If you’re just starting out or simply rekindling your commitment to good health, it’s important to know and understand your current fitness levels. Not only will this provide a baseline for you to measure your progress, but it will also ensure a safe progression in the gym.
“Some things are a bit difficult or dangerous to do without some level of fitness, so you’ll want to consult a physician before undertaking any fitness program or testing,” says William J. Kraemer, Ph.D., FISSN, who is a professor of kinesiology and works in the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. Having issued that caveat, he suggests the following to assess your strength, power, endurance, cardiovascular shape and body composition.
“A good way to do this is with the Epley equation,” Kraemer says. “Use a weight you can safely handle for, say, eight to 10 reps and get a good idea of your max to base your other lifts on.”
To predict your max on certain lifts, multiply the number of reps at a certain weight by 0.033 and multiply that product by the weight used. Add that number to the weight used and you have your max. Consider this example: If you perform 10 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds, you multiply 10 x 0.033, which gives you 0.33. Now multiply 0.33 x 225 and you get 74.25. Add 74.25 to your weight of 225 pounds and you have an estimated single-rep max of 299.25.
A good gauge of the amount of power your legs and core can produce is a vertical jump test. You can do this at home with a marked wall or other measurable indicator. From a standstill and with your feet planted firmly on the floor, squat down and explode upward, swinging your arm(s) up to the measuring target. The highest point you reach with your lead hand is the measurement. If you’re wondering what a “superhuman” result is, Michael Jordan scored a jump of 48 inches in his prime. His contemporary, Larry Bird, had a less-dazzling vertical of 28 inches. You’ll want to aspire to a Jordanesque vertical because it has fantastic carryover to the squat, but don’t beat yourself up too much if you don’t come close.
To get a read on how long your muscles can go, follow the military’s lead. “Simple push-up and sit-up tests like they do in the military are a great indicator of muscular endurance,” Kraemer says. If you’re 30 years old, for example, you’d need to perform 77 push-ups and 82 sit-ups without stopping for a perfect score. Another way is to see how many of each you can do in a minute.
4. Cardiovascular shape
“There are many tests for this, but an easy one is the 1.5-mile run,” Kraemer says. Using a stopwatch, simply time yourself from start to finish. (If you don’t have a track nearby, try a website like mapmyrun.com to measure road routes or use an app like Strava.) “Make sure you’ve spoken with a doctor first to rule out any pre-existing health conditions that would contraindicate this test,” Kraemer advises. Looking for a comparison for your time? The U.S. Coast Guard requires male recruits age 30 and younger to complete the run in 12:51 or better.
5. Body composition
“We all know by now that the body mass index is worthless,” Kraemer says. “What you want to do is get with a trained professional who knows how to take an accurate skinfold measurement to test for your actual body fat.” A good measurement for a healthy athlete is 6 to 13 percent, according to the American Council on Exercise, but up to 26 percent is considered an acceptable healthy range.
William J. Kraemer, Ph.D., FISSN, is a full professor in the department of kinesiology working in the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.