If thoughts of fit tests bring back haunting memories of shuttle runs and bleep tests at school, we feel you. Before we had control over our own gym workout and home workout routines, much of what we did was down to PE teachers and sports coaches, many of whom seemed to be sponsored by those rage-worthy beeps.
However, don't switch off completely. Fit tests are a great way to see how you're progressing towards your goals or, if you're goal-less, to set benchmarks for what to aim for next. And, whether you've been following a plan (nudge, like our exclusive to WH four week HIIT plan, nudge) or swinging wild, there's a fitness test for everything.
We picked the expert brains to find out how to test your fitness, the best fit tests to do and what you need to know about testing your fitness during pregnancy. Play on!
Why it's so important to do fitness tests
Exercise is fun, right? Right. But, motivation dips can strike when we feel as if we're putting in the work every day without a clue as to whether we're actually progressing.
Testing our fitness in controlled environments, and taking the time to measure our results and keep conditions the same, can help to break the cycle of training monotony and lack of exercise motivation.
'Fitness tests can be a fantastic way to track your progress,' says David Wiener, Training Specialist at AI-based fitness and lifestyle coaching app Freeletics.
'A lot of us rely on our appearance or how we feel to gauge whether or not we are getting fitter, healthier and stronger, but fitness tests can give us more of a definitive answer and also help to set a baseline for development.
'Measuring your fitness, whether it be cardiovascular or strength is important as we can get a better understanding of how on track we are to achieving our goals, as well as motivating ourselves to reach them.'
Plus, if you're not seeing progress despite exercising regularly, fit tests can be the catalyst you need to switch things up.
What are the most common fitness tests?
Testing your fitness can fall into five main categories:
- cardiovascular endurance (e.g. running)
- muscular strength (e.g powerlifting)
- muscular endurance (e.g. functional fitness)
- body composition (the ratio of fat to muscle mass you have)
What you choose to focus on will depend on your goals but there are tests to measure them all. Make sure to choose one appropriate for your goals.
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Are fitness tests an accurate way to measure fitness?
'Yes, but it’s important to make sure you set up the test and the retest under the same conditions otherwise you won’t get reliable results,' cautions award-winning personal trainer Rachel Lines. 'Many things can influence performance, even if you're not an athlete.'
Variables that can impact the accuracy of your results:
- Time of day
- Whether you eat before the test and what you eat
- The weather (running in heat, for example, can play havoc with your hydration and performance)
- Where you are in your menstrual cycle
- Bad quality sleep
- Changes in location
From the time of day to what you ate before doing the test, what the weather's doing and the quality of your sleep the night before, there are many variables that can affect your performance.
And, if you're wondering about the relationship between exercise and periods, the author of Period Power Maisie Hill shared some expert insight with us:
‘Taking your cycle into account when you’re working out is massively important because fluctuating hormones impact the body’s energy levels. They can affect how your body responds to different types of exercise and when you might want to schedule in rest days to make the best use of recovery.’
To keep the results as accurate as possible, Lines recommends completing the test at the same time of day and after the same type of meal. For best practice, try to make it during the same point of your cycle, as well.
How often should you test your fitness?
'If you're sticking to a regular training programme then you’ll want to be retesting roughly every six to eight weeks,' says Lines. 'This time gives your body enough time to adapt to training and improve either cardiovascular function or muscular strength/endurance depending on what your goals are and what you are testing.'
The flip-side of testing too regularly is a one-way ticket to demotivation-town. 'Testing too regularly can be demotivating, especially if the results don’t come as quickly as you would like, some improvements can take time to be achieved,' cautions Bone.
Cardiovascular fitness tests
1. Bleep test
One of the most common fitness tests is the multi-stage fitness test, otherwise known as the Bleep Test. The Bleep Test is where you measure out a distance of 20m and run to the line before the beep. It's one of the best tests to measure your cardiovascular fitness.
How to do this test:
- Because of the technical nature of the bleep test, it's best to use the pre-recorded audio rather than trying to set up a series of noises yourself.
- This YouTube audio is the official test. Plug in, press play and good luck to you.
- The goal for this test is to try and get as far as you can but you have two 'misses' before you'll need to tap out. That means, if you fail to reach the line before a beep, you need to get back to the other line before the next beep. Fail to do so and you're out.
This content is imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.
2. 12-minute Cooper test
Another popular cardiovascular fitness test is the 12-minute Cooper Test – this can be done running or swimming. This test is best performed on a standard track or in a 25-metre pool. It will help you track the exact distance covered more accurately.
How to do this test:
- Run or swim as far as possible in the twelve minutes and record the exact distance you've covered.
- Rank your score using the Cooper Test results chart.
3. VO2 max test (that can be done at home)
Bear in mind that a true VO2 max can only by discovered in clinical conditions but this is the next best thing.
