A five-part test of physical fitness is presented. Techniques are included for measuring body composition, cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, muscle endurance and flexibility.
You can’t miss it. Every time you turn around, there’s a reminder that you’re not as fit as would like to be. Dashing up the stairs to your English class leaves you breathless; you feel tired all the time.
You also know that people who are out of shape suffer more heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory problems than fit people do. And these are not old people’s problems; they can start in your early 20s.
OK, you realize all that, and you really do want to get in shape. But where do you start? How do you know which exercises are best for you? A good first step is to find out what you need to work on the most. Then, you can custom-design your own fitness program.
Rate yourself in the five main categories of fitness by taking this short “Fitness Quiz.” All you’ll need is comfortable clothes, a watch with a second hand, a sturdy box or high step, and about 15 minutes. You may want to do the tests with a friend so you can time and measure each other.
1. Assess Your Body Composition
You’re going to measure how much of your total weight is fat. This isn’t necessarily related to whether you’re overweight. Slender people have high body fat if their muscles are not well-developed.
One way to assess your body fat is the pinch test. With thumb and forefinger, take a vertical pinch of flesh at your waist just to the side of your navel. If the layer of flesh you can pinch is thicker than an inch, you may need to lose fat and improve your muscle tone.
2. Step Your Way to Cardiovascular Fitness
How well do your heart and lungs work in bringing oxygen to the rest of your body? A quick way to evaluate your fitness in this area is the step test. First, set up a sturdy box, stool, or other platform. It should be about 16 inches high. Before starting the test, check your resting heart rate (see formula at left). Then do the test: At a rate of about 40 steps per minute, step onto and off the box. Do this for two minutes. Then sit down and catch your breath for one minute. Then check your heart rate again. Subtract your “before” rate from your “after” rate. If the difference is more than 10 beats per minute, your cardiovascular system needs work.
3. Push and Pull Your Weight for Muscular Strength
Now let’s test the amount of weight your muscles can lift. In general, you should be able to support and move your own body weight in a variety of ways. One of the simplest tests is the push-up. With either your toes or knees on the ground, you should be able to do eight push-ups. Pull-ups are another good test of strength in the arms and upper back. Teenage girls should be able to do one full pull-up; teenage boys, from three (at age 13) to eight (at age 17).
4. Keep Going for Muscular Endurance
To measure how long your muscles can keep working, do a push-up; then lower your torso (keeping your back straight!) so your body is just a few inches off the ground. Hold that position for as long as you can. Girls should be able to hold a knee push-up for 30 seconds. Boys should be able to hold a toe push-up for 50 seconds.
Two other exercises test the endurance of your leg and abdominal muscles. First do a ski sit, where you “sit” against a wall, with your knees bent at a right angle. Girls should hold this for 50 seconds, boys for 75 seconds. Finally, see how many curl-ups you can do in one minute. Girls should be able to do about 35, boys about 45.
5. Test Your Flexibility
No matter how fit you are in other respects, if you’re not flexible, your movements will be limited and you will be prone to injury.
To assess the flexibility of your back and hamstrings (the muscles in the backs of your thighs), sit on the floor with your hips right up against a wall and your legs straight out in front of you. Reach forward and see how close your fingertips get to your toes. If they don’t reach at least to your ankle, your back is too tight.
To test your shoulders and arms, lace your fingers together while standing, and try to extend your arms straight out in front of you with the palms facing out. Then try the same thing with your arms straight above your head. If your elbows stay bent, your upper body is too tight.
Get With the Program
With the results of your self-quiz, you know what you need to work on. A coach, gym teacher, or trainer can help you choose the best exercises and show you how to do them safely.
Save a copy of this quiz and your “before” results. After one month on your program, test yourself again. Seeing your improvement will feel great, and it will help you stick with the program until you’re fully fit.
Measuring Your Heart Rate
Your heart rate tells you how hard your heart is working. First, find your resting heart rate (RHR). Sit quietly for five minutes, the take your pulse. Turn one hand palm-up, and with the first two fingertips (not the thumb) of the other hand, gently press the pulse point on the wrist just below the base of the thumb. Count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply that number by four to get your RHR.
Figure your target heart rate (THR), or the level you should reach during cardiovascular workouts, this way: Subtract your age from 220; multiply that result by 0.5 and by 0.75.
For a 15-year-old, this work outs as:
220 – 15 = 205
205 x .5 = 103
205 x .75 = 154
Your THR is between 103 and 154 beats per minute.