In business, there’s a saying about the benefit of quantifying things to sharpen focus on them and drive results:
“What gets measured, gets managed.”
This is true for fitness and health, too. And for all of us past age 40, periodic physical tests and assessments are especially important because:
- We’re more prone to slow-developing asymmetries in our fitness, which become weaknesses over time — chinks in our armor vs. aging. Fitness assessments help flag potential problem areas so we can address them.
- When assessments find strengths, this is great and much-valued reinforcement of the investments we make in fitness. It’s motivation to keep going…something we all need.
With these benefits in mind, have you done a fitness self-assessment recently? And no, the “Presidential” tests back in gym class in 1970-something don’t count, man.
Here are three simple assessments you can do on your own, with descriptions and pro’s/con’s. I’ve purposely left out tests that require any fancy equipment, and ones that are “hard core” for advanced disciples of any given fitness activity. So, sorry, nothing here about how much you can dead lift or how fast you can run a half-marathon.
This is a series of questions on your basic physical metrics and behaviors, as opposed to having you do “tests” like a timed mile or max push-ups. Based on your inputs, it will give you a “fitness age” to compare to your actual age. Inputs are:
- Measurements: Height, weight and waist circumference
- Heart-rate info: resting pulse and maximum HR (it provides instructions for the measuring the former, and can estimate the latter for you if you don’t already have a general idea of this from your smart watch or tracker)
- Exercise habits: frequency, average duration and intensity of your workouts
Pro: I like this test because you can complete it in two minutes, anytime (why not see what this has to say, man?).
Con: On the other hand, the fact that it doesn’t test strength or flexibility is a major limitation. Just so long as you’re not overweight, report that you work out regularly, and have good cardio numbers, this tool gives you high grades, which might be misleading.
Verdict: this is worth taking because it’s so quick and simple…but don’t let this be your only self-assessment.
This one also captures body measurements (height and weight to calculate Body Mass Index, or BMI). But it goes beyond that to put you through five physical tests. Then you add up points for all your results to be classified into one of three fitness-level categories.
Physical tests are:
- Strength: Plank, Push-up and “Wall-sit” tests (to assess core, upper body, and leg strength)
- Cardio/Endurance: Timed mile run and test of how long you can maintain 100 rpm on a stationary bike
Pro: Provides a decent mix of tests across basic strength and endurance
- Doesn’t test flexibility
- No consideration of age within the mix
- The thresholds seem a bit low (e.g. being able to do anything more than 16 push-ups will get you the maximum possible score for that activity)
- You need access to an indoor bike
Verdict: the Prevention Magazine assessment (next) is more useful, especially if used in conjunction with the World Fitness fitness-age calculator.
Prevention Magazine’s “5 Simple Tests“
This test’s activities are similar to the Active.com assessment, but its interpretation approach is much better. For each tested activity, it provides a scale of poor-to-excellent benchmarks for 40’s, 50’s and 60’s age groups.
Instead of a timed mile run, this one has you travel as far as you can on foot in 12 minutes (running and walking if needed). So that’s harder than “just” running a mile, for most guys. Instead of the bike test, it has a flexibility one.
- Good mix of strength, endurance and flexibility tests
- Interpretation of results is a strong suit — much more useful than most other tests
- No fitness equipment needed
Con: Doesn’t include any body-measurement metrics (body mass, heart rate, etc.).
Verdict: This is a good overall test. If you can cover a decent amount of ground in 12 minutes, hold a plank and wall-sit for a while, do a decent number of push-ups, and still be reasonably flexible…you’re doing great, brother. This test together with the World Fitness “fitness age” calculator is a good combination!
Useful Items From Other Tests
There are a number of other tests you can find, which tend to either:
- Be similar to ones detailed above (but not as good for one reason or another); OR
- Get into hard-core territory, which is great and useful, but outside the scope of this article’s focus on simple/basic tests
However, here are two things — specific parts of some other tests — worth looking at as a supplement to the tests above.
- Waist-to-hip ratio: having your waist be bigger than your hips often corresponds to “visceral” midsection fat, associated with health risks
- “Sitting/Rising” test: can you rise to a standing position, from a seated cross-legged start, without touching hands or knees to the floor? (There’s a school-of-thought that this test is a better predictor of longevity/mortality than other more-involved ones. I’m skeptical on that, but think this is a great test anyway because it calls for a combo of modest strength with flexibility and balance).
The easiest thing for you to do after reading this would be nothing, dude. I realize, even if you are doing well on commitment to fitness and weight management, you might hesitate to find time and energy for this. But if you put this off, isn’t it going to stick in the back of your mind now? (Kind of like when it’s crossed your mind you need to check your car’s oil and tires, but haven’t gotten around to it).
In just a few minutes, you can ward off that feeling, do a valuable check on your overall-body fitness, and add to motivation — whatever the test results might be. So happy testing.
“So, don’t ask me no questions. And I won’t tell you no lies.” (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Don’t Ask Me No Questions – click to listen)
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