Throughout your health and fitness journey, the feeling that you’re making progress and moving closer towards your goals can show up in many different moments. Maybe it’s when you realise you’re hopping out of bed with excitement to work out with the squad! You might be able to perform exercises or lift heavier weights than you could three months ago. Or maybe you’re living each day with a newly discovered sense of confidence (LOVE that for us).
If measuring your progress is important or motivating to you, fitness tests can be a great way to keep track of where you are, celebrate how far you’ve come, or give you a reason to keep putting in the effort. Not to mention, a fitness test can be a challenging workout in itself or a way to spice up the weekly schedule a little bit!
HOW DO FITNESS TESTS WORK?
The best way to use fitness tests is to perform the same test once every couple of months (ex: at the start of each season) as it takes weeks for measurable change to occur. There is no single fitness test, as there are many components to measure - such as cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition - so I would take a moment to think of what works best for you. If you're looking for a dumbbell graduation day, you wouldn't neccesarily need to test your cardio fitness, ya know??
Let's try it! Here are some simple but effective benchmark tests to measure different elements of your fitness and help you track your progress.
TEST YOUR CARDIO FITNESS
To get a good sense of where your cardio fitness is at, ask yourself - do I want to test my VO2 max or my endurance? Your VO2 max is the amount of oxygen your body uses while exercising as hard as you possibly can (think HIIT), while your cardio endurance level refers to how well your body’s circulatory and respiratory systems can supply oxygen to your body during long periods of sustained physical activity (helpful for long runs and marathon training).
As we do plenty of HIIT sessions in the squad, here are some ways to test your VO2 max by pushing yourself to your cardio limits for a short burst:
Head to a track! I put mile conversions here in case a treadmill is more convenient. Complete a 50m (.03 mile), 100m (.06 mile), 200m (.13 mile) or 400m (.25 mile) sprint for time. My personal preference? 200m all the way ⚡️
Complete your maximum number of burpees in 60 seconds
TEST YOUR MUSCULAR STRENGTH
So... you're looking for a dumbbell graduation day?? This test is short and sweet - the ONE rep max challenge. As the name suggests, it's the maximum weight that you can lift doing a single repetition of an exercise. The catch here is - if you complete once deadlift with this weight and you think you can go for one more... chances are you can increase your 1 rep max weight - one repetition should take all that you have!
This test would likely make the most sense in a gym with plenty of dumbbell options. As the test asks you to lift very heavy weights that really challenge your muscles, please promise me you will have someone spot you.
TEST YOUR CORE STRENGTH
A strong core helps support you in all your daily movements, as well as making tough workouts and lifting weights a whole lot easier on the rest of your body.
Developing core strength is a common fitness goal as it is essential for so many exercises and easy to measure your progress with one of my favorite zero equipment exercises - the forearm plank. Holding a hover or forearm plank engages your front, back and side core muscles at once and avoids spinal discomfort. The goal for this session is to hold a plank for as long as possible - a great benchmark goal is 2-minutes or more!
TEST YOUR MUSCLE ENDURANCE
Just like cardio endurance is a great measure of how well your cardiovascular system can work for a sustained period, muscular endurance is way to measure how long your muscles can continue to work using energy. Seeing improvements in your muscular endurance is a surefire way to tell if your training is working!
Lower body muscular endurance tests:
Wall Sit: This test is a great benchmark test to work your glutes, quads and hamstrings. Your legs will shaking by the end! Start with your feet shoulder-width apart with your back against a vertical wall, before sliding your back down the wall until both your knees and hips are at a 90-degree angle. That’s it! Start the clock and see how long you can hold this position for 😬
AMRAP Air Squats: No clock is necessary for this one! Just complete as many reps as possible before you need to take a break.
Upper body muscular endurance tests:
AMRAP Push-Ups: Push-ups are one of the most effective functional training exercises because they work a range of upper body and core muscles at once. This test is similar to the air squat test above - complete as many push-ups as you can without stopping - on your knees, your toes, or elevating your hands in a plank to an elevated surface (this is preferred for me when doing a push-up versus going to my knees!). Whichever form option you pick - stick to it. When you need to take a break or you start to compromise your form, that’s you're benchmark number of reps!
TEST YOUR FLEXIBILITY
Taking time to stretch and work on your flexibility is something that’s easy to avoid when it comes to your training (guilty!), but it’s SO important if you want to perform exercises with proper form, improve mobility and range of motion, and avoid tight muscles or injuries.
The most well-known flexibility test is the sit and reach (anyone getting gym class flash backs?), which measures the flexibility of your hamstrings and lower back. From sitting on the ground with your legs outstretched in front of you, reach your hands towards your toes as far as you can. For an accurate measurement, use a ruler or measuring tape, or simply make a note of which part of your legs you can reach. If I can reach my toes, I consider that a major win!
For upper body flexibility, another traditional is the shoulder stretch - you would reach over the shoulder and down the back with one hand, and reaches behind the back and upward with the other hand, trying to touch the fingers of the hands together. The distance between the hands or distance of overlap is measured on both sides of the body. If you’re motivated by progress and measurable goals, knowing exactly how fit you are right now is a great way to start a fitness journey or see tangible progress in a few months’ time. Think about what you want to achieve or improve, pick your benchmark test, and get excited! Let me know which one you choose 💕