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How Can I Tell if I Am Fit?
by Chris King

Question: How can I tell if I am fit?

I remember years ago something called the President's Test for Physical Fitness. School kids could take the test and get a patch if they passed. The number of Pull-ups, sit-ups, etc. you could do in a time period.

Is there anything out there to gauge fitness levels beyond pulse rate and blood pressure?

A. A great question! There are a variety of assessment tools used by clubs, fitness facilities and/or trainers to determine a client's fitness level.

The way I will answer this question is to list the five components of fitness - cardio respiratory fitness, body composition, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility - with examples of some of the common tests along with ways you can test yourself.

Remember, it is always a good idea before starting any fitness regime to have a physical checkup with your physician. I will assume that you are in good health, but want to determine how fit you are and also what fitness components need work. I don't want to get too technical and dry, either, so I am going to remain relatively general with my answers.

Cardio Respiratory Fitness (CRF):

If you become winded easily by walking up a flight of steps or moving quickly, and find that there is no way you can dance and/or take part in an aerobics class - even moving at slower pace than others - you probably will rate low in this area.

Different ways of assessing CRF are through resting heart rate. Take your pulse rate in the morning before getting out of bed (30 seconds to a minute). Do this on three or four different days. The more fit you are, the lower will be. Men average 70 to 75 bpm, while women average 75 to 80 bpm.

Another common test given at the clubs is the step test where clients are given simple instructions to step up and down to a standardized cadence for 3 minutes. Immediately following the stepping, recovery heart rate is determined for a full minute.

More fit persons recover more quickly than lesser fit persons following an equivalent bout of exercise. Test yourself by determining how long it takes you to recover after strenuous exercise.

Body Compostion:

Even though there is a great deal of attention paid to how much we weigh, the important fitness component is our body composition - the relation of fat mass to lean body mass. Actually, muscle weighs more than fat, so when we start developing muscle it appears that we are gaining weight which can be discouraging. That is why I don't suggest weighing oneself continually.

There are several ways of determining body composition. At the gym measurements are taken with skin calipers to determine the amount of fat under the skin. A more effective measurement nowadays is done with water displacement, but most facilities don't offer this.

You can try using the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) test. It is essential that the measurements of both waist and hip circumferences are accurate. WHR= waist circumference/hip circumference. In general, a WHR above 0.95 for men and 0.85 for women place you in the increased risk of heart disease category.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is another measure used. Body weight must be expressed in kilograms - divide pounds by 2.2. Body height must be expressed in meters - multiply inches by 2.54, and divide by 100 to find meters.

The formula is BMI = kg/m2 (meters squared). The desirable range is 20 - 25.0. If your answer is above 25, you need work in this category.

Muscular Strength and Endurance:

An important relationship exists between muscular strength and endurance - endurance depends upon strength. Muscular strength is defined as the maximum amount of force that a muscle can produce in a single effort.

Muscular endurance is defined as the number of times a muscular force can be sustained. Testing these components consists of testing each muscle group - for example, triceps, hamstrings, biceps, quadriceps, pectorals - and is different for men and women.

One common example is the push-up test. The position for men is only hands and toes contacting the floor, while women use the modified position with hands and kneeling with lower legs on the floor. The score is the number of push-ups performed (rest is allowed in the up position only).

Another test for muscular strength and endurance focuses on the abdominals. This is the bent-knee curl-up using tape, a standard cadence (3 seconds per curl-up or 20 curl-ups per minute). Clients perform as many as possible without stopping or breaking the cadence with a maximum of 75.

For men over 45, 40 curl-ups are considered excellent, and for women over 45, 30 curl-ups are considered excellent.


Flexibility is having full range of motion (ROM) in every joint, so is related to specific joint ROM - hip, shoulder, knee, low back. And, keep in mind that we automatically lose 10% of our flexibility every ten years, so it is super important that we always include a great deal of stretching in every workout.

Before any testing, and especially flexibility, be sure to warm up thoroughly. Sit with the legs straight (knees are not bent) out in front, lean forward and either grab the toes, or try to extend beyond them - if you can, you have flexible trunk flexion.

Another flexibility test is to sit up with the soles of the feet together and then bring the legs down as close to the floor as possible. If you can touch the floor with your knees, you are flexible.

A third test is to lie prone on a mat, hands are positioned under the shoulders. Slowly straighten the arms. The higher from the floor the suprasternal notch (the V shaped notch at the top of the breastbone or sternum) is, the better your spinal extension and flexibility.

Summary: I have merely highlighted some of the fitness tests, but hope I have given you a way to start determining how fit you are.

Our bodies are wonderful, but also complicated. Just make sure that any physical activity targets all of the above fitness components.

As always, check with your own healthcare professional before undertaking any diet or exercise program.

Ask Our Expert a Question by e-mail at fitqa@ClevelandSeniors.Com

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Chris King

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