What Is a Fitness Assessment and Why Does it Matter?
If you are 45 or older, you likely remember the President’s Council on Physical Fitness Tests. Created by President Kennedy in 1963, it was all the rage through the ’60s and ’70s. You were asked to run, sit up, and broad jump your way to an award. The flexed arm hang got me to fall to the floor in anguish after just a few seconds!
Fitness measurements have been around for a long time. However, you might be wondering what is a fitness assessment, and why is it important? Simply, it’s a way to gauge your current well being and look for areas of improvement.
Over the years, I’ve been amazed at the number of times I’ve grossly overestimated fitness level. As an example, take a look at the picture of me on the left. I was 38, wore a size 20, and tipped the scales at over 250 pounds. My description was athletically built, slightly overweight but in good physical condition. WHAT? Does that represent what you were thinking? Probably not. More accurately, I was obese with difficulty breathing during activity.
At some point, self-delusion and denial plague most of us. Therefore, it pays to have some objective understanding of where we stand compared to optimal.
This self-fitness assessment is simply a way to measure your current fitness levels and provide you with areas of opportunity to increase your overall health and well being.
Disclaimer: These are not medical tests designed to diagnose or treat anything! If you aren’t regularly exercising, consult your doctor, and a fitness professional before starting a program.
There are a variety of different fitness tests, and no two professionals would likely agree on the same test. However, most agree on five areas of fitness
1. Body Composition
2. Cardiovascular Endurance
3. Muscular Strength
4. Muscular Endurance
For self-assessment, I have combined strength and endurance, and I explain why in greater detail below. Also, I’ve added balance, a component critical to the aging athletes’ overall health and well being.
Before you begin, print this FREE Fitness Assessment to score your results.
1. Body Composition
What is body composition? Simply put, it’s your percentage of body fat compared to other body tissue, such as bone and muscle. People with a higher percentage of body fat are more likely to experience disease and ill health.
DEXA Scans, Body Pods, and underwater testing are the most effective ways to measure body composition. The downside is they are expensive and not easily accessible.
Body composition scales and handheld devices have become very popular. Devices like this use BIA (a form of electrical current) and series of equations to calculate composition. However, they are not extremely accurate and tend to underestimate the fat percentage. That said, if you already have one, it’s an easy way to get a starting point. If you don’t have a scale or monitor, save your money for something fun!
Fitness and medical professionals commonly use skinfold calipers. Accuracy depends on the providers’ training, but they are readily available, reasonably accurate, and inexpensive.
Calipers are something you can learn to do on yourself, and with a little practice, your accuracy will improve. Bob and Brad, who jokingly call themselves, the most famous physical therapists on the internet, will teach you to measure body fat on a female or male accurately. Side note; Bob and Brad have a great Youtube channel with a variety of videos to help you treat common physical ailments.
If you can’t access any of the more accurate methods listed above, give this online body fat percentage calculator a whirl. To get the most accurate results have someone take your measurements.
It’s worth pointing out that body composition and BMI (Body Mass Indicator) are not the same. BMI is a height/weight ratio measurement, and since it doesn’t take into consideration bone mass, it’s not a clear indicator of body composition. Click here for more help understanding the difference between BMI and body composition.
2. Cardiorespiratory Endurance
Cardio endurance is the most common fitness factor we consider. Simply defined, it’s the body’s ability to supply fuel and oxygen during sustained periods of physical activity. Essentially, how long can you go?
The easiest way to measure this is a 12-minute walk/run test. Warm-up and then walk or run as far as you can in 12 minutes. A free app like Map My Run can help you track the time and distance.
3. Muscular Strength and Muscular Endurance
These are two separate and complexly intertwined measurements. Muscular strength is the amount of force you can put forth with your muscles. Muscular endurance is the ability to use the muscles repeatedly without getting tired.
Most assessments categorize these as two different factors. However, for our purpose of self-assessment, I chose to list them together because of the difficulty in measuring them separately.
Consider a push-up. If your chest muscles are so weak that you can barely lift yourself off the ground, it’s more a measure of strength versus endurance. Conversely, if your chest is strong and you fail after 20 plus push-ups, it’s more of an endurance measurement.
It’s crucial to measure three key areas; upper body, lower body, and core.
Upper Body-Push-up Test
Love ’em or hate ’em they indicate overall upper body and core strength. On your toes, lower the upper body to a point where your elbows are at 90 degrees.
If you can’t do them from your feet, try it from your knees.
If you have a hand or wrist injury, try a push-up bar or a set of dumbells to prevent the wrist from flexing.
Your core is essentially the torso, think about the area from your chest to your hips. Core strength is critical for sports and essential for daily movement.
Place your hands directly under your shoulders and stand on your toes. Same as in the push-up position, keep your behind level with your upper body. Use your phone as a timer.
Can’t do it on your hands, or have a wrist or shoulder injury, modify by going on your elbows.
Lower Body-Wall Sit Test
Move your feet away from the wall and lower your legs to 90 degrees. Use your phone as a timer.
Flexibility and mobility are a little like muscular endurance and muscular strength. Flexibility is the total range of motion around a joint in a passive situation. Mobility is the amount of functional movement around the joint while in motion. Both are indispensable to avoid injury, reduce discomfort, and offset the normal dwindling joint flexibility that accompanies aging.
Sit flat on the floor, knees bent, and hold onto your ankles. Attempt to straighten your knees. Extra credit if you can put your wrists past your toes.
A certain amount of flexibility is based on gender and genetics, meaning you may never be able to touch your toes! However, like all factors on this list, flexibility can be improved.
Since mobility is joint-specific, it’s best measured by a trainer or therapist.
I use my warm-up to improve joint mobility and get the body ready to move. This quick 7 exercise mobility routine from the Daily Burn hits all joints. If you find you have difficulty with these exercises, it may indicate limited mobility in that joint.
Most fitness assessments don’t test balance. Balance, just like flexibility, decreases as we age, making us more susceptible to falling injuries. An estimated 1.6 million Americans visit the hospital yearly from a fall-related injury. Additionally, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries to older Americans. For the active athlete, balance is a critical and often overlooked factor in overall health and wellness.
Stand on one foot. Barefoot with feet about shoulder-width apart. Lift one leg and then hold as long as possible. Repeat on the other side.
Pass that with flying colors? Try this dynamic balance test. (the eyes closed version will challenge everyone!)
Now that you have a baseline fitness assessment, decide what areas need improvement and get to work. There are a lot of qualified fitness professionals that can tailor a program to your specific needs.
Each October, I start a 10-week ski conditioning class designed to optimize ski fitness and minimize injury. There is an octogenarian there each year, and for 60 minutes, three days a week, he gives 110%. It reminds me that the definition of fitness may change as we age, but we can still reach optimal fitness levels for our sport at any age!
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