It’s true that you should never judge a book by its cover. You certainly cannot tell how fit someone is just by looking at them.
A very fit-looking person may have muscular strength, but may pass out if you put them on a treadmill going 7 mph for 10 minutes.
On the flip side, you might pass someone on the street who is 50 pounds overweight yet can easily run a half-marathon.
Different types of fitness testing are needed to accurately determine overall fitness.
The main components of physical fitness are pretty easy to determine: flexibility, cardio-respiratory fitness, muscular strength and endurance, and body composition. While there are too many tests for each of these categories to mention, below are some common ways to determine if you are fit. Results for all of these tests can be found online.
The most common flexibility test is the Sit and Reach, which tests low back and hip flexibility as well as hamstring tightness.
What you need: This test requires a yardstick, duct tape and a mat. After warming up your muscles, have a seat on the mat with the yardstick between your outstretched legs, with the “1” on the yardstick closest to your body. Place a 1-foot long piece of duct tape perpendicular to the yardstick at the 15-inch mark. This is where you will line up your heels (no shoes).
What to do: Once in place, stretch out both arms together and slowly reach your fingertips as far down the yardstick as possible. Take your best reading of three tries.
Results: Norms are based on gender and age; if, for example, you are a 50-year-old female, the 90th percentile would be 21 inches. The 90th percentile for a 50-year-old man is 19 inches.
CARDIO-RESPIRATORY FITNESS TEST
There are several ways to test your aerobic fitness, many of which are expensive and only available in a college or hospital setting. But there is a less sophisticated method called the YMCA Sub Max Step Test.
What you need: You will need a 12-inch step, a metronome set to 96 beats per minute (a free metronome app can be found on your smart phone), and someone to test you.
What to do: Step up and down on the step at the beat of the metronome for 3 minutes, then immediately sit down and have your partner take your pulse for a full minute.
Results: If this test leaves you out of breath, this is a category to work on. Heart rates will vary due to fitness levels.
MUSCULAR STRENGTH AND ENDURANCE TEST
The most common test for this category is the Push-up Test.
What you need: A mat and a rolled-up towel.
What to do: Assume the push-up position on the floor (men are to do full push-ups on toes; ladies can do them on knees). Put the rolled-up towel on the front of your mat and place your hands at slightly wider than shoulder width on either side of towel. When in starting position, your head should be lined up between your hands. The goal is to complete as many push-ups as possible, with your chest touching the towel on each rep, until exhaustion sets in. There is no time limit.
Results: A 40-year-old man is considered in excellent condition if he can do 34 or more push-ups; a 40-year-old woman is in excellent condition if she can do 31 or more.
BODY COMPOSITION TEST
Since excess fat sometimes predetermines disease, it is important to know your body composition number.
While the gold standard for body-fat testing is hydrostatic weighing (underwater), there are many other ways to check body fat, including a DEXA scan at a doctor’s office or a simple store-bought bioelectrical impedance device.
Another simple inexpensive way is the skinfold caliper test.
What to do: Have a fitness expert test three or four sites on your body, which may include triceps, thigh and ilium or abdomen (different for men and women). Then plug those numbers into charts for your age and gender. There is a slight margin of error and it is important, if possible, to have the same person do the test each time you have it done.
Results: The average norms for men are 18-24 percent body fat. The average for women is 25-31 percent. Norms for people considered to be fit are 14-17 percent for men and 21-24 percent for women.