are a few ways to test your fitness level in cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and flexibility:
1. Resting Heart Rate
This should be the first thing you measure when assessing your personal health. Your heart rate at rest is measured as the number of beats per minute while not engaging in rigorous exercise. For most adults, a healthy rate is between 60-100 beats per minute. (Your target range should be 80 beats or less.)
To check your pulse using your carotid artery, place two fingers (index and middle) on your neck to the side of your windpipe. To check via wrist, place two fingers over your radial artery, located on the palm side below the thumb. When you find your pulse, use a watch or timer and count the number of beats for 15 seconds. Multiply this number by four to get your beats per minute. Your resting heart rate will drop with time as you engage in cardio exercise.
2. The Cooper Test
This test was developed in the 1960s by Kenneth Cooper and is still used today to assess cardiovascular fitness. It consists of a 12-minute run (or walk, if need be) for distance. When undergoing the Cooper Test, the most important thing is to pace yourself. Find the speed and level of work that will allow you to continue for the full 12 minutes. Choose a flat, measurable route such as athletics track or treadmill. After the time has elapsed, note the distance you have traveled.
You have done well if you are able to travel 1.33 or more miles. If your distance is lower, you have work to do. (Your target distance should be 1.46 miles or more.)
1. The Push-up Test
The bane of military men everywhere, the pushup is an excellent way to judge upper-body muscular endurance. It is not a measurement of pure strength, but based upon repetition and not how much a person can lift. Pushups engage the chest, shoulder and upper-arm muscles, as well as core stability.
Assume the classic push-up position with elbows bent and palms close to shoulders. Your back should be kept straight throughout and your chin should almost touch the floor before pushing up. Do as many as you can before you have to stop for rest.
Good results depend upon age, but a fair indicator of fitness would be 20 or more for men and 15 or more for women. If you find yourself under that number, you’ve determined a goal. (The end goal should be 30 or more for men and 25 or more for women for most people under the age of 45.)
Once you find your baseline, realistic goals can be made that you can accomplish in time.
2. The Plank Test
This test measures your level of core stability. Planking tests the strength of your trunk muscles which is very important as you get older. To begin, lie on your stomach with forearms on the floor in front of you and your fists facing each other. Tighten your core muscles, curl your toes under, then press down through your forearms and lift your body. Your body should form a straight line. Now, hold this position for as long as possible.
Holding a plank for 30 seconds or more is considered passable; anything less and you have yourself another goal. (Most people should be able to hold the position for a minute or longer.)
The neck can be a sore spot for most people – it collects tension and better neck flexibility can help to regulate that tension. Often, the neck is tighter on one side than the other and therefore, more attention should be given to the tighter side when stretching to prevent injury. Use a partner to assess your neck flexibility. First, sit up tall and look straight ahead with your partner standing directly behind you. Slowly rotate your head to the right as far as you can. Ask your partner to record what they see. Can they see your nose in profile? Eyelashes of the left eye? Then copy the movement to the other side and have your partner record. Which side was better? Was it hard to do? Is more movement and stretching in order?
2. Sit & Reach Test
This test can measure the flexibility of your lower back, legs and hips. Performing it accurately requires a yardstick. Place the yardstick on the floor and secure it with tape across the 15-inch mark. Sit down on the floor with the yardstick lying vertically between your legs and your heels even with the tape mark. Keeping your legs as straight as possible, slowly reach forward, exhaling as you reach and then hold your farthest position for one second. Note the distance. Repeat the test two more times and record the farthest position reached.
Age plays a large part in range of motion, so for men 65 or over, 15.5 inches is an indicator of good flexibility; for women 65 or over, a good number is 17.5 inches. Add an inch for each decade younger and you have a good understanding of your flexibility. (For example, a good reach for men aged between 55 and 65 is 16.5 inches, for women of the same age group, 18.5 inches would suffice.)
These are just a few of the many tests a person can undergo to determine their current fitness level. Once you know your starting point, you can easily quantify your progress. For most, a good beginning goal is to work your way to a healthy number in each of these tests.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020). How fit are you? Mayoclinic.org. Retrieved from mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/fitness/art-20046433
Realbuzz Team. (2020). 10 ways to test your fitness. Realbuzz.com. Retrieved from realbuzz.com/articles-interests/fitness/article/10-ways-to-test-your-fitness/