How do you measure up? Part two

In the spirit of solidarity, and also, the motivation that accompanies a very public proclamation, I’m going to share something with you. Last night, spurred by my own post, and the increasingly rockin’ workouts I’m racking up, I decided to get my body fat tested. I was feeling guuuud. I’d had another really great workout (I can do lunges now, for goodness sake!) and was walking around the gym grinning like an idiot. “Why not?” I thought. Seemed like as good a time as any to get a baseline as I try to build my fitness back to pre-back pain levels.

So I did it.

Twenty six percent. When I spell out the number it doesn’t look so bad, does it? See, 26% looks much worse.

As you may remember from yesterday’s post, I’m within a healthy range, so no worries there. But oh, oh, oh. For me personally, that number hurts. The last time I was anywhere close to that number was right after having my kids. Before I hurt my back/hip last December I was right about 20 percent, and I’ve been as low as 18 percent (that was before kids and is unlikely to be repeated, though a girl can dream).

But here is where I use my own misfortune to illustrate a point: my weight during the last year has changed very little. I’ve been up and down a few pounds, and in fact, am now even a little lower than I was before I hurt myself and was boasting 20 percent body fat. The only difference is that I haven’t been able to do the higher intensity cardio and 2-3 days strength training each week. Not with any consistency, that is. So you can diet until the cows come home. You can be a skinny minny and fit into a size two. And you can still have poor body composition.

I’d also like to note that my disappointment in my own number in not intended as a judgement on anyone else. It’s simply that I know what twenty percent feels like, and I know where I am now, and it’s a big difference in terms of strength. And I like to be strong. Not Muscle and Fitness girl strong or anything, but a little buff. Like this!

Ha ha.

Anyway, on to part two of assessments. Today we talk about fitness testing.

There are several measures of fitness, which account for all of the ways in which we should be exercising. There’s cardiovascular health, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility. These days, most gyms have computer software and electronic equipment to assess your fitness, so depending on where you go, the way they do their testing may vary.

Cardiovascular health

Along with body composition, this is one of the most telling measurements of health. Improved cardiovascular fitness leads to lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Cardiovascular exercise is proven to decrease depression, relieve stress, manage weight and make you feel super awesome (I threw that last part in). And that’s just what current research tells us.

Cardiovascular fitness is measured in terms of VO2 max, or maximum oxygen uptake, which basically means how efficiently your body can use oxygen during exercise. The more fit you are, the better your body delivers oxygen to working muscles, the higher your VO2 max.

To really measure VO2 max, you’d need to hook up to this sexy machine and run until you collapse:


Considering this is not very appealing to your average person, easier ways of assessing VO2 max have been developed. Sub-max testing is a great way to estimate VO2 max, and various tests are widely used in many exercise settings. Check out this great resource if you want to try doing your own sub-max test, or team up with a friend and test each other. Just click any of the links under “Aerobic Testing.”

Muscular Strength and Endurance

As we age, we lose muscle mass. This makes it harder to maintain weight, stay injury-free and continue to live a full and productive life. Though muscle loss can’t be stopped entirely, it can be slowed. And you CAN gain muscle mass, even if you’re 60-years-old and never lifted a dumbbell in your life. There is nothing cooler than seeing a 73-year-old man bust out 30-plus push-ups, or a 50-year-old woman go from doing zero modified push-ups to 15 real ones because she’s committed to strength training.

My experience testing in this category is from school, where we tested both the strength and endurance of ourselves and our classmates; and at the last couple of gyms where I worked where we mostly stuck with endurance testing. Strength assessments generally involve one-rep max testing of either leg press or bench press.


Most of our clientele were not up for this kind of thing, and you probably aren’t either.

If you’re getting assessed at a gym, they may have other tools to test strength (sometimes they do a grip strength or a static bicep curl thing, though obviously I don’t know much about this!), but endurance testing is relatively straightforward. Push-ups (as many as you can do CORRECTLY) and sit-ups (as many as you can do CORRECTLY in one minute), are common ways of testing muscular endurance. Again, check out the testing protocol on the link above if you want to try this at home.


The most common flexibility test is the sit and reach test, which measures the flexibility of the hamstrings and lower back.

Tightness in these areas can contribute to low back pain, among other things. There are ways besides the sit and reach box, shown above, to test flexibility, but honestly, they are kind of a pain in the butt to set up, and really, are you going to do it? Probably not. You know if your flexibility is bad (men!), and you know you should stretch. So just do it!

Wowzers. Two humungo posts in as many days. I feel as though I’ve just spewed knowledge to the world and it’s rather tiring, which is why I am now resorting to words like “wowzers” and “humungo.”

I hope this two-parter gave you something to think about, and helped you see the value in knowing your numbers. Of course there is so much more you should know, including your blood pressure, resting heart rate and cholesterol, to name a few. But I can only do so much in one day, people. Another time, perhaps.

Have a fantastic weekend. Maybe you’ll schedule an assessment. Maybe you’ll share your numbers with me? C’mon, I did.


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