Why a regular fitness assessment is so important and a set of simple tests you can perform on your own
When was the last time you evaluated your progress at the gym? And if you’ve been working with a trainer, when was the last time he or she took you through an assessment that went beyond a measurement of your body fat and weight? Chances are, that even if a good assessment was performed at baseline of your fitness program, that too much time has passed since you looked at this information again.
There are reasons this happens, but that is not the focus of this article. What I want to do instead is provide you with some quick and simple assessment techniques that you can perform with or without a professional trainer. I want to do this because whether you realize it or not, or even believe it or not, this information and these reviews of your progress are paramount to your on-going success.
The truth is that the fitness industry as a whole struggles with this concept. Few would argue about the importance of these assessments, but few would be able to agree on exactly what type of assessment should be done. Unfortunately, this lack of agreement has led to an almost complete lack of focus on the topic instead. Regardless, I’m not here to say I have the magic formula, What I’m saying is that measurement is vital to your health and fitness success, and that as long as you are making intelligent decisions about what to measurem, and why, that the measurement is what is important.
What I’m sharing with you today is a quick and simple methodology that will help anyone with or without a professional fitness trainer get the assessment job done. Because the bottom line here is that void of this important review of your pgoress, it is virtually impossible for you or your fitness coach to make accurate and smart recommendations about what you should do next. It will also hopefully help motivate you when you can review a consistent record of your progress over time.
For out purposes here today I’m outlining four categories of assessment today. One for your cardiovascular fitness, one for your strength training program, and one simple move for your flexibility measurement. All three are important. And remember, there is a lot more that can be done when working directly with a health and fitness professional.
Body Fat and Weight
As I’ve discussed often and as I detail in my book, these two measurements are crucial in determining that you are losing weight the right way and preventing muscle wasting along the way. Remember, if your weight is decreasing, but your body fat is increasing, you are muscle wasting and you need to address your nutrition and your strength work in order to fully correct this problem. A problem that can lead to a lifetime of struggle with your weight.
Cardiovascular Fitness Assessment
When I work with clients personally, we perform a full assessment where I measure their heart rate and blood pressure response to aerobic exercise. On your own, you will focus on a heart rate measurement in different contexts.
Your resting heart rate and your recovery heart rate will tell you the most so let’s start with those.
Measure your heart rate once per week in the morning before you get out of bed. This is a true “Resting Heart Rate” measurement and because your body becomes more efficient with regular exercise, you should see a decrease in this number over time. Keep in mind though, that often this change takes some time and that depending on where your resting heart rate starts, it might not move more than a few beats at rest. It all depends on your intitial fitness level, and any level of decrease in this number is an extremely positive result.
Second, you will measure your recovery heart rate to 3 minutes of stepping exercise. You can pick the height of the step depending on your initial fitness level. Twelve inches is the standard. Step for three minutes and measure your heart rate as soon as you’re done. Measure your heart rate again at one minute of recovery. Compare those numbers over time and if you’re fitness level is improving, your heart rate should be lower at each point. If you can, use a metronome to ensure you are stepping at the same cadence each time, but don’t worry about this if you don’t have one. Also, if you don’t see at least a 40 beat recovery from the end of stepping to one minute of recover, you should schedule an appointment with your physician immediately. A less than 40-beat recovery is associated with a significant increase in the risk for sudden cardiac death. Yes, a heart attack that will kill you.
Pick 4 movements in the following categories and use three sets of each exercise to determine your 10 repetition maximum. In other words, the first two sets warm you up for the third, in which you choose a weight that you think is the most you can lift 10 times with good technique. Also known as your 10 repetition maximum this number can be tracked over time and also used to predict your 1 repetition maximum, which can ultimately be used by your fitness coach to more accurately prescribe your strength exercise.
Note: you MUST reach 10 repetitions with good technique. If you only make it to 8 or 9, then your score is the the weight you were able to lift in the set you did right before this one.
Perform movements in all of the following categories:
- 1 Pulling Move
ex, Lat Pulldown, Seated Row, Bent Over Row
- 1 Pushing Move
ex, Bench Press, DBell Chest Press, Push-ups, Standing Cable Chest Press
- 1 Lower Body Move
ex, DBell Squats OR Leg Press (Much safer)
- 1 Overhead Move
ex, DBell Shoulder Press, Barbell Shoulder Press, or you can use a Lateral Dumbbell raise if you have neck problems that prevent you from being able to lift anything over your head.
There are a lot of ways to measure your flexibility and depending on the position of your body, the muscle groups involved, etc, your flexibility level will vary? As a result there is one important move I recommend because tells you a lot about your low back and lower body flexibility, which is very important to the health of your low back. This, or course, is very important in ensuring that you can continue to perform all the exercise you want to do.
The problem is that the move I prefer, and the means of measurement is a little technical, so here is what I recommend instead.
Sit in your chair (the same chair every time) and spread your legs apart and reach toward the floor. Do your best to assess the distance you can reach, and if you can reach the floor, see how far out ahead of you your hands can reach over time. You will know if you are improving here. This will not only tell you a lot about your low-back flexibility but also about your hips. Both of which are important to your overall level of function both in your exercise and in your every day life.
OK, that’s it. Yes, you can get a lot more sophistaicated in all categories of measurement listed above, however, when working on your own, or if you just want to keep things simple, this will provide you a nice foundation for an assessment program that will allow you to make decisions about what to do next with your fitness program.
In future articles, I will detail real life measurements and how they are used to re-configure and progress a person’s exercise program.