Sure, there are all sorts of standardized tests you can use to gauge your strength, endurance, speed, and agility. But when challenging your fitness, why not have a little fun with it? These fitness yardsticks, recommended by top trainers, provide a nice little break in your routine, and may reveal where your training program is lacking.
1. Sit Down, Stand Up
...and hopefully it’s not a fight fight fight! Start by crossing your feet, then lowering yourself down to the ground so you’re sitting cross-legged. Now stand back up without using your hands or losing your balance. To score a perfect 10, you can’t touch the ground with any part of your body other than your feet; any time your hand, arm, knee, or leg touches down, you lose a point, and if you lose your balance going down or coming up, you lose half a point. “The Sitting Rising test demonstrates mobility and balance,” says Brynn Putnam, owner of Refine Method in NYC, who says a score of 8 or higher is a passing grade. “Recent studies indicate it may be a predictor of mortality risk in the elderly.”
2. Make a Speedy Escape
What if you were lying on the floor and someone shouted, “The house is on fire! Get out!” How fast could you get up on your feet? That’s the basis for this test, a favorite of Jimmy Fusaro, personal trainer, boxing coach, and owner of NYC’s X-FIT Gym. “It doesn’t seem like much, but give it a try—it will surprise you.” You’ll need a friend with a stopwatch and a keen eye for compensations you might make. “First-timers usually roll onto the stomach, push up onto the knees and get up from there, but your goal is to explode up without turning to one side or onto your stomach,” Fusaro says. What it’s testing: reaction time, explosiveness, core strength, and muscular flexibility, and joint mobility.
3. Take a Hike
“Going for hike while carrying a heavy load, like your backpack, is an incredible test of your work capacity and a great excuse to get outside,” Putnam says. “Wildland firefighters use the pack test to test general fitness, so you’re also in pretty badass company.” To mimic what they do, go on a “light” hike with no load of 1 mile in 16 minutes, aim for a “moderate” 2-mile hike with a 25-pound pack in 30 minutes, or go for an “arduous” 3-miler with a 45-pound pack in 45 minutes.
4. Find Your Balance
“Stand on one leg. Close your eyes. Time until you fall. So simple. So ridiculous. So telling,” says NYC-based coach Tiffany Chag, CSCS, owner of Tiffany Chag Training. So what’s it saying? How good your balance is, in its purest form. “We've taken away our primary sensory input for balance, which is what makes it a great test,” she says. Be sure to test both sides. Lasting 30 seconds on each side is impressive.
5. Jump Up
Find a wall you can mark and strap on your Air Jordans (or, you know, whatever shoes the kids are all about these days). Coat your fingertips with sidewalk chalk and stand at the wall, reaching as high as you can to tap your baseline. Now bend your knees and take a stationary vertical leap, tapping the wall at the height of your jump. Measure what you got between those two marks. A difference of 26 inches or more, and MJ’d be proud. “How high you can go is a key indicator of how strong your lower body is, specifically your legs and glutes,” says Joshua Duvauchelle, personal trainer and health coach in Vancouver, BC. “That helps with sports, agility, and mobility any time you want to move with a quick, explosive burst of power.”
6. Hop to It
For another assessment of lower-body power, go horizontal. With jumping, that is. Mark out a distance of about 50 yards on a straight path with chalk. Hop on one foot from the start line to the finish, counting how many bounds it takes you. Now do it with the other foot. “The difference in the number of hops gives you an idea of the discrepancy in strength and power between the two legs,” explains personal trainer Tim Haft, the creator of Beastanetics and Punk Rope. “As you get stronger, you'll cover the same distance in fewer hops.”
7. Be Determined to Bound
One more test that looks at muscle recruitment of the lower body: timed box jumps. Grab a 24-inch box and set the timer for one minute. How many good quality, softly landed box jumps can you do before the buzzer? (Save your knees the extra impact and step down off the box after each rep.) “This tests your ballistic lower body strength and power,” says Matt Tanneberg, DC, CSCS, sport chiropractor at Arcadia Health and Wellness Chiropractic in Phoenix, AZ.
8. Step Lively
Now that you’ve invested in that chalk, let’s keep putting it to good use with a five-dot drill. Mark out four dots at the corners of a rectangle that’s 2 feet wide by 3 feet long, plus a dot in the center. “There's a whole protocol for the actual test, but let's keep it simple to start,” Chag says. Start with each foot on the dots on the short side of your rectangle. Jump your feet together onto the center dot, then out wide onto the top two dots. “Like a traveling jumping jack, without the arms,” she says. Without turning around, jump your feet together backwards to the center dot and then to the dots where you started. Count how many you can do in one minute, then test yourself again after a week in your training program to see if you’ve made progress in your speed and agility.
9. Take a Stand
On one leg at a time, that is. “This tests leg strength and balance, as well as core and hip stability,” says Sara Dimmick, CSCS, owner of New York City’s Physical Equilibrium. Take a seat on the edge of a weight bench. Lift one leg, and stand up and sit down without wobbling or putting the other foot down. If you can easily do 10 reps on each side, you’re good.
