How to Assess & Monitor Your Own fitness

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How to Assess & Monitor Your Own Fitness

In the world of elite sports, many coaches and trainers use field-based and lab-based fitness tests to monitor their current athletes' fitness levels and how they compare to others at similar stages of development. Many of these tests require elaborate equipment or procedures that a trained professional must administer. This is part of what KFit Conditioning does - assess athletes fitness levels and provide a report on they scored. However, many individuals simply want to know how fit they are in the gym by using simple methods. So, I've provided a short list of what I believe to be some of the easiest and best ways to assess your fitness levels in the gym.

First, as always, we need to understand what your goals are. Are you trying to get stronger (i.e. lift more weight?), are you trying to be more conditioned to perform in your sport? Or are you trying to lose weight and look better for the impending beach season? Find out what your goals are, and what you want to measure, and then follow the procedures below. If you don't know what your goals are or how to approach this - contact me.

I want to be STRONGER

One of the most common goals by individuals who train or work out in the gym is that they want to be able to lift more weight in the gym. Being stronger means that you can overcome more resistance, which can be beneficial for sport performance or for bragging rights. If this is you, there are very simple procedures to determine how strong you are.

1-repetition maximum
The 1-repetition maximum (1RM) method is an easy to use assessment that measures either upper body or lower body strength. It uses compound exercises (such as the squat, deadlift, or bench press) to determine the maximum amount of weight you can overcome one time. To do this, choose your exercise of choice and start with a weight you know you can do 5 repetitions with. Then, slowly start to increase the weight and perform only 1 rep at each interval. The heaviest weight you can lift one time is your 1-repetition maximum score (and your current level of upper or lower body strength). It should be noted that you don't necessarily need to work to your 1RM weight - but you can use a weight you can perform more reps of to predict your 1RM.

I want to be more powerful

If you're still confused with the difference on strength and power - check out THIS article. Otherwise, if you want to determine how much power you can generate from your muscles there are simple assessments you can use.

Vertical Jump (Lower Body)
You've probably seen this test at your favourite sports combine, but the vertical jump test is used to assess lower body power. Simply have someone measure your reach height, then how high you can jump (and reach), subtract your reach height from your jump height and PRESTO that is your score on lower body power.

Medicine Ball Toss (Upper Body)
On your own, it can be difficult to assess your upper body power. However, if you are an individual who performs fast explosive arm movements (such as punching, throwing, or pushing) - then measuring your upper body power using the medicine ball toss may be a good choice. Simple use a workout bench set at 45 degrees, or kneel on both knees at the start of a measuring tape. Hold a medicine ball at your chest with both hands, and throw it as hard and as far as you can down the measuring tape on the floor. The distance you throw the ball is your upper body power score. As long as you use the same medicine ball each time, you can assess your own upper body power, but for comparing numbers, use a 9kg ball if you're a male, and a 6kg ball if you're a female.

I want to be more aerobically fit

If you're a running enthusiast, or someone who relies heavily on the aerobic energy system when performing your sport - then you should probably monitor your aerobic fitness. In the lab, we use the graded treadmill max test with the athlete hooked up to a gas analyzer to determine the maximum amount of oxygen they can consume (known as VO2max). However, there is are easier ways to assess your own aerobic fitness. It should also be noted that even if you are not predominantly an aerobic athlete, being more aerobically fit allows you to perform at high intensities longer and improves your recovery.

1.5 mile run
The 1.5 mile run test is used as a field-based assessment of aerobic fitness. Simply map out 1.5 miles (use a treadmill, or at your local track and field location where 1.5 miles equals 6 trips around a standard track). The time it takes you to complete the 1.5 miles is your score on the test. See HERE for 1.5 mile run standards and how to use your score to predict your VO2max.

2000m Row Test
If running isn't your thing, or your body has issues with impact, then the 2000m row test might be more approrpriate for you. In a similar procedure to the 1.5 mile run, the time it takes you to complete 2000m on a standard rowing ergometer machine is the score on the test. Be sure to become familiar with how to use the rowing machine, and how to set your drag factor (for assessment purposes, drag factor should be set at 90 for females, and 100 for males).

Heart Rate Monitoring
While performing any aerobic fitness test, you can also monitor your heart rate to determine how fit you really are. Ideally, your heart rate should be lower at any given intensity than it was the previous time - however you will need to perform one of the tests several times to determine where your heart rate usually is at.

I want to be anaerobically fit

If you're someone who relies on the anaerobic energy system - we're talking short burst, high intensity outputs with periods of rest in between - then you should be measuring your anaerobic fitness. In sports, these are athletes that participate in hockey, soccer, football, basketball, sprinting, combat sports, and others. By assessing your anaerobic fitness, you can determine how well you perform during these sport bursts of high intensity work. For performance sake, the better you are at doing this - the better you will be at your sport.

Cunningham & Faulkner Treadmill Test
The Cunningham and Faulkner treadmill test is a common test used to assess an individuals anaerobic fitness that only requires a treadmill. Simply set the treadmill to a 20 percent incline, an 8.0 mile speed, and run for as long as you can at this pace. If you hit 1 minute - you're doing very good. Before doing the test, make sure you are properly warmed up and are familiar with stepping on and off a moving tread.

300m Shuttle
Another simple way to assess how well you can maintain your anaerobic energy system is by performing the 300-metre shuttle test. For this procedure, set out 2 cones that are 10-metres apart, and sprint from one cone and back for a total of 15 laps (equalling a total of 300 metres). The time it takes you to complete the 300m is your score on the test.
If you are someone who prefers not to run - then you can also perform the 300m ROW test on a standard rowing ergometer machine.

Health and Recovery 

One of the most important and often forgotten aspects of exercise and fitness is how healthy you are - and how well you can recover from your training sessions. Because recovery relies heavily on your immune system, you health and recovery work in conjucntion. Therefore, you should use the following method to assess your health and whether you are recovered from a previous training session:

Heart Rate Monitoring (Resting)
One of the easiest ways to measure your health and recovery is by monitoring your resting heart rate (HRrest). Do this by determing your heart rate (in beats per minute) during a rested state. For best results, HRrest should be measured first thing in the morning, before you get out of bed, every single morning. For the most part, a lower HRrest (for example, in the 45-60 beats per minute zone) indicates greater aerobic fitness and general health. Furthermore, if you know what your normal HRrest is, you can also use it to determine how well you are recovered and if you should train at a higher or lower intensity to avoid over training. If your HRrest increases more than 10%, its a good indication that you are either not completely recovered, or may have symptoms of being physically ill. In either case, your training intensity should be lowered until your HRrest returns to normal.

Monitoring your fitness levels is important whether you are an elite athlete, or common gym-goer. It's important to know where you are currently at in terms of your fitness, and gives you something to improve on. Of course, proper goal setting is an important factor to increasing fitness.

If you have any questions regarding fitness testing, and how to monitor your own fitness levels - please contact me.

Kalan is a Combat Sports Performance Specialist who brings an evidence-based approach with practical-based knowledge to the world of combat sports and human performance. He is recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA). and is currently finishing his MSc. Kinesiology degree at the University of Victoria. Through his masters thesis research, Kalan has established and implemented the KFit Test Battery for Combat Sport Athletes which is used by both Karate BC & Karate Canada as their standard fitness test for  athletes across the country. Additionally, Kalan is an exercise physiology lab instructor at the University of Victoria, and trains individuals (including athletes) every day to help meet their fitness needs and goals. He has many years of experience both as an elite athlete and high performance coach and is knowledgeable in the many fields surrounding fitness and training for sports performance.