Welcome fitness traveler!
If you’re reading this then you’ve found your way to Fit & Able and are just starting your journey to greater health and fitness.
Most people think that the first step on a new adventure is decide where they want to go. After all, you can’t achieve a goal if you don’t set one.
But how can you decide where to go if you don’t know where you are now? Think about your GPS. To give you directions, not to mention good directions, the GPS needs to know both where you want to go and where you are starting from.
The same applies to starting a new exercise regimen.
You need to determine your current fitness level in order to decide how high to set the bar.
Over the course of these beginner-level getting started articles we will give you the tools you need to start living a healthy, active lifestyle. And the first thing you need to do is to ask yourself, “What is my current fitness level?”
Good? Bad? Awesome? Abysmal? The answer doesn’t matter because it’s only going up from here. Your current fitness level is just that: “current”. Soon enough that will be in the past. You know it’s going to be work but you also know you can do it.
4 Factors of Current Fitness Level
The point of answering this question is to provide you with a baseline figure of where you stand now. Knowing your baseline will help you plan a workout program tailored to your individual needs. This will help prevent overtraining, undertraining, and decrease the risk of injuries and burnout.
Determining your baseline requires performing various fitness tests and comparing them to the tables provided below. These tables will show you where your current fitness level stands compared to other men or women of similar age. Some of you readers will be spot on and some others may be above or below their peers.
But remember, just because you’re in better shape than your age cohort doesn’t mean you can plop back down on the couch. And if you’ve fallen behind your peer group that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. All this does is put your current fitness level in perspective.
Determining your current fitness level involves testing four physical attributes:
- Body composition
- Muscular strength and endurance
- Aerobic endurance
Let’s get started!
The first and easiest step in determine your current fitness level is finding out what you’re made of. More specifically, what your body is composed of. Body composition describes the amount of fat, muscle, bone, and water in your body.
There are many ways you can measure their body composition like air displacement plethysmography and bioelectrical impedance analysis. These are very accurate methods but they are also expensive and beyond what you need right now.
For our purposes we are just going to keep it simple with a body mass index measurement. The body mass index (BMI) is an indicator of your percentage of body fat.
Commonly accepted BMI ranges are:
- Underweight: under 18.5
- Normal weight: 18.5 to 25
- Overweight: 25 to 30
- Obese: over 30
To find your BMI you take your weight in pounds and divide it by your height in inches squared, then multiply that number by 703.
For example I’m 5’7″ (or 67 in.) and 135 lbs. So to find my BMI…
135 lbs. / (67 x 67) = 0.03 x 703 = 21.14
If you don’t want to do the math use this calculator from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and then compare the result with their BMI chart to see where you fall.
But be careful with BMI! While weight and height affect body fat, they are not direct measurements of fat themselves. Just think, the BMI chart can’t tell whether your weight is muscle bulk or a beer gut.
The American Council on Exercise recommends analyzing BMI in addition with other body composition assessments to get the most accurate results.
The second step in determining your current fitness level is seeing how bendy you are. Unless you’re a past gymnast or dancer, your flexibility will more than likely be poor. Very poor actually. This is due to the natural aging of our body, poor posture, constant sitting, and the lack of stretching.
While there are mixed results on whether stretching is actually beneficial for sports performance, stretching does increase flexibility and flexibility is important to your fitness level.
The main way flexibility helps your fitness is that it allows your joints to move through their full range of motion. This enables the muscles to work effectively and decrease the chance of injury.
To measure flexibility we use the good old fashion “Sit-and-Reach Test.” It’s exactly what the name suggests. You sit down and reach as far as possible. You’ve probably done these before in middle school PE.
Here’s how you do it:
- Place a measurement tool securely on the floor (yardstick/tape measure)
- Sit with your legs slightly open to where the yardstick is in between them and your soles of the feet are even with the 1 foot mark
- Slowly reach forward and hold the position for 2 seconds
- Note the distance reached
- Repeat 2 more times
Once you have your marks you can compare them against your age group and see how you did.
This will give you a baseline figure for your flexibility. Like the BMI calculation, it doesn’t give you the whole story but it’s good enough to get you started.
Muscular Strength and Endurance
The third test measures your muscular strength and endurance. Some sports rely more on muscular endurance, like running and swimming. Other sports require more muscular strength, such as football and power lifting.
A muscular strength and endurance test will measure how powerful your muscles are and their ability to sustain that power over a given period of time. To measure your muscular strength and endurance we will use a simple push-up test.
Push-ups are a great way to test strength and endurance because you lift nearly 75% of your entire body weight with each repetition. And the only thing that limits the number of reps is the limit of your own strength.
Maintaining proper push-up form, you should try and complete as many push-ups as possible before you need to stop and rest. Once you break form and stop, you are done. Proper form is key to a successful test.
Again, once you have your number you can compare yourself against your age group to see where you stand.
Unlike the BMI calculation and flexibility test, the push-up test gives you a very clear and concise picture of the state your body is in. The number of push-ups you can do is directly related to your current fitness level.
Last but not least in determining your current fitness level is testing your aerobic endurance ability. Also referred to as cardiovascular endurance, your aerobic endurance is your ability to continuously exercise for an extended period of time.
Aerobic endurance depends on the maximum amount of oxygen your body can intake (your VO2 max) and your muscles’ efficiency in using that oxygen.
The more aerobically fit you are, the more efficiently your body uses the oxygen you take in. As you can guess, endurance sports like running, cycling, and swimming heavily rely on aerobic fitness.
A simple way to measure aerobic fitness is the 1.5 mile test.
Find a track or a flat surface. Spend 10-15 minutes conducting a proper warm up. You don’t want to injure yourself just when you’re getting started!
When ready, attempt to complete the mile and a half run as quick as possible. Your finishing time will give you a sense of your aerobic fitness level. With your time you can compare yourself against your age group and see how you did.
Like the push-up test, running is a very good measure of your aerobic ability and will tell you very clearly where you need to improve your current fitness level.
You’ve now put your body through four tests to determine your current fitness level. How do you feel?
With your new tests results you’re not just seeing how in shape you are. You’re also seeing how your current fitness level compares to similar men or women in your age group. This last bit is good to know for two reasons.
First, it’s just a good benchmark for putting your results into context. These charts help you interpret what you’ve just done.
Second, if your results didn’t meet your age group averages, you’ve got good news! You can’t use the excuse of being to old to do something. You can see that people your age are perfectly capable of being in great physical shape. If they can do it, so can you!
Whatever your results were you did a great job. Congratulations, you’re on the way to building towards your new healthier life!
Remember, don’t be discouraged if your results are not what you were expecting. You weren’t supposed to set any world records. Your only goal here was to determine your current fitness level. Now that you know where you are starting, you can decide where you’re going next.
With your current fitness level determined, we’ll now move on to the next step of planning how to improve it.