As we all know, exercise plays a major role when setting your weight loss/health/fitness goals – and it’s not just the losing weight, but the reduction in chances of getting many other debilitating co-morbidities as mentioned in my last blog. Another major part being played in the achieving of these goals is that of motivation, you need that continued desire to keep pushing yourself.
This is why it is important that your achievements are measured – i.e test your fitness regularly to check your progress. I often say to clients not to pay too much attention to the scales – of course it is important, but not something that needs to be done every day. The way your clothes fit is often a better practical way of knowing how your going – however you need to do more than this. By measuring your fitness levels you can set yourself new goals, and actually see the results from your exercise and diet program – this is what is so motivating.
Now most gyms have lots of options in this area and it is often part of their service to fitness test, and then of course there are different levels, if you are really keen you can go to special sports facilities and get hooked up to all sorts of machines to get very accurate accounts. However, there are simple tests you can do at home, to tell you your starting point and track all progress made. To get a good all round impression you would need to look at
Muscular Strength / Endurance
Now if you are repeating these tests, perhaps after your first weights program/fitness regime of 4-6 weeks, you need to ensure that the variables remain the same, e.g time of day / no food before / same hydration level / no coffee, cigarettes or other stimulants, or stresses / do tests in same order / same room or outside temperature. These tests are not necessarily 100% accurate, but will give a general indication – and as with any exercise you would stop if you felt any sort of pain, plus I always recommend seeing a Health Care Practitioner before starting any new exercise routine.
A nice easy one to start with is your RHR (resting heart rate), a ‘normal’ RHR is between 40 and 80, depending on you fitness level and age – the average for men being 70 and 75 for women. All you do is check your pulse first thing in the morning before you get up – just count from the 1st pulse for 15 seconds x4 or 30 secs and x2 to get the rate, you can do this over a week or so to get a better average – the lower the rate generally the fitter you are. Hers’s a table below ladies to measure up to!
Chest: at the nipple line (men and women)
Waist: at the narrowest point, generally below the ribcage and above the hips
Hips: feet together,go from the outer most part of the butt and level with the pubis bone.
Thigh: crotch level just below the fold of the butt
Calf: at the widest part
Upper arm: palm up, arm extended and at the widest circumference
Again measure these at regular (monthly?) intervals to get progress.
Waist-to-hip-ratio, again easy to do, this is an objective means of measuring body fat distribution above & below the waist whereby you divide the girth at the waist by your hip measurement (in cms)
Men over 0.9 and women over 0.8 would be considered to be at a greater risk of ill health.
Flexibility test: This is a simple test, all you need is a ruler, with the measurements starting at the soles of the feet, sitting down with legs flat on the floor, you simply reach forward and measure either how close you get to your toes or how far past. Make sure you do a warm up first to avoid possible injury (never work cold muscles). Take three readings and note down the third, do not ‘bounce’ to get further, move in a slow controlled manner. If you are not flexible (& I know from my Yogas classes I teach that many are not), by doing this stretch regularly, you will increase your flexibility very quickly.
The Harvard Step Test… another easy one, you need a step approx 46cms high and a stop watch (& an assistant if possible!). You then just step up & down from the step for either 3 or 5 mins, every 2 seconds (depending on how far you want to push yourself, & having warmed up first), when you finish measure your HR (heart rate) after 1, 2 & then 3 minutes noting these down, repeat these regularly every month or so. The quicker the heart rate slows down the fitter you would be. This measures heart rate recovery.
The Queens College Step test – this measures HR just after a given workload and is similar to the Harvard except you step up and down for 3 minutes (changing order of feet after 1 and a half minutes) – of course stop if you feel too tired, you then measure your HR (for 15 secs x4) within 5 seconds after finishing the 3 mins stepping. To give you an idea of the fitness level you are (women) a HR of
> 116 = Very good
116-130 = good
131-146 = ok
147-160 = poor
Simple Walk / Run test: there are quite a number of variances here, but you simply need a running space/track, stopwatch, pedometer (or smartphone app). You either run/walk for at least 10 minutes (to ensure use of aerobic energy) and measure distance travelled, or run a set distance and measure time taken. Of course, these can also be done on a treadmill / cross trainer or in the swimming pool.
Muscle Strength / Endurance
For strength, measure in a set time period, say 30 secs, have your legs resting on a chair so they are at right angles, with your arms folded across the chest, ‘crunch’ up till the elbows touch the thighs then lie down so the shoulders touch the floor, count the number in set time. For endurance – keep going till you can do no more!
less than 10 – umm could do better
10 – 15 yeah, not too bad at all
15+ well done, keep going!
Do the same with push ups, women can do them with their knees on the floor, place hands just under the shoulders, and keep in a plank position, once you lose that you need to stop – this is also an indication of a strong CORE (see Pilates blog) – again note down measurements and repeat at regular intervals.
There are many methods to do this all with varying accuracy. BMI (Body Mass Index) is the most quoted in the media (ee previous blog), the problem here is that it doesn’t take note of the diference between fat and muscle mass, so for example, Hugh Jackman came out as being Obese – definitely NOT the case !Until recent times, gyms always used to use ‘Calipers’ to measure skin folds are certain parts around the body (thigh, upper arm, back, waist), tables are then consulted to get a measurement of body fat percentage, and while these are still used today the disadvantage here is that it’s open to human error, in terms of how much ‘tissue’ the trainer holds. With the advancement of technology, most gyms or weight loss clinics now have special scales which measure not just weight but also body fat %. And you may have heard of Bioelectrical impedance analysis machines where electrical currents are used to measure body fat % as well as metabolism and muscle mass – again not totally accurate but a good indicator. So, these are not ones you can do at home, but worthwhile investing in, alternatively your GP should also be able to perform these for you. Try and get these tests done before you begin your new regime, to properly measure progress.