The Best Physical Fitness Tests, Part One
Part one of a two-part series where we explore the best, toughest, and most interesting ways you can test and quantify your physical fitness level.
So, you have been going out for jogs, hitting the gym, riding your bike to work, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, using a standing workstation, and you are feeling great. Your pants are fitting better than ever and you are not shy about being seen in your bathing suit. You can walk for hours without getting fatigued, you can carry on a conversation while you walk up a few flights of stairs and you don’t think twice about joining in a game of shinny with your friends. And yet, something is still missing. Something about your new fit life is eluding you.
You want to be able to measure and quantify your current fitness level and not just by looking at the number on the bathroom scale. You want something bigger. Something more meaningful.
To best determine whether you're at the peak of your physical health, you can use any number of physical fitness tests out there. As you will find out, there are tons of different tests that check various aspects of physical well-being. There are tests that focus on gauging your strength, measuring your stamina, and quantifying your flexibility. There are tests that focus on one particular physical trait, a combination of two, three or ten, and even some tests that strive to measure your overall physical fitness.
Before we get into some of the most popular (and interesting) tests that I could find publicly available, let’s talk about what makes a test, any test, worthwhile.
Validity and Reliability
Consideration must be given not only to the results of the tests but also to the rigor of the testing criteria. The word “rigor” refers to the extent to which the testing criteria works to enhance the quality of the tests. In quantitative research, this is achieved through measurement of validity and reliability. In order for test data to be of value and of use, they must contain both.
Validity: does the test measure what it is supposed to? For example, timing a long endurance run workout would not be a valid measure of explosive strength but it would be a valid way to measure aerobic fitness. For our purposes, this is borderline common sense and should not cause us much trouble.
Reliability: is the test consistent or repeatable? If no variables are changed (aside from your level of fitness), a reliable test that is repeated over and over again should not yield different results. For our purposes, this is a tough one. Wind, heat, cold, hydration status, recovery state, illness and even lack of sleep can influence the reliability of our tests. But we are not trying to land a bike on the moon, so we’ll just have to do our best to control the variables we can.
So with that in mind, let’s look at physical fitness tests that some professions, physicians, schools, sports teams and researchers have concocted to help put some meaning to all this fitness mayhem that we hold so dear.
Types of Fitness Tests (Part One)
- The Canadian Forces EXPRES Test
- The Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training certification
- The Bruce Test
- The Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test
- Navy SEALs Fitness Test
- Seattle Fire Department’s Candidate Physical Ability Test
Since I am Canadian, let’s start in the Great White North.
1. The Canadian Forces EXPRES Test
There are five “military emergency tasks” that form the basis of the Canadian Force’s physical fitness evaluation. They are:
Entrenchment dig (digging a personal trench to protect oneself against enemy fire)
Land evacuation (carrying one end of a stretcher bearing a casualty)
Low/high crawl (moving in a defensive way in front of enemy fire)
Sea evacuation (evacuating a casualty from a ship during a fire or other emergency)
Sandbag carry (in the course of erecting a barricade against a flood or other natural event)
Given the logistics of using these five common tasks as an annual evaluation for all Canadian Forces personnel, the CF EXPRES test measures and evaluates using the following activities:
Aerobic Capacity by using a 20-meter shuttle run (running back and forth between two points)
Muscular Strength by using a handgrip test
Abdominal Muscular Endurance by counting the amount of sit-ups you can do (with perfect form and no rests)
Upper-body Muscular Endurance by counting the number of push-ups you can do (again with perfect form and no resting)
That one is pretty specific to the tasks that are asked of a Canadian Forces members but not completely unrelatable to us general public folks. At its core, it is pretty widely functional (by that I mean useful in real life) and we would all be safer and more self-sufficient if we could pass this test, so I won’t go picking what I perceive as holes in it. Instead, let’s look at another one.
2. The Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training certification:
To pass this certification, a person must be able to:
Run 1.5 miles in 15:37 (or less)
Do 16 consecutive push-ups with no rest
Jump 15 inches vertically
Do 25 sit-ups in one minute
Run 300 meters in 70 seconds
Now, I like this one even more than the first one because it includes a vertical jump test (which can quantify explosive strength) and it incorporates both a distance run and a sprint (which measures both aerobic and anaerobic fitness) but I can’t help but notice that it lacks a grip strength test and, more specifically, some pull-ups.