The Best Ways to Measure Your Fitness, Part Two

Part two (of two) of the best and most interesting ways that you can test and quantify your fitness level.

Brock Armstrong,
Episode #356

Best Ways To Measure FitnessIn part one we discovered that occasionally we fit-folks need more than a bathroom scale to show us where we are at in our athletic endeavors, and that often means we need to do some sort of fitness test. We also looked at what makes a test useful, valid, and reliable while we examined several fitness tests ranging from the Canadian Forces, to Navy SEALS, to a lab VO2 max test, and the grueling Seattle Fire Department’s Candidate Physical Ability Test. 

In part two, I am going to continue the examination of a few other fitness tests and reveal what I think is the best and most useful test for those of us who are interested in being awesome in all areas of life. 

Let's dive back in to the examination with a simple one.

The Vertical Jump Test

This test is used specifically to determine leg muscle strength and is another test that you can easily do at home. This test is sometimes called the Vertical Leap or the Sargent Jump (named after the physical educator, Dudley Sargent).

To perform the test, you attempt to reach the highest point on a wall by jumping straight up in the air with your arm reaching over your head. That is all. You can have a few tries, and either take an average of the tries or choose the highest jump. It is up to you. Once you can touch the ceiling, I guess you have to...move to a bigger house? I don’t know. I’m a white guy and everyone knows that we can’t jump.

Now, I include these next two with a heavy caveat. Obviously anyone trying out for the NFL or NBA has to be scouted for very specific gifts and abilities in each sport before they'd even be asked to do the fitness tests. So, take this with a bucket of Gatorade.

NFL Football Fitness Test

NFL football players must complete:

  • 40-yard dash, for time (which means they time how fast you complete it)
  • 20-yard short shuttle run (twice), again for time
  • Vertical jump (just like the Sargent Jump)
  • 225 lb bench press, maximum reps (meaning that they count how many you can do before failure)

And, of course, be really good at football.

NBA Basketball Fitness Test

NBA basketball players must complete:

  • No step vertical jump (jump as high as you can from standing still)
  • Maximum vertical jump (step allowed)
  • 185 lb bench press, maximum reps (again they measure how many you can do before your arms give out and your eyes bulge)
  • 3/4 court sprint

And also be very good at basketball.

The Harvard Step Test

Yes, we are going from the physically elite to the scholarly elite.

Like the Bruce test (from part one), this is also a test for cardiovascular function and it is pretty darn simple. All that is required is a 12- to 20-inch high bench or box that will bear your weight, a metronome, and a stopwatch (or an app that functions like a stopwatch).

The person being tested simply steps up and down on the platform at a steady pace for five minutes. The rate of 30 steps per minute must be maintained for five minutes (or until exhaustion). To ensure the subject is stepping at 30 steps per minute, the subject must step in sync with the metronome.

Then, after the five minutes is over, the subject immediately sits down on completion of the test, and the heartbeats are counted for 1 to 1.5, 2 to 2.5, and 3 to 3.5 minutes.

The score is determined using a fancy equation of 100 x test duration in seconds, divided by 2 x sum of heart beats in the recovery periods. Here is one example, if the total test time was 300 seconds (the entire 5 minutes), and the number of heart beats between 1-1.5 minutes was 90, between 2-2.5 it was 80 and between 3-3.5 it was 70, then the score would be: (100 x 300) / (240 x 2) = 62.5. Which would give you a "below average" rating on this test.  Rating Score Excellent > 96 Good 83 - 96 Average 68 - 82 Below Average 54 - 67 Poor < 54

Obviously this is great for measuring cardiovascular conditioning (and perhaps one's ability to do something really dull for five minutes) and it should be noted that correlation of this test to a real VO2max test has been reported as between 0.6 to 0.8 in studies.

CrossFit baseline WOD

When I first started my CrossFit adventure, I was asked by the instructor to set a baseline. This is often used to judge your progress and to assign you to a similar group or perhaps even to help you choose a modified version of the WOD (Workout of the Day). Many CrossFitters have their baseline numbers memorized and are happy to blurt out how far they have come "since those days." I may seem like I am mocking them but I actually think this is an excellent idea. We could all do with a little more quantification in our workout strategies.

How do you set a CrossFit baseline? For time, do:

  • 500-meter row (on a rowing machine)
  • 40 bodyweight squats — full depth (hip crease below knee)
  • 30 sit-ups — start with shoulders touching the ground and end sitting straight up
  • 20 pushups — chest to floor to fully extended arms
  • 10 pull-ups — chin above bar to full arm extension

Here’s how CrossFit interprets times (Male/Female):

  • 3:45, 4:40 — Elite
  • 4:30, 5:35 — Pro
  • 5:15, 6:30 — Expert
  • 6:15, 7:30 — Collegiate
  • 7:15, 8:30 — Intermediate
  • 8:15, 9:30 — Novice
  • 9:15, 10:30 — Beginner
  • 10:00, 11:00 — Cut-Off

I really like this one. Not just because it is a great way to measure your progress but because it tests a variety of movements and does the due diligence of stipulating good form in the criteria.


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