Measuring Fitness Levels

Ever notice your clients can lift a lot of weight but can’t run on the treadmill for more than a few minutes? Or maybe they can do cardio for hours but can’t do a single push up or chin up? They’re not alone. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Before writing and implementing an exercise program for your clients, it’s helpful to know where they stand on each component of fitness. Here are some tests you can do to assess their fitness levels for cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility. Once they’ve done the tests, check out their rankings in the appropriate table of reference values provided below.

Cardiovascular Endurance

Cardiovascular endurance, sometimes called cardiorespiratory endurance because of the close working relationship between the heart and the lungs, is arguably the most important component of fitness because the functioning of the heart and lungs is so essential to overall health. And the single best indicator of a person’s cardiovascular endurance or aerobic fitness is the maximum volume of oxygen consumed per minute (VO2max).

The direct measurement of VO2max during a maximum exercise test while oxygen consumption is measured in a laboratory is the most accurate way to determine your clients’ VO2max. Some gyms have portable, computerized systems that can directly measure VO2max outside of the lab. If your gym doesn’t have one of these systems, there are a number of indirect tests you can use to estimate your clients’ VO2max.

Bruce Treadmill Test

The test begins with the treadmill speed at 1.7 miles per hour (mph) and 10% grade. Every three minutes, the speed (and grade) increase to 2.5 (12%), 3.4 (14%), 4.2 (16%), 5.0 (18%), 5.5 (20%), and 6.0 mph (22%). Estimate VO2max with the equation: VO2max = 6.70 – (2.82 x gender) + (0.056 x time), where time equals your client’s total time in seconds and gender equals one for males and two for females.

Cooper Test

This test is named for Ken Cooper, one of the pioneers of aerobic exercise. Take your client to a local track and tell him to run/walk as far as he can in 12 minutes. Estimate VO2max with the equation: VO2max = (35.97 x distance covered in miles) – 11.29.

Step Test

For this test, you’ll need a box or chair 16.25 inches high and a metronome set to a rate of 96 beats per minute for males (24 steps/minute) and 88 beats per minute for females (22 steps/minute). Have your client take each step on and off the box to a count of four beats, always leading with the same leg: up-up-down-down. After three minutes, stop and count your client’s pulse for 15 seconds and multiply that number by four to get a heart rate (HR) in beats per minute (or you can use a heart rate monitor and check the monitor immediately upon completion of the test). Estimate VO2max with the equations:

  • Males: VO2max = 111.33 – (0.42 x HR at end of test)
  • Females: VO2max = 65.81 – (0.1847 x HR at end of test)

Muscular Strength

One Repetition Maximum

The gold standard for measuring muscular strength is the maximum amount of weight your clients can lift just once, called the one repetition maximum (1-RM). Since your clients have different 1-RMs for each muscle group, you should perform 1-RM tests for each muscle group. Have your client warm up with five to 10 repetitions using a moderate weight (40-60% of his perceived maximum). Then have him do another three to five reps with a slightly greater weight (60-80% of perceived maximum). Make a conservative increase in the amount of weight, and have him try to lift the weight just once. If the lift is successful, have him rest for three to five minutes before making another slight increase in weight and trying to lift the weight again. Repeat these steps until your client has reached a weight that he cannot lift. Once he has reached that weight, decrease the weight slightly (but still more than what he successfully lifted in the prior attempt) and have him try to lift the weight. The goal is to isolate the exact amount of weight your client can lift just once. Make sure he takes enough time between lifts to adequately recover.

Muscular Endurance

YMCA Bench Press Test

For this test, have your client do as many repetitions as possible using an 80-pound barbell for men or a 35-pound barbell for women, lifting the barbell at a rate of 30 reps per minute. You can also estimate your clients’ bench press 1-RMs using the YMCA bench press test with the equation: 1-RM (in kilograms) = (3.16 x number of repetitions) + 39.90+ 39.90.

