When it comes to wondering how fit you are or have a ballpark idea thinking you are fit and healthy but no concrete facts about your health and fitness, there may be two things that come to mind.
One could be that you need to join a gym and get a personal trainer so that they tell you what your fitness level is, depending if they are following a fitness assessment protocol; and two would be to go to the doctor and get health checked for cholesterol, weight, blood pressure, triglycerides, liver and kidney function etc.
People have different types of body structure, different strengths and genes that provide individualized adaptations to exercise and health; and it could be devastating if we compare our structure and perception of ourselves with others who may be fitter, stronger, faster, or healthier than our own self.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
It’s also a downside if we overestimate our health and fitness as being in good health, when we already know that our lifestyle,
i.e. working on a desk job for long hours and not making time to exercise, plus not eating the best foods during those work hours, skipping meals, and even smoking are not contributing but rather sabotaging our health without us even being aware of it, just for the fact of health not being one of our main focus or priorities in life!
Whether you choose to reach out to a fitness professional or the doctor or neither, you are here at this site because you found interest in assessing your fitness level and then finding about what you can do about improving it from where you stand.
As you may have heard, “how can you know you improved in something if you don’t know from where you started?”
So if you are going to reach your fitness goals you need to know how to assess your fitness level.
Here, I will explain the scientifically correct way to assess your fitness level
There are 5 components of fitness:
1.- Body Composition: this will describe your body fat percentage by measuring via skinfold assessment and waist circumference. You can also calculate your BMI by using the formula:
BMI= (weight in lbs/(height in inches 2 )x 7
2.- Cardiorespiratory fitness: measures your maximal or sub-maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), meaning how effectively your heart pumps the blood through your system to deliver the amount of oxygen your body is using during a 1.5 mile run test or a 1 mile walk test, and to determine how long it took you to finish, at what rate of perceived exertion, and final minute heart rate measurement achieved;
high levels of motivation will achieve best results.
3.- Muscular strength: will measure your upper and lower body strength by performing a 1 repetition maximum (1-RM) bench press, leg press or leg extension. It is important to have a spotter and do a proper warm-up of 3 sets at lower weight with 3-5 minutes in between sets.
4.- Muscular endurance: measures your body’s ability to execute repeated muscle contractions over a period of time until it causes your muscle to fatigue. The push-up event measures your upper body muscular endurance and the curl up event (in some cases the sit-up) is selected for the abdominal muscular endurance.
5.- Flexibility: provides the ability to move a joint through its complete range of motion. This is very important in many sports such as gymnastics and ballet. A common measurement include the sit-and reach (trunk flexion) test using a flexometer box which measures lower back and hamstrings.
Another way to test flexibility is by using a goniometer, and measurements are in degrees. Limitations to flexibility that people have is extra fatty tissue surrounding the joints, more muscle mass, such as large biceps may limit the range one could fully extend the elbow or reach to scratch their own back, tightness of ligament or tendon, injury or pain.
How to improve your fitness
Based on your results you can start a fitness program focusing on where you found the most weaknesses in your fitness assessment and build from there. Let’s take a look at each of these components of fitness and build a solution to improve.
To improve your body composition you will know how much body fat% you have so multiply that percentage by your body weight and you will know how many pounds of fat you are over-weight. Is your desired weight a reasonable goal? Take a look at your energy intake (food consumption) of the day. Adjust your nutrition intake with quality nutrition for optimal results.
A general rule is to lower your calorie intake by 500 Calories if your caloric intake is high enough to allow it. If it is too low such as 1000 calories or less, then other complications may arise. Proper healthy weight loss is generally 1 to 2lbs a week, anything more than that usually results in water weight and muscle loss.
An exercise program goes hand in hand with this component because it will help you achieve not only a better weight, body fat% to a healthy level, BMI to healthy levels, and waist circumference will also decrease.
Conversely if you are too thin and undernourished, a healthy nutrition program, increasing the amount of calories and quality of calories, along with exercise program can also add healthy mass to get to normal levels of weight and body fat% and healthy levels of BMI.
In order to improve your cardiorespiratory fitness, you need to look at your fitness assessment level for this category. Having that result will give you a baseline where you need to start. If you are a beginner with no prior exercise history or have risk factor complications it would be advised to start very gradually at easy intensity levels for many reasons.
One is to get your body in a habit of exercising and moving, this will speed up metabolism and send nutrients to their proper body sites such as muscles to use for energy. The American heart association recommends 30-60 minutes of activity 3-5 days a week.
This can be walking for 30-60 minutes, resistance training for 15-30 minutes and elliptical for 20-30 minutes. Rest days are important as well, when your body requires for recovery and replenishment of nutrients.
For advanced healthier individuals who are interested in improving their run, bike, or swim times or VO2max, by focusing on their activity and increasing the volume and intensity of the exercise.
A good precursor is following recommendation of FITTE:
Frequency: 5 to 7 days a week
Intensity: mild, moderate, high (enough to raise heart and respiration rates)
Time: 30, 45, 60 minutes a day
Type of activity: walking, running, stair climbing, biking, gardening, elliptical
Enjoyment: the greater the enjoyment the better
To improve on your muscular strength you need to focus on increasing the weight lifted each time you go back in the gym for that same exercise. For example, if you are able to complete 15 repetitions using a certain amount of weight it is time to increase the weight and your repetition range will be lower.
Bodybuilders generally stay within the 4-6 repetition per set to increase strength, this will contribute to a greater 1RM in a shorter amount of time.
Ensure that you also give your body proper nutrition and rest as it is required for the body to rebuild and replenish/restore itself from the micro muscle tears that happen in the gym. Proper nutrition and rest is what will aide you in result of increase in strength.
To build muscular endurance you would be emphasizing the Time and Intensity principle of FITTE. In order to improve on your push-ups for example, you may start with doing half of your total number of push-ups you tested on, but doing them in sets such as if you completed 30 push-ups then do 3 to 4 sets of 15.
Next time you may increase to 3-4 sets of 20 and so on keep adding 5 more push-ups from the last time you completed the exercise. You can practice the same concept with the curl-up or sit-up event.
Or using the Time principle, dedicate one day every day to do as many push-ups as you can in good form for an entire minute then rest for 5 minutes to try another set if still motivated. There are many ways to build the endurance in repetitious muscle contractions.
Many people undermine flexibility because they may think it’s boring and waste of time. There are many that misuse this component of fitness and think it’s more important to stretch before an exercise event rather than after.
This is a huge mistake because the muscles are tight and cold before the exercise event and stretching before doesn’t help but may cause an injury, additionally it can prevent the person from fully contracting a muscle to its maximum because the stretching will have elongated the muscle fibers thereby making them more relaxed.
Flexibility is very important to practice after the exercise activity to bring the body back to its normal composure. A person that does tons of bicep curls and does not stretch may end up with arms like Popeye, bent and unable to straighten all the way because the muscles remained in their shortened state.
Good ways to improve flexibility is through yoga exercises. But if yoga is too cumbersome, 10 minutes of stretching your muscles (count to 30 for a good full stretch) that you worked after a cool down is a good way to practice and thereby improve your flexibility.
In conclusion, do not undermine any of the 5 components of fitness because they are all equally important and they are all intertwined together to benefit your body and your health. Focus on your weaknesses and practice your strengths.
There are many different approaches on how to fit in some time for fitness into your schedule and it works in any way, even 10 to 15 minutes of it helps. Following this fitness assessment, being consistent and dedicated to your program will result in optimal fitness levels and better health.