Simple fitness tests – most of which you can do at home – will clue you in to your heart strength, balance, and flexibility and give you a blueprint for improvement.
You owe it to yourself to make fitness a priority. Physical fitness can help prevent more than 40 chronic diseases including potential killers such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and even cancer.
But how do you know whether you’re fit? Your overall fitness is a measure of four physical abilities — endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility — and body composition or body mass index (BMI). BMI tracks height and weight only while a body composition test, which calculates your fat and lean muscle mass, is an excellent indicator of overall fitness. For a more hands-on approach, try these personal trainer-approved fitness tests to see how you stack up.
Endurance and Cardiovascular Fitness Tests
Your endurance level reflects the health of your cardiovascular system — your heart, lungs, and circulatory system.
The VO2 Max Test: When you exercise intensely, you’ll eventually reach a point when your body cannot breathe any harder to keep up. That’s your VO2 max — the milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight (ml/kg/min). The more oxygen that circulates throughout your body when you exercise, the fitter you are. This is a test endurance exercisers might want to determine how much oxygen they use during intense workouts, says Mario Serban, co-founder of the LA Training Room in Los Angeles and trainer of Dancing With the Stars contestants. Because the VO2 max test requires a special face mask and other equipment, it has to be administered by a professional, usually an exercise scientist or physiologist. Talk to your doctor about your heart health before pursuing a test.
The Step Test: A simpler way to test your cardiovascular strength is the step test, says Mark Reifkind, owner of Girya Russian Kettlebells in Palo Alto, Calif. To perform the test, you need a 12-inch-high step and someone to time you. Step on the block with your right foot and then with your left so that you’re standing on the step, facing forward. Reverse, going down with your right foot and then your left. Repeat this process at a consistent pace for three minutes. Rest in a chair for one minute. Then, take your pulse for six seconds and multiply that number by 10 to determine your heart rate for one minute.
The results will vary depending on your age and gender. For men ages 18 to 25, a 60-second pulse rate between 85 and 100 is average to above average; 84 or less is good to excellent, while 101 or higher is fair to poor. For men ages 46 to 55, a pulse rate of 93 or lower is good to excellent, while 113 or higher is fair to poor.
For women ages 18 to 25, a 60-second pulse rate of between 94 and 110 is average to above average; 93 or lower is good to excellent, while 111 or higher is fair to poor. For women ages 46 to 55, a pulse rate of 101 or less is good to excellent, while 125 or higher is fair to poor.
How to improve endurance: Get regular aerobic exercise. Try brisk walking, swimming, jogging, biking, climbing stairs or hills, or playing an active team sport, such as tennis or basketball.
Balance is a key ability for overall health as you age, and this simple test will help you determine where you stand.
The One-Legged Balance Test: Take off your shoes and socks and stand on a hard surface. Ask someone to time you. Close your eyes and lift one foot about six inches from the floor. Bend your knee and place your foot against the leg you’re standing on (if you’re right-handed, lift your left foot; if you’re left-handed, lift your right foot). See how long you can hold this position.
Do the test three times and average your times. You should be able to hold your balance for 30 seconds or more if you’re 30 or younger. As you get older, it’s normal for your time to go down. “If you’re over 65, I’d be happy with your being able to hold it for five seconds,” Serban says.
How to improve balance: Practice standing on one foot or walking heel-to-toe. Yoga and tai chi also improve balance.
This simple test measures your flexibility.
The Sit-and-Reach Test: Start by stretching your legs: Lie on your back and lift your right leg toward your chest and hold for 10 to 30 seconds. You can grab your thigh to get your leg closer to your chest. Repeat with your other leg. Then stretch your trunk: Sit up and stretch your legs out in front of you; bend your left leg at the knee so that your foot touches your right thigh, and then run your hands down your outstretched leg. Repeat on the other side. After a couple of stretches, take a brisk walk for one to three minutes.
Place a yardstick on the floor. With a piece of masking tape, mark the 15-inch spot. Sit on the floor with the yardstick between your legs. Your legs should extend straight with your toes pointing toward the ceiling and your heels at the 14-inch line mark, with your feet about a foot apart. Reach forward with both hands along the stick and see how far along it your fingertips reach. Repeat three times with five seconds of rest between each stretch. Write down the longest measurement. (The goal is to reach your heels.)
How to improve flexibility: Begin a regular program of stretching exercises that involves most of your joints. Include shoulder and upper arm stretches and calf stretches. Yoga and tai chi are also good for improving flexibility.
Muscular strength is key to being able to stay active.
The Sit-Up Test: Lie down on the floor and have someone time you. Count how many sit-ups you can do in 60 seconds. This drill will give you an idea of your core strength — the strength of your abdominal and hip flexor muscles.
Results will vary depending on your age and gender. The younger you are, the more you should be able to do.
For men ages 18 to 25, any number over 49 is excellent; 35 to 38 is average. For men over 65, any number over 28 is excellent; 15 to 18 is average.
For women ages 18 to 25, any number over 43 is excellent; 29 to 32 is average. For women over 65, 23 is excellent, and 11 to 13 is average.
How to improve strength: Start a weight-training program with free weights or weight machines. Target the major muscle groups, and challenge yourself by adding weight as you progress. An excellent discipline that focuses on developing core muscles is Pilates.
Moving Fitness to the Next Level
You can calculate your overall fitness score using the federal government’s President’s Challenge Adult Fitness Test. However, keep in mind that finding out your results the first time you do these tests isn’t as important as using them as a baseline and working to improve them with strength training and conditioning routines, Reifkind says. Repeat these fitness tests after a few months of conditioning to see how you’ve progressed.
“Think of improving your fitness level as a marathon — a long-term building process,” Serban says. “If you stick with it, you will see results.”