I would like to point out that right after this pic was snapped, the Gym Buddies left me on top of that stupid gigantic tire. Do you know how hard it is to get off the top of a tire with your legs spread apart like that?!
Ever wondered if your workout is, well, working for you? Whether you are a dedicated exerciser or just starting out, it can be extremely rewarding to measure your progress. Most people focus on weight loss but this is a terrible measure of athleticism and a questionable measure of good health. Strength, speed, flexibility, agility and balance are all important for a healthy body. To measure your progress in these five areas, try this fitness assessment. The Gym Buddies and I have cobbled this together over the past few years and while we like to do the whole thing periodically, you can do all 17 of our tests or just pick a few benchmarks that will be a good representative for you and then record your scores in a notebook. Of course half the fun for us is trying to trip the other girls up. (Tip: It’s way harder to hold a wall sit if you’re laughing so hard you have to pee. So stock up on funny jokes if you are at all competitive!)
The Great Fitness Experiment Fitness Test
Timed Chin-Up Hang
To test your upper body strength (and relive memories of Middle School gym class, sorry about that), jump up – or step up using a chair – and grip a chin-up bar with your hands facing you. Using only your arms, hang with your chin above the bar as long as possible. And don’t worry, no one will be waiting to wedgie you in the locker room if you fall early.
Considered one of the most fundamental lifts, the chest press is easy to measure progress in – just add the numbers on the plates! (Although not while you are doing the chest press. I’ve learned the hard way that math + lifting weights = disaster.) Lay on your back on a weight bench and either grip a barbell or use two dumbbells. With a spotter nearby press the weight straight up and then bring the bar back down until your elbows are at 90 degrees. Use the heaviest weight you can safely handle for 5 reps. (Note: this really isn’t the same as the chest press that people use in competitions so if you plan on being a competitive chest presser then you’ll want to use their form standards.)
Shoulder strength is important for everything from good posture to putting away groceries so test yours by holding a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height. Press them both directly above your head and then lower until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Use the heaviest weight you can safely handle for 5 reps.
According to weight lifting guru Mark Rippetoe, the deadlift is one of the core lifts integral to strength and also an ideal benchmark for assessing lower body strength progress. Start with your feet hip-width apart and a loaded barbell in front of you. Keeping your chest up, lats tight, and core engaged, lift the bar until you are standing upright. Use the heaviest weight you can safely handle for 5 reps. (You will get tired of me saying this by the end…) And yes, you never realize how bad your form is until you see it on film. Oops.
One of the most basic lifts, squatting with a bar across your shoulders not only tests your lower body strength but your balance as your core works to stabilize the weight. Stand under a loaded bar with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Lower the bar onto your shoulders and squat down, sticking your butt out like you are sitting in a chair. Go until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the ground. Return to standing. Use the heaviest weight you can safely handle for 5 reps. (Or squat farther – full range of motion squats are all the rage right now and this is your test so make it how you want it!)
Handstands primarily test your balance and coordination but your shoulders and core will also get a powerful workout. Former gymnasts can just kick up to a handstand (and do a pirouette or two) but us mere mortals will probably want to kick up against a wall. Keep your abs and lats tight so your back doesn’t arch or bow. Hold the handstand as long as you can.
Another torture device reminiscent of your high-school days, the wall sit isolates your quad muscles like nothing else. With your back to a wall, slide down to a seated position with the tops of your thighs parallel to the ground. Keep your hands off your legs and time how long you can hold it. (Don’t you just want to tickle Krista??)
The current Guinness Book of World Records record for plank is over a half an hour but all you need to do is beat your personal best to see how your core strength is improving. On your toes and either hands or elbows, keep your body in a straight line – every time you stick your butt up a Kardashian loses a “k”! – and see how long you can hold it.
They may be one of the simplest of exercises – get in plank pose per the last slide and then lower down and push back up – but that doesn’t mean they’re not one of the most effective. There’s a reason why every military test uses them to assess shoulder, arm and core strength. Set one minute on a timer and see how many you can do! If you drop down to your knees be sure to note how many of each kind you do. (Beth standing on your back is optional. Allison’s just that tough.)
Graduated Tree Pose
Everybody’s favorite yoga pose (What? Down Dog is kinda hard on the wrists!), standing in tree pose may look relaxing but it’s a great way to test your balance. Begin in standard Tree Pose with one foot placed on the inside of the opposite leg. You can place your foot anywhere that is comfortable except directly on the knee joint. Hold your hands at heart center. Once you can hold Tree for 30 seconds, graduate to extending your arms above your head. Still too easy? Slowly tilt your head back and move your gaze upwards between your hands. Feeling on fire? Close your eyes. Time how long you can hold this.
Flexibility is an under-appreciated aspect of fitness but it’s important for injury prevention and healthy muscles. Plus a good stretch feels awesome. Keeping your knees straight and your back as flat as possible, bend forward and reach for your toes. Assign yourself a point value based on how far you go. For instance, reaching your knees is 1 point. Your calves are two points. Ankles are three points. You get the idea.
Agility is known to be important for soccer and basketball players but it’s also a key component of fitness for everyone. The ability to move quickly in any direction will not only help maintain joint integrity and enhance your mind-body connection but it also comes in handy if someone tries to snatch your purse at a crowded airport. Trust me on that last one. To do this test, set up two ropes (or draw two lines or use two towels) in an X. Count how many times you can jump in each quadrant consecutively in 10 seconds. Just like when you were a kid, if you touch the ropes you fall into hot lava.
Experts say that people under 40 should be able to stand on one foot with their eyes closed for a minimum of 30 seconds without falling. Sadly it’s a lot harder than it looks. Seriously, just try it. Yes, now. And don’t laugh because then you won’t have a prayer!
This plyometric drill will test your explosive power as you jump vertically next to a wall, touching it at your highest point. (This also tests your fear of running into walls. I’d like to say that has never happened to us. Yeah.) Either have a friend mark the point for you or use a landmark on the wall, like a brick line, to gauge your distance.
100 Yard Sprint
A short fast sprint is handy for testing your ability to run past your aerobic threshold. (This is also good in case your day job falls through and you need to go to your backup plan of trying out for the NFL. Can’t be too careful in this economy.) Mark off a short distance – if 100 yards isn’t practical just count one lap around the track or 5 lamposts on your street or whatever – and run as hard as you can. You should be running fast enough that you cannot sustain the effort past 30 or so seconds. Time how long it takes you.
I’m not going to lie to you: Out of all the assessments on this list, I find this one the most painful. The test is easy – run a mile as fast as you can – but it hurts. But the good news is that running this fast and short will make your human growth hormone skyrocket and you’ll be torching fat for a good 24 hours afterwards. So it’s pain with a purpose. Plus it let Megan get her Jillian on. And no Allison didn’t punch her. This time.
Timed Jump Rope
As an alternative to the fast mile you can assess your cardio endurance by counting how many times you can jump rope in a specific amount of time. Set a timer and jump as quickly as you can! Warning: If you’ve had children, go to the bathroom first.
How do you assess the efficacy of your workouts? What would you add (because 17 things is clearly not enough data points)? Anyone else just love taking tests?? (Just me, then?)