10. Have a Seat
Remember the torture of wall sits in gym class or high school sports practice? Turns out, they’re valuable as a good gauge for muscle endurance in your lower body, especially your quads (right, because they’re what burns the most). Set yourself up so you can sit with your back flat against a wall, knees at 90 degrees. “If you can hold longer than 90 seconds that’s great,” Dimmick says. Under 60 seconds? That’s poor.”
11. Follow Your Heart
Talk about low effort. “The easiest, quickest and best way to measure cardiovascular fitness is to measure a resting heart rate,” says Robert Ziltzer, MD, of Scottsdale Weight Loss Center in Arizona. The hardest part is remembering to do it, ideally when you first awaken and you’re still lying in bed. A resting pulse of 60 or lower is good, and 50 or lower is even better. It’s also a good way to track the progress of your aerobic program, by taking measurements at the beginning and then once a week to see how it improves. After all, the heart is a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it.
12. Time Your Recovery
Another way your heart rate tells you something about your fitness is by gauging your recovery after a bout of intense exercise. “The rate at which your heart rate returns to normal after any activity, be it sprints, heavy squats, or sex, is a great sign of improvement in your heart health,” Putnam says. If your bedroom buddy might take umbrage as you roll over to immediately take your pulse, try something a little more standard, such as a few minutes of hard wind sprints or a tabata circuit. Take your pulse before you start, immediately when you finish, and after two minutes of rest. If your heart rate drops by 53 to 58 BPM, that’s a good result. In the range of 59 to 65 is great, and 66-plus is top-notch.
13. Race Yourself
While you’re revving your heart rate, why not time yourself? Mark out 30 yards, visit a local baseball diamond and out-run an imaginary throw, or really, just pick a start and end point that doesn’t move (such as two telephone poles or you and your neighbor’s mailbox). “Want to get better?” Chag asks. “Add that to your workouts.” Then, each week, time yourself again and try to beat your time.
14. Don’t Skip This One
To look at your reaction time, coordination, and aerobic capacity, jump rope for one minute, counting how many hops you complete, suggests Tanneberg. If you want, combine this with the heart rate recovery test. To get better, add jumping rope to your warm-up. Retest once a week.
15. Take the Stairs
And take ‘em hard. Find a tall building and time how many stairs you can sprint up in 60 seconds. “This tests your aerobic strength and also your lower body strength,” Duvauchelle says. Interval training and running can help you improve your speeds. Then re-test next week. (This one can also be combined with that HR recovery test.)
16. Power Through Fatigue
There’s nothing quite as total-body exhausting as a good bout of burpees. But you have to make ‘em good. Before you start, measure a mark on a wall in front of you that’s 6 inches above where you can reach flat-footed. “During the jumping portion, your hand must touch this mark for that burpee to be counted as a repetition,” Tanneberg says. “Also, make sure to complete a full pushup at the bottom.” Set the timer for a minute and grind ‘em out. Once you’ve set your benchmark, test yourself again after a few weeks of training.
17. Try a Long Haul
For a total-body strength test, take your body weight, divide by two, and (carefully) grab dumbbells at that weight or close. (You weigh 200, that means 100 pounders.) For your back’s sake, please squat down to lift them up! With your shoulders relaxed and your chest proud, start walking. “Count the number of total steps you take before you can take no more,” says Shane McLean, personal trainer in Dallas, TX and owner of Balance Guy Training. “Test this once a month. If your strength program is working, your total number of steps will increase.”
18. March It Out
Core stability isn’t just a buzzy thing that trainers like to talk about it. It governs basically every move you make, especially when you’re lifting heavy weights. To see how yours rates, do marching bridges: Lie on your back, knees bent. Lift hips up into a bridge position and march your legs up toward your chest one at a time. “Can you keep hips in alignment and not twist or drop them?” asks Dimmick. “Completing 20 good repetitions (10 each side, alternating) is a good goal.”
19. Tap This
For another look at your core strength and stability, try this one-minute drill courtesy of Tanneberg. Come into a long-arm plank. Start the timer for a minute, and count how many times you can alternately pick up one hand and tap the opposite shoulder and—this is the important part—without letting your hips move at all. That’s right, if there were a water glass balanced on your tailbone, you wouldn’t spill a drop (hey, if you have a friend willing to place a cup there, even better). Re-test after a few weeks of your strength program to see how you’re progressing.
20. Burn, Baby, Burn
Think you’re in great shape? This grueling test may challenge that notion. Start with two squat jumps, immediately followed by two alternating lunge jumps (one per lead leg). Then do three squat jumps, and three lunge jumps (remember which leg did more). “Continue to go up by one rep each round until your feet no longer get off the ground or your lungs give out,” says McLean. “Record the number of rounds and test yourself once a month.”