Last week, I talked about various performance indicators of success in my weight loss. Not surprisingly, the first group is my actual weight — using a simple weight scale to chart my success, failure or continued plateauing. Since you can make progress without losing actual weight, i.e. by shifting weight around, I am also doing body measurements. Third, I have more qualitative measures around psychology, physical elements, clothing, social, exercise and functional fitness. While some of the comments I received will be helpful in fine-tuning some of the indicators, and perhaps delving into wellness indicators (not entirely sure about that area yet), it seems to me that there is something missing.
Maybe it’s a hold-over from my childhood with the Canada Fitness Test where I couldn’t meet the standard, but I went looking for an objective test of fitness. I was apparently fairly naive in my approach. I thought I would punch “adult fitness test” into Google, and somewhere in the first couple of links, I would have a plethora of choices. Apparently that’s not quite what’s out there.
Don’t get me wrong, you do get hits almost immediately, and probably about 95% of them link to the same crowd-sourced link — the US President’s Challenge. This test was designed to take into account your age, sex, aerobic fitness (walking or running a set distance, heart rate, weight), muscular strength and flexibility (half sit-ups, sit and reach, push-ups), and body composition (BMI, height, weight, waist measurement). You enter all the information and submit it, and it will give you a fitness score. Sounds perfect, right?
Except it was established under Obama (President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports) and when Trump took over, it went into “permanent review”. Hence, no test. You can find out all the info from lots of sites about how to DO the test and all the steps, but one of the reasons they offered the test score online was to get you to submit your data for free to help inform their policy and program work. In order to get your score, you had to give them your data — no personal identifiers though — and they would spit out your score. Which means with the test “in review”, you can’t get your score and they don’t have the standards published online anywhere. Well, crap.
Well, no problem, there’s probably some sort of new version of the Canada Fitness Test, right? No, of course not. It got killed years ago because it encouraged body shaming for those who didn’t meet the standard. And knowledge of fitness has moved on from there, so not really the standard approach now (which is more about functional fitness).
Okay, reset. Who out there has to do fitness tests for adults? Ah-hah! The military! Of course, they must have some objective tests, let’s see what I find. Oh great, the Canadian military is in the process of switching from an old standard to a new standard. Well, at least there will be information on it. And there is. Broken down by the expected number of reps, age and sex of the candidate. Excellent. Let’s see…I’m going to need sandbags. Lots of sandbags. Wait, what?
Right, of course. A military fitness test is designed to test abilities, in theory, that a member of the military might have to have in a combat or rescue/emergency situation. So they have four elements in the test:
- Sandbag lift — 30 reps of lifting a 20kg sandbag above a height of 1.0 m, alternating between two sandbags separated by 1.25m, have to complete it within 3m30s;
- Intermittent loaded shuttles — 10 reps of carrying a 20kg sandbag 20m and back, alternating between loaded and unloaded bags, 400m in total, have to complete within 5 minutes and 21 seconds;
- Sandbag drag — 1 rep without stopping of carrying a 20kg sandbag while dragging four 4 a total of 20m;
- Rushes — Two rushes of 20m (there and back = 2 x 20m x 2 = 80m) where you start from prone position, dropping to prone position every 10m, have to complete within 51s;
Okay, that is pretty specific. So I thought I had an option for my test, even if it wasn’t very “normal” looking. Then I reached out to a friend in the Canadian military who basically said the test wasn’t very accurate of fitness levels, was too tailored to the military, and well, without being too pointed, that it was considered kind of useless by those in the know. But there are a lot of physical, political, organizational and social factors that go into coming up with a test like that, with a lot of stakeholders with a view, and well, the test is what it is.
Hmm…doesn’t sound very enticing, does it? Plus, I don’t really have a place to do sandbag shuttles every day to practice. I was hoping that perhaps some company was running fitness tests on retainer, and that perhaps I could piggy-back on their public offerings to just pay for a spot once a month. Okay, maybe not.
I checked out the US Military site, just to see what they have. It looked a little more traditional, a bit more like basic training in movies:
- Height and weight
- Body Fat
- Two-mile run
Hey! That looks a lot like the President’s Challenge! Great! Now, click here, click there, oh look, they have the standards. Run down the list, see if I’m a male of age 50, and I do x number of situps, I get y points. Perfect. Wait, points? What do the points mean?
