For an elite athlete, the difference between silver and gold can be a thousandth of a second. As such, the tiniest of improvements in athletic performance can make a big difference. Often, these athletes undergo batteries of fitness assessments and screenings to identify any opportunities for even the slightest edge over the competition.
For the rest of us, “competition” may be a loose term but we still live in the same world where small improvements can make a big difference in our lives.
Fitness assessments are not just for professional athletes. Even the most out of shape human can reap benefits from having their fitness measured and finding opportunities to improve their health.
Deep down, you probably have an internal knowing about whether you are fit or not. Your body gives you outward signs as well. If you have to put your hands on your knees and take a break after climbing a flight of stairs, your body is sending you a message about your aerobic capacity. If you only buy slip on shoes because you can’t reach your feet to tie laces, flexibility may be seriously lacking in your human form.
If you have a desire to get “in better shape” – whatever that means for you – putting some numbers around how out of shape you are will do several things:
- Identify immediate risk factors for disease.
- Help you set realistic wellness goals to jumpstart your workout program.
- Establish a baseline from which you can measure your progress.
- Keep you motivated as you re-assess your fitness and see your metrics improve.
Fitness can generally be assessed in four key areas (as defined in this article by the American College of Sports Medicine):
Cardiorespiratory or aerobic fitness is the ability of your heart, lungs and muscles to respond to the specific demands of exertion – whether exercise or daily living. Resting heart rate and blood pressure metrics are indicative of cardiovascular health. More complex assessments can be taken involving the measurement of expelled gases while your body is exerting itself to the max (VO2 maximum capacity test). More typically, assessments like the Rockport walking test (under Weight & Biometrics – Cardio Capacity in the Motivation Alliance wellness platform), provide an accurate predictive measurement of your aerobic capacity.
Muscular strength and endurance are indicative of the strength, lean tissue mass and bone density you possess. Muscle tissue is calorie burning, fat-free tissue so the more muscle you develop, the less body fat you may possess. Many of these tests will be based on the ability level of the person taking the test and will involve large muscle groups.
To measure muscular strength, you may be asked to see how much weight you can lift in one repetition for a lift like the bench press or the squat. To measure muscular endurance, you may be tested to see how many repetitions of a body weight exercise like pushups, pullups or sit-ups you can complete within a certain amount of time. Results from these assessments are used to determine your appropriate lifting loads for strength training.
Flexibility is the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion without pain. Especially as we age, these metrics are indicative of one’s quality of life since your range of joint motion plays into how you perform daily activities like grocery shopping and climbing stairs.
Since joints differ in the amount of flexibility needed or allowed, there is no singular fitness test for “overall” flexibility. There are tests for specific body parts, however, like the sit and reach test which is used to assess flexibility in the lower back, hips and hamstrings.
Body composition metrics revolve around the proportion of fat tissue to fat-free tissue in your body. High proportions of body fat increase one’s risk for chronic diseases like diabetes, certain forms of cancer and heart disease. Body composition can be measured in a variety of ways ranging from simple caliper skin fold and circumference measurements, to a bioelectrical impedance analysis, to a full on DEXA (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan which is also used to measure bone density.
With the exception of those involving complex machinery (VO2 max testing, DEXA scans, etc.), many fitness assessments can be completed yourself or with the help of a fitness professional.
Before you start measuring (or getting measured), take a few moments to really think about what you want for your body and your wellness goals. More physical strength and power? Endurance? Better joint mobility and flexion? Fewer pounds on your frame?
A fitness assessment will give you a baseline snapshot of where you are now, allowing you to put metrics around what you hope to accomplish: bench press your body weight? Run a half marathon? Touch your toes without bending your knees? Lose 10 pounds?
No one cares as much about your goals as you do so any time you are getting the help of a fitness professional, make sure your input is part of the process and be specific about what you hope to achieve. Specifics can be measured and what gets recorded gets achieved.
Once you have a fitness baseline and specific goals established, it’s time to make progress. As you continue to work towards your goals, schedule in fitness re-assessments. There are no hard and fast rules for how often you should conduct fitness assessments, however, periodic re-assessments allow you to continually adjust your goals as your fitness improves and more, importantly, allows you to celebrate your achievements!
Your quest may be as simple as climbing that flight of stairs without feeling like you’re going to pass out. Measure where you are now, work to make improvements in your fitness and get where you want to go with ease. Not everyone can (nor should) train like an elite athlete but we can all enjoy the benefits of a physically active lifestyle.
Now go get it.