Take quick stock of what you know about your body. You probably know your weight. Shoving two fingers under your jaw will reveal your resting heart rate. Important numbers for sure, but if you’re starting a new fitness regimen, you should build a more detailed fitness profile of your body.
The problem? Detailed physiological data for athletes requires a visit to a lab with fancy machinery. Or so you thought.
Seann McArdle runs one such lab at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He tests students and athletes with an armada of machines, and says you don’t need any of them to measure five important fitness data points.
“You want to be able to figure out what your strong points are and what your weak points are,” McArdle says. Not just to know how healthy you are, but also to know if the workout program you are using actually works. “By testing regularly you can see if the things you are paying for are actually giving you a quantifiable result.”
While most measurements vary based on the type of athlete and his specific goals, these are five at-home fitness tests you should conduct to track your progress and gauge your general fitness level.
This is the one test no athlete should ignore, McArdle says. Knowing your body fat percentage not only provides motivation, but is also a clear health indicator.
To get an accurate measurement of your body composition at home, you’ll need a skin fold caliper, a simple plastic tool that pinches your skin to measure thickness. McArdle recommends using the instructions and calculator from the fitness resource website ExRx.net. The website directs you to measure skin thickness in seven locations where you can then enter the data to calculate your body fat percentage and lean weight, which is then compared to the general population.
“Body comp not only has a huge impact on athletic performance, but also on health, McArdle says. “How much fat mass you have communicates a lot about what the other test results are going to be.”
If you’ve seen footage of elite athletes running on treadmills while wearing masks that make them look like they just stepped off a fighter jet, you’ve seen the lab test used to measure VO2max. The machinery simply calculates how much oxygen athletes can gulp and how efficiently they can use that oxygen under exertion.
If you are an endurance athlete, VO2max is a great number to gauge your current fitness level. And, you don’t need a lab to get it, just a track and a stopwatch.
After a good warmup, all you need to do is run as far as you can in 12 minutes. That distance will allow an online calculator to determine your estimated VO2max.
You can improve that number through standard endurance training plans, but McArdle says what you eat can also be a big factor. “Just by diet you can change it, just by decreasing any excess fat mass,” he says.
It’s a weight room staple and one of the easiest ways to measure improvements in the gym.
“If someone has a lot of weightlifting experience, I suggest they try to measure directly, meaning to try to find the amount of weight needed to perform exactly one repetition,” McArdle says. But, he cautions that weightlifting novices should not try to lift as much as they can in just one rep.
Instead, they can use the Brzycki equation, which converts a multi-rep set into an estimate of what your one-rep max should be. ExRx provides a useful calculator to use the equation here.
The standard measurements for muscular endurance come from the pushup and situp test.
For the pushup test, you need to complete as many reps as you can using correct form. According to the specifications used by ExRx, a partner should clasp their hand into a fist and place it on the floor under the test-takers chest. Contact must be made with every rep.
The situp test is timed, measuring how many reps you can complete in 60 seconds using proper form: a partner stands on your feet, your hands are clasped behind your neck, and your elbows touch or move past your knees with every rep.
ExRx provides calculators that can compare your results to the general population.
McArdle also recommends seeing how long you can hold a standard plank. There are no comparative numbers so you can only measure how much you improve, but McArdle says core strength is an essential indicator of overall fitness.
Straight from your elementary school gymnasium, the sit-and-reach test is still a standard when measuring for flexibility.
Although results will likely be more accurate, you don’t need a standard sit-and-reach box to complete the test. You will need a tape measure and someone to help you out. Without shoes, sit down on the ground with your feet pressed against a flat surface like a step. Have the partner measure six inches from the edge of the step toward you to establish the starting position of the tape measure. From that spot extend the tape measure out and begin to slowly lean forward. Continue forward as far as you can without bending your knees, measuring the distance you are able to reach. This online calculator will compare your results to the general population.
According to McArdle, poor performance on the sit-and-reach is usually an indicator of lower-back pain.