Oh. You get points for each of the five areas, there is no “fail” area or “gold standard” really (nor an Award of Excellence) for any of the individual exercises, but you combine all the points and you get an overall score. Which is doable, except there’s also seemingly no published standard for the overall score. Hmm…what if I started with a perfect score and worked backwards? If I draw down the official standards, then as a male in the age 47-51 age bracket, I would get:
|Exercise / Points||100 Points||90 Points||80 Points||70 Points||60 Points||50 Points|
|Push-ups||59 reps||50 reps||42 reps||34 reps||25 reps||17 reps|
|Sit-ups||66 reps||57 reps||48 reps||39 reps||30 reps||21 reps|
|2 mile run||14m24s||15m42s||16m54s||18m12s||19m30s||20m48s|
When I look at some other sites, all of which have some variations of the President’s challenge, a few say “if you’re a man, x number of pushups are good, or if you’re over 65, blah blah blah”. They don’t differentiate by age other than “over 65”. For the rare one or two that do, men my age were estimated that they should be able to do 13-15 pushups. So the 50 point threshold seems like a decent starting point. For situps, they recommended a goal of 33, somewhere around 65 points. A little different, although the one above was how many to do in a minute vs. how many to do at all. The 2-mile run numbers are a bit hard to compare as almost all of the other sites used different distances or focused on your heart-rate after doing the distance, not the time.
So the US Military stuff gets me in the ballpark, but where does that leave me? A bit narrowly focused, based on other pages. Let’s see if I can expand that a bit…
I’ve already covered sit-ups and push-ups. Various men’s fitness programs, magazines and websites vary around what a “strong” athlete looks like, but for basic fitness, the “good” target for bench pressing is 1.5x your body weight. So, let’s see, I would have to bench about 475 pounds. Oh, that’s funny. Now, if my goal is 185 pounds overall, that would be a target bench-press of 275 pounds. I have absolutely no idea if that would be easy, moderate or hard-core. I went back to some really old workouts and I wasn’t fully pushing, more interested in cardio, but I was only doing about 75 pounds. Ook.
Okay, a leg press was better for me. Recommended target is 2.25x your body weight. At the present, that would be 710 pounds. Lord. I might as well be trying to push a Buick. Final target when I reach my weight goal would be 415 pounds. Again, I have no idea if that is easy, moderate or hard-core. Relying on an old work-out sheet, I was able to do 200 without really pushing it, so I feel it might be at least doable eventually. Maybe I’m crazy though.
I’m also crazy when it comes to the old “flexed arm-hang” exercise though. It was my nemesis when I was younger, and somehow my brain thinks if I could do it properly now, it would signal to my body that I’m “in shape”. I can’t find much on what a flexed arm-hang would look like for timing, so I’ll probably have to develop that one myself. However, a few sites have info on doing pull-ups, and the recommendation is that a man of 50 years old should be able to do 10.
If I’m honest with myself, I should be doing chin-ups (palms facing) not pull-ups (palms outward) if I want to be closer to a flexed-arm hang, but chin-ups are easier than pull-ups (chin-ups use more biceps than pull-ups), so it’s a wash. And if I’m REALLY honest with myself, I’d love to be able to do five muscle-ups (a pull-up with a slight kick to get some momentum to get your waist up to the bar). Ever since I saw Stephen Amell (star of the show Arrow) do them in a training video, I thought they were so perfect-looking for someone in good shape working hard to do something. Here’s one of his videos:
And lastly, there is a REALLY weird item that I found in a bunch of places as a test of strength. From a kneeling position, you need to throw a basketball…it never says if you are throwing one-armed or double-armed, but the test is to see if you can throw it 75 feet. It’s weird, but I kind of like it. I’d even like to try it as a triple test — one-armed throw, overhead throw, and normal shot.
Speed & Endurance
So, as I noted above, most of the tests online use running a 1.5 m or walking 1 mile test and then testing heart rates. For straight time, they suggest the 1.5 miles should be done in 12:00 to 14:25. Or, if I was looking at the military times for 2 miles, basically the same time they have as the gold standard to do another half-mile too. If I stuck to that overall “gold” standard of the military, and applied it at an even pace throughout the run, it would be 1.5 miles in 10:48 (100 points) or 15:22 (50 points). So the generic 12-14:25 is about the middle.
