If you want to get into better shape or just get some sort of a baseline when it comes to your cardiovascular health or strength, it helps to do a fitness test of some sort. You absolutely do not need to hire a personal trainer to know where you’re starting from, or how to set your goals.
Read through my five recommendations for doing your own fitness test. If, after you read this you think you want more guidance, support, and training, you can read more about my coaching services here.
Your Own DIY Fitness Test
Whether you want to run faster, get stronger or simply get your body into better shape – fitness testing can help. Doing a fitness test can help you:
- Establish a Strong Baseline: If you want to make any sort of progress, it’s good to know exactly where you’re starting from – and testing your fitness is no exception.
- Track Progress and Goals: You might be surprised at how fast your body responds to great workouts and proper training! Most people have no idea how amazing their bodies are. Doing a fitness test helps you see – with your own eyes – how much progress you’ve made between tests.
- Maintain Accountability: This is especially helpful for people who need a stronger support system. Let’s face it, our family and friends aren’t always on board with our personal goals. Taking the time to do a fitness test not only increases your own personal motivation but also improves your mental toughness to keep at it and get stronger purely out of your own drive and focus.
5 Ways to Assess Your Fitness
I’ve narrowed down these tests to the five easiest and most effective tests I’ve had my clients do on their own, especially if I’m working with them remotely. You can do one test, or you can do them all – it’s entirely up to you as they’re all different and measure different attributes of your fitness.
It doesn’t matter how fit you are, what your diet is like, how old you are or whether you’re a man or a woman – these tests can be done by anyone.
Read the breakdown below or watch my video.
6-Minute Cardio Test
This is a tried and true test I’ve done with hundreds of clients. The great thing about the 6-Minute Cardio Test is that you can do it in several different ways.
Here’s what you do:
- Decide on a cardiovascular activity that you want to do. There are a lot of options, including running outside, running on a treadmill, using a stair climber, using an elliptical, riding a bike (indoors or outside), swimming in a pool. If you’re at a very beginner level of training, you might use walking as a cardio test. You get the gist.
- Warm-up. Please, please, please take 10 minutes to warm up your muscles doing something easy. If you don’t, you could injure yourself and then…no more cardio testing for a while.
- Set your time. The 6-Minute Cardio test is exactly six minutes – not 5:50, not 6:15. Use a watch or keep an eye on a wall clock with a second hand. It’s important that your time is kept to exactly six minutes.
- Go! Running on a treadmill or using an elliptical, indoor bike or stair climber is fairly easy as each of these pieces of equipment typically captures both TIME and DISTANCE. If you’re swimming in a pool, you’ll want to measure the number of laps you swim within six minutes. If you’re running, walking or cycling outside, you’ll want to measure the distance you traveled.
- Push yourself. The 6-Minute Cardio Test is not meant to be a walk in the park. You should feel fairly exhausted after you finish, maybe even hoping the time goes by faster. It’s okay, you’re getting stronger!
- Write it down. After you finish, write down the distance you traveled. If you’re outside, it helps to have a smartwatch with some sort of GPS or a phone that tracks distance (many have this capability).
- Repeat. Do the exact same 6-Minute Cardio Test again three weeks later, then again in another three weeks, etc. This will help you track your progress and see how far you’ve come.
Be sure to level your expectations. If you’re new to running, for example, you might see an amazing improvement over three weeks, but if you’ve been running for a while, your improvement might only be a few seconds. By the way, a few seconds of difference is HUGE, so don’t be hard on yourself.
After you do the initial test, keep at it. You don’t have to do the fitness test again, but DO keep doing some sort of cardio activity to stay conditioned so you can see real progress the next time you push yourself.
Max Strength Test
Your strength is a great indicator of your fitness and can help you improve your cardio testing, too. Whether you enjoy cardio or not, getting baselines of your strength is a worthwhile fitness test…and can help tone your body to boot.
- Decide on a functional strength test. I really don’t encourage non-functional strength tests purely because it’s not how I train my clients, and – more importantly – it’s not characteristic of how we move our bodies throughout the day. The three tests I recommend are squats, wall squats, and shoulder presses. If you have other favorite functional exercises you like to do, then go for it!
- Warm-up. Strength tests are no different than cardio tests in that they both should be preceded by a good warm-up.
- Begin your test. You can do either the squats or wall squats and/or the shoulder presses. Squat-type exercises use a completely different group of muscles than shoulder presses, so you can do both. Do as many of each exercise as possible that you can safely do until the point of fatigue.
- Write it down. After you finish, write down the number of squats or shoulder presses you did.
- Repeat. Do the same Strength Test again three weeks later, then again in another three weeks, etc.
If you’ve never done the exercises above, it’s a good idea to connect with a trainer or watch a couple of demonstrative videos that show you what to do.
Should you use weights or not?
Yes for the shoulder presses! Some people have naturally strong shoulders and others need to develop them more. Your weights could vary between 5 to 25 pounds (dumbbells) for this exercise.
Maybe for squats. It really depends. If you’re familiar with squats and have good form, then using dumbbells or a barbell might be a good idea. On the other hand, doing bodyweight squats to fatigue can be mighty tough, too! There is no need to use weights for wall squats.
After you do this test, you’ll want to do the same strength exercises anywhere from two to four days a week, giving at least one day of recovery in between.
The go-to fitness test I recommend for core is a plank. Pure and simple. Not a lot of explanation is needed here. Simply hold a plank for as long as possible.
There are a couple of considerations. If you have back or shoulder problems, holding a plank can be painful, and unusual pain triggered by exercise should be avoided. Use common sense.
In my experience, my clients with back problems have done better doing a plank on their knees, and my clients with shoulder problems sometimes do better with a straight-arm plank vs a forearm plank.
You can plank every day with no recovery really needed. That said, aim to do your test once every three weeks, with the goal of holding as long as possible on day one and day 21.
This isn’t inherently a fitness test but can be a good indicator of how your fitness is progressing. It’s also a great test to do every few weeks to check in on your body, especially if you’ve been trying to work on belly fat through eating a healthy diet.
All you need to do for the waistline test is to measure the circumference around the narrowest part of your waist under your clothes – landing right around your belly button.
It doesn’t matter if you measure in centimeters or inches, but keep the measurements the same on day one and day 21 so you’re sure of the progress you’ve made.
Similar to the cardio and strength fitness tests, a little bit of progress is a big deal.
This test is not at the top of my list. I’ve seen fitness pros recommend that people weigh themselves every day, and I could NOT disagree more. Bodyweight isn’t the best indicator of health or fitness, but it’s not a bad idea to know where you’re starting from.
This is a nice complementary test to any of the other tests, but this one does not need to be done every three weeks, especially if you get anxious or in your head about getting on the scale.
If you’re wondering why I’m mentioning this test at all, it’s because so many people rely on body weight as the primary benchmark. I want to acknowledge that it is a decent benchmark, but it’s not the only benchmark.
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