Everyone has different fitness goals—running a marathon, performing 10,000 kettlebell swings, benching 1.5 times your body weight. But before you race toward your big goal, assess your starting point first. There are fundamental things you may have to train for today before you can think about tomorrow. Here are three tests to gauge how fit you are right now.
TEST 1: Height-to-Waist Ratio
This test is simple, but the results are important. Here's how it works: Measure your waist circumference, and then determine if it's less than half your height in inches.
How'd you fare? Keeping your height-to-waist ratio to at least 2:1 can increase your life expectancy, according to former science director of the British Nutrition Foundation Margaret Ashwell. If you don't, you put yourself at risk for inflammation issues, diabetes, heart disease, or stroke. And that's a good enough reason for me to run all my clients through this easy test. If you fail the test, start reducing your waist and increasing your ratio by any means possible.
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TEST 2: Plank Test
I'm a huge fan of Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, and always sit in the front row whenever I go to hear him speak. This next test comes from him: Can you hold a perfect plank for two minutes?
Two minutes might not sound that long, but it'll be tough for many people. Plus, you'll be amazed at how many people drop out when I yell, "Half way!" at 60 seconds. A person needs to prepare mentally for this test, too. If you can't complete the test after a few attempts, there are two reasons: You aren't training your core correctly or you're obese, says McGill. Both of those verdicts mean you have some important work to do, whether it's changing your diet, or spending more time on basic core movements and less time on "tough" (or stupid, as I like to call them) workouts that make you puke. That's what I love about Stu's work—he turns his research into practical things I can use in my own daily training.
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TEST 3: Sit and Rise
Sit on the floor. Good. Now, without worrying about the speed of the movement, stand up with as little assistance from your hands as possible. Fantastic. That’s the whole test!
What does a sitting test tell you about your fitness level? A lot, actually. It's remarkably predictive of physical strength, flexibility, and coordination for all ages, says Dr. Claudio Gil Araújo, medical director of CLINIMEX in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
This is the interesting part: It can also predict who will live longer. Araújo had more than 2,000 patients ages 51 to 80 take the test. The two basic movements—lowering to the floor and rising back up—were scored from 1 to 5, for a total possible score of 10. Every time a hand or knee was used for support, a point was deducted. Participants who scored fewer than eight points on the test, were twice as likely to die within the next six years compared to those who scored higher. People who score a three or less were more than five times as likely to die during that same time period compared to the participants who scored more than eight points. Where do you fall on this scale?
While you have long-term fitness goals, smart training is remembering you are right here, right now. These tests remind you that you are a specific age, and you need to train that age. You need to train your experiences. You need to strengthen your current weaknesses. You are "here"—and you'll eventually reach the finish line of your fitness goal—but let's not forget where "here" is, okay?
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Dan John has taught and coached for more than 30 years. As a coach, he's helped hundreds of athletes pack on double-digit pounds of rock-solid muscle. As an athlete, John broke the American record in the Weight Pentathlon. He is the author of several books, including Intervention.