Most of the tests recommend the “perfect” test being a full V02 test where you get hooked up to breathing masks and heart monitors like you see in TV and movies with someone running on a treadmill. Not the easiest test to do or come by, so no.
There are three that crop up as just binary “can you do them” standards. Two are pretty simple — one is running 5km and the other is treading water for 2 minutes and then swimming 20m. The third involves a 12″ step where you step up with your dominant foot, then your second so you’re standing fully on the step, step down with dominant foot and lower your second foot. Repeat continuously for three minutes. Presumably they could all be modified — run 1km, then 2km, etc. or tread water for 1 minute before swimming or tread for 2 minutes and then swim only 10m.
And then there are two that are not so much about endurance as specific speeds: running 300 yards in under 1 minute or swimming 700 yards in under 12 minutes. Obviously, those two could be easily converted to a more graduated number (300 yards in 2 minutes or swimming 700 yards in 20 minutes, etc.) for a varied standard.
While I can do these exercises, in theory at least, it is hard to figure out exactly how graduated the various levels would be to match the original “scoring” of the military test.
I feel like I don’t have the right elements for movement and agility/flexibility. All the tests out there basically use the “sit and reach” test that was included in the President’s Challenge. Basically you put your heels on a tape measure at 15″ (so your 0″ is somewhere around your knees), and then you lean forward and touch the floor beside the measuring tape. The higher the number (i.e. reaching past your toes) is good. 16″, 17″, 18″. The recommendation for men over 50 is somewhere around 17″. As with above, I could modify that to give scoring like with the military one. Of course, the first step is just being able to TOUCH my toes while sitting, but let’s not quibble at this point.
I am not sure the fascination with basketball in these tests, probably the availability of the court, but for a vertical height test, they basically recommend trying to reach and touch a basketball rim. For junior high through to the NBA, that height is relatively fixed at 10 feet. Most of the tests suggest jumping next to a wall and slapping the wall at various heights to see how high you are jumping if you can’t reach the rim. If I’ve learned anything from movies, it’s that White Men Can’t Jump, and it sure as hell applies to me. I’m not even sure I could whiff the net on a court.
Again, if I’m honest with myself, there are two better indicators of my jumping ability that interest me. First and foremost, I don’t want to touch the rim, I would want to be able to dunk a basketball. That would be my top standard. Touching the rim is good, sure, but true performance would require me to get even higher.
Secondly, I love watching American Ninja Warrior, and I am inspired not so much by their stories of change and perseverance but by the sheer abilities they have to get from A to B. I don’t have the courage to try true parkour running, but I saw a video of one of my favorite ANW athletes, Jessie Graff, doing vertical jumps onto a surface. Most people do them on to boxes, Jessie jumps onto whatever is handy. Here she is jumping on to a stationary bike:
You can buy actual boxes and stands to do this on, and the sizes range from as low as 14″ up to 30″. Of course, lots of people then stack the boxes in gyms or pile up large mats. Or if you are Jessie, you use large tires and mats to get up to 55″ with a running start:
I probably shouldn’t use her performance as my target height though.
Lastly, there is a balance test. You are basically supposed to be barefoot, stand on one leg, and place the second leg bent in a triangle (foot to your shin or knee that you’re balancing on). For those of you who have done yoga, you know this is the beginner Tree Pose. In an ideal yoga world, you’d get the heel of your second foot all the way up to your thigh, but for now, it is just a simple balance test and the “simpler” version is on your shin or knee. And you hold it. The test standard suggests a 30 second hold, once on each leg. I don’t know if this is a great “standard” or test element in the long run, but it seems like a decent starting point. While other yoga moves will increase stability and balance, this might work as a simple overall test of balance and basic agility.
I am not likely to automatically meet ANY of these test standards at the level I want to meet them, even when I drop to 185 pounds. I can get the weight down, it doesn’t say anything about my functional fitness – strength, endurance and movement. However, that’s a job for my new BowFlex and yoga exercises to help with. I will come back to the “fitness” test with an actual standard and my performance in a few months (perhaps once Poly Spring hits after April 15th). For some of the tests, I’m going to need help, such as having Jacob time me for laps or running, for example. My heart results came back normal when I did my stress test, so I’m all clear for everything, but I can’t even attempt these tests until I have some basic fitness improvements. Heck, I couldn’t even DO one chin or pull-up at this point. And my knees would NEVER allow me to run.
Baby steps, but at least I have a destination.