Fitness testing while you are training to track your progress will help to increase your success and provide measurable goals.
I think it is only human nature to want to see some physical evidence of the work we do. A programmer needs to see the output of the code they write; a carpenter likes to see the finished product of a table or chair. A workout is not any different. The biggest mistake a trainer or coach can make is not setting up a system for measuring progress.
As personal trainers we are all taught the standard benchmark tests for fitness. In a simplified format they are:
- Body composition
- Sit and Reach tests
- Hip and leg flexibility
- Push up tests for upper body muscular endurance
- Sit up tests for core endurance and strength
- Step tests test for aerobic endurance
- 10 RM (repetition maximum) tests for strength
These are simple tests fitness professionals learn to administer within the first year as a trainer. How valid and helpful these tests vary from client to client.
How Does Fitness Testing Help?
The answer to this question depends on two things: the general health and conditioning of the client and their fitness goals. For someone who is just starting an exercise program, fitness tests can show a trainer a realistic baseline of your unique physiological considerations. Since most people go to a personal trainer to help lose weight, body composition analysis is a necessary benchmark to help measure not only success but help client set reasonable weight loss goals. The other tests can give a trainer good indicators of where a client is physiologically imbalanced and identifies a meaningful area to focus training.
An example client could be a runner for plagued by a season of injury. During an assessment I see that their Body composition and cardio fitness scores are very good, but they score very low on the sit up, push up and sit and reach tests. This indicates to me that some of the issues with injury come from a combination of core instability and imbalance caused by tight hamstrings. This provides a starting point for their training program, and a concrete way to measure progress.
Another sample client might be one that is experienced in the gym but is just beginning to work with me. All of the basic tests noted above have what I consider a ‘passing’ score. In other words if a client can do more than 30 sit ups in a minute they have sufficient core strength to provide adequate spinal flexion.
Further testing can be used to determine where imbalances may be present. Plank is an excellent test for measuring abdominal compression. Abdominal compression is a large component of core strength and overall spinal health. Spinal compression is not measured in a sit-up test. Expanding to a side plank dip test, we establish an excellent indicator of potential core imbalance. It is not uncommon to see a 5 or 10 repetition difference between the sides. The side dip plank test is best performed on the forearm rather than an extended arm in order to minimize influence from arm and shoulder strength. The full range of motion is counted as repetitions. The correct motion of the exercise is the thigh touching the ground and returning to a finish position with a straight line between the upmost shoulder and ankle I don’t usually time this exercise once they fail, the test is over.
These are just a few examples of basic tests that can be used to determine initial status, set goals and measure progress. In the next edition I will go further into special testing and metrics.