Push Ups

Have your client assume a standard push up position with hands shoulder width apart and back straight and parallel to the floor. (Note: Women can modify this position by placing their knees on the floor and flexed to 90 degrees with ankles crossed.) Tell your client to do as many push ups as he can, making sure his chest touches the floor on each rep.

Flexibility

Flexibility is the ability of a joint to move through an optimum range of motion and is specific to a particular joint and joint action. Flexibility can improve your clients’ quality of life by making daily tasks easier, especially as they age. Flexibility also increases body awareness and balance, improves posture and coordination and enhances performance of skilled movements.

Sit-and-Reach Test

The sit-and-reach test measures flexibility of the hamstrings and lower back. Have your client sit on the floor with buttocks, shoulders and head in contact with a wall. With legs extended, knees straight and the soles of his feet placed against a box approximately 12 inches high, have him place one hand on top of the other, palms facing down. Place a metric stick on top of the box with the zero end toward your client. Tell him to reach forward as far as possible without allowing his head or shoulders to come away from the wall. Place the metric stick on the box so that the zero end touches his extended fingers. Once the metric stick is in place, tell your client to lean forward slowly as far as possible, allowing his head and shoulders to move away from the wall and his fingers to slide along the metric stick. Record the distance moved from the initial position with outstretched arms to the final distance attained.

Flexibility of other muscle groups and joints can be assessed with the use of a device called a goniometer, which measures range of motion in degrees. Making sure the fulcrum of the goniometer aligns with the axis of rotation of the joint being measured, assess your clients’ flexibility for the joints and movements below.

Shoulder Flexion/Extension

Have your client stand with his arms by his sides, palms against the sides of his thighs. Align the stationary arm of the goniometer with the mid-axillary line of the thorax, the fulcrum in line with the acromion process on your client’s shoulder and the moving arm with the lateral midline of the humerus. Have your client raise his arm forward and upward as far as possible. Record the degree of flexion. Have him return his arm to the starting position. Then have him raise his arm behind him as far as possible. Record the degree of extension.

Shoulder Abduction/Adduction

Have your client sit with his arms at his sides and palms facing out. Align the stationary arm of the goniometer lateral to the chest wall, parallel to the midline of the body, the fulcrum with the acromion process and the moving arm with the midline of the humerus. Have your client raise his arm away from his body as high as possible. Record the degree of abduction. Then have him lower his arm and record the degree of adduction.

Shoulder Rotation

Have your client lay on his back with his arm abducted to 90 degrees and his elbow flexed to 90 degrees with his forearm upright and perpendicular to the ground. Position the stationary arm of the goniometer perpendicular to the ground pointing downward, the fulcrum with the elbow joint, between the medial and lateral epicondyles of the humerus and the moving arm along the outer surface of the forearm. Have your client rotate his forearm backward as far as possible and record the degree of external rotation. Then have him rotate his forearm forward as far as possible and record the degree of internal rotation.

Hip Flexion/Extension

Have your client lay on his back with his legs straight and arms down at his sides. Align the stationary arm of the goniometer with the lateral midline of the pelvis, the fulcrum with the greater trochanter of the femur and the moving arm with the lateral midline of the femur. Have your client lift his leg up and toward his chest as much as possible and record the degree of flexion. For extension, have your client lay on his stomach and raise his leg as high as possible.

Knee Flexion

Have your client lay on his stomach on a bench with his knee and leg extending over the edge. Have him place his arms at his sides, with hands gripping the sides of the bench. Align the stationary arm of the goniometer with the lateral midline of the thigh, the fulcrum with the lateral epicondyle of the femur and the moving arm with the lateral midline of the fibula. Have your client bring his lower leg as close to his buttocks as possible and record the degree of flexion.

Flexibility of other joints and movements can be assessed in the same way, making sure that the fulcrum of the goniometer is aligned with the axis of rotation of the joint and the arms of the goniometer are aligned with the associated body parts.

The above tests will help you when trying to determine your clients’ fitness levels. Then, if they train hard enough with you, they’ll certainly have the highest scores of all their friends (maybe even high enough to challenge their personal trainers!).

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