5 fitness tests that determine your strength, endurance, mobility, and more.
Pete Williams, CPT 1 / 6
Your New Physical Fitness Exam
For many athletes, the phrase “physical fitness exam” conjures up grade school memories of pull-ups, shuttle runs, and sit-ups. Those who passed received a certificate with the Presidential seal suitable for framing.
The NFL scouting combine has raised the stakes of fitness exams, testing NFL draft hopefuls each February in Indianapolis with the 225-pound bench press, 40-yard-dash, vertical jump, and other challenges designed to measure strength, speed, and explosiveness. How athletes perform in the so-called “Underwear Olympics” can influence where they’re drafted and thus how much money they earn in their initial contracts.
Most of us will never try out for the NFL and have only vague memories of a grade-school classmate pinning our feet to the ground as we crunched for 60 seconds. Both of those famous tests, which measure strength and speed, don’t always provide a barometer of fitness elements such as mobility, stability, flexibility, and body composition.
Here are five tests that will show you where you measure up not just when it comes to strength and cardio fitness, but also in those other elements. How you fare should give you insight into how efficiently you move and how susceptible you might be to injury.
The NFL combine famously uses the 225-pound bench press test as a way to measure overall strength. A more telling indicator, especially for those of us who are not NFL-sized, is to see how many times you can bench press your own weight. Several pump-and-run competitions have popped up in recent years where an athlete’s body-weight bench is combined with his time in a 5K run to produce an overall fitness score. For this, grab a spotter and see how many body-weight reps you can perform.8 Tips for a Big Number Bench Press >>>
2. Deep Squat Test
Part of the widely used Functional Movement Screen developed by strength coach and physical therapist Gray Cook, the deep squat tests range of motion in the hips, shoulders, and torso. If you can’t perform a deep squat, you’re probably stiff throughout the body or have imbalances between the right and left sides and front and back sides.
In a doorway, place a strip of tape on the floor a foot from the doorjamb. Stand centered in the doorway with feet shoulder-width apart with half of your body on each side of the door and your toes touching the tape. Hold a dowel or golf club above your head to create a 90-degree angle. Extend the elbows to the straight position.
Descend slowly into a full-squat position as deep as possible. Your heels should be flat and your feet should not turn outward or slide. The dowel/club should remain overhead. The heels must remain on the floor with head and chest facing forward and you must press the dowel/club as far overhead as possible. If you can keep your heels down, prevent your feet from sliding or rotating, bend your hips below your knees, and keep your knees aligned over your feet, without allowing the club to touch the wall, you pass. Give yourself three chances. If you can’t do it, you have some work to do on your flexibility.
This test, popularized by trainer Mark Verstegen in the book Core Performance Endurance, requires athletes to stand in front of a mirror with good posture. Lift your right leg until it forms a 90-degree angle with the hip. This “triple flexion response” is when the hip, ankle and knee are all flexed. Hold this pose for 60 seconds. Now switch legs and repeat the process.
This is the basic running motion. You should be able to maintain a straight line from your ankle all the way up to your armpit. Most people rock on a heel or lean forward on the toes. What you want to feel is an even distribution over the middle of your arch. Your raised foot should be pulled up toward your shin (dosiflexed) not dangling toward the ground.
Most people notice a difference between the right and left sides in terms of posture, leg alignment, and fatigue in the hip. These imbalances make you more than twice as likely to suffer an injury than if your body were in proper alignment. If you found this test tough to maintain in a controlled setting, imagine how inefficiently you’re moving in a changing environment, when fatigue and ground forces are a factor. Time to work on your core strength, stability, and mobility.
Body composition is a more accurate measure of overall fitness than scale weight. Two men roughly the same height, weight, and age can have dramatically different appearances based on body composition, which is the percentage of body weight composed of fat as opposed to lean mass. That’s usually expressed in terms of a body-fat percentage – 12 percent, for example, is typical for a male team-sport athlete.
There are high-tech options for body composition tests ranging from Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry, (also known as DEXA or DXA) to hydrostatic weighing. There’s also bioelectrical impedance (BEI), which can be as simple as stepping on an inexpensive BEI bathroom scale.
Skinfold calipers are perhaps the best mix of simplicity, accuracy, and portability, though it helps to have a trained technician do the measuring. The tech uses the calipers to pinch the subject at seven sites: chest, abdominal, thigh, tricep, subscapular, iliac, and midaxillary. The thickness of the skin folds at the seven sites, measured in millimeters, is totaled and inserted into an equation, along with sex, age and weight to determine the subject’s body fat percentage.
Most cardio tests are not especially effective. A V02 max test is expensive, but it’s the gold standard for endurance athletes. VO2 measures milliliters of oxygen per your body weight per minute that you can move or use. Simply put, the higher that number, the more cardiovascular strength you have. The VO2 test takes between 8 and 12 minutes and it’s not an easy one. An air mask is placed over your head and you begin jogging on a treadmill set at an incline until you reach your VO2 max. Professional cyclists record V02 scores in the 70s, meaning they use 70-plus milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute. Most avid endurance athletes fall in the mid-40s to mid-50s.This Interval Workout is Science-Proven to Amp V02 Max Better than Others >>>