This test requires a 1 mile (1.6km) jog either on a flat outdoor area or on a treadmill. You will also need a heart rate monitor. It’s important to note that this is a steady jog test and not an all-out sprint effort. If you are performing this on a treadmill then the speed for women should be under 9-minute miles (6.7mph)
How to do the test:
Before you begin you will need to know your weight in kgs and you’ll need to warm-up and stretch.
- Start the 1-mile jog, making sure your heart rate remains under 180bpm at all times during the test.
- At the end of the mile take your heart rate
- Record how long it took you to run the mile.
- Record how hard the test was on a scale of 1-10 (you can use this to refer back to in later tests)
- To calculate your VO2 Max use a handy online calculator. We like this one.
Strength training fitness tests
4. 60-second test
The 60-second push-up test measures your muscular endurance within a specific (and short) amount of time. It's a great, quick way to challenge yourself – just remember, good form press-ups are always the goal. Half-arsed ones done with poor form don't count.
How to do this test:
- Set a timer for 60-seconds and count how many full push-ups you're able to complete. (Need a refresh on how to do a push-up? We've got you.)
- Keep a note of your result and re-test again in four to eight weeks time.
- If you want a broader picture of your fitness, use this set-up for exercises like burpees, tuck jumps, squats or squat variations, too.
5. One rep max test
This fit test is a great way to test the strength of different muscle groups. However, it is up to you which area of your body you'd like to test.
How to do this test:
- Select the body part that you want to be tested and use the weight lifting technique for that body part – aiming to work with a weight that allows you to perform one rep and no more.
- E.g. if you want to find out how strong your quads are, perform a leg extension; your chest, try a bench press; or, if seeing how strong your posterior chain is, try a deadlift.
- Keep a record of the weight you're able to lift and aim to repeat the test within six to eight weeks. Note any improvements or regressions.
6. Press-up test
This test is a good marker of upper body endurance but also a measure of whole-body endurance due to the demand placed on the trunk and hips.
How to do the test:
- Assume the full press-up position either on your toes or with knees dropped to the ground. Take a note of which one you did as you’ll need to retest using the same position.
- Do as many press-ups as you can without taking a break.
- Record this number and retest 6-8weeks later
Functional fitness tests
7. EMOM (every minute on the minute) challenge
EMOM workouts are common fitness fodder in the Crossfit world, but did you know they're also fantastic for testing your cardiovascular and muscular endurance, too? This fit test will get your heart rate up – just make sure to keep working as hard as you can for the full-time period. It is a test, after all!
How to do this test:
- At the start of every minute perform 30 mountain climbers on each leg (60 total) and then burpees for the remainder of the 60-seconds.
- Score your total number of burpees over the 5 minutes. 10 burpees = beginner, 10-20 burpees = a good level of fitness, 20+ burpees = advanced.
8. AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) fit test
The goal of this test is to try and complete as many rounds as possible of the following exercises in five minutes.
How to do this test:
- When the timer starts, perform 5 burpees, 10 squats and 10 sit-ups. That's one round.
- Go back to the beginning and keep cycling through until the five minutes have elapsed. The goal is to finish as many rounds as possible within the time limit.
- Score your performance: 3 rounds or less = beginner, 4-5 rounds = good level of fitness, 5+ rounds = advanced.
9. Benchmark WOD test
'CrossFit, by definition, involves constantly varied functional exercise performed at relatively high intensity,' explains Sam Briggs, x8 CrossFit Games Athlete and 2013 Fittest Woman on Earth. 'CrossFit has what is referred to as Benchmark WODs, a workout performed and repeated on an on-going basis to monitor and track progress.'
'This test can be performed by a complete beginner and an elite athlete. Because it's a set time workout each minute, it's testing the max amount of work you personally can achieve. It tests across five different movements – some with a barbell, one on a rowing machine and one, jumping onto an object.'
How to do this test:
The aim of this test is to complete as many reps as you can in the first round and repeat/exceed that number over the next two. Keep a note of how many reps you achieved of each exercise at the end of each round and compare.
'Aim for consistency,' says Briggs. 'Your score is your total reps so don’t try for 20 reps each minute in round one if it means you can’t breathe or recover and you’re only getting five reps in round 3. You want to be pushing hard for those reps but never 'red lining' [pushing to your absolute maximum] until the final minute of round three.'
Perform three rounds of the following exercises:
- 1 min max wall balls
- 1 min max sumo deadlift high pulls
- 1 min max box jumps
- 1 min max push press
- 1 min max cal row on the rowing machine
- 1 min rest
(The one-minute rest between rounds helps to reset yourself mentally and physically and get ready for the next circuit. Reduce the weights if you find yourself unable to complete an exercise with good form and proper technique.)
Flexibility fitness test
10. Sit and reach test
This test is used to test your flexibility and requires a sit and reach box.
How to do this test:
- Remove your shoes and place your feet against the box.
- Reach over the box towards the wall.
- While stretching, hold your position for two seconds while someone else records your score – usually measured in centimetres.
Everything you need to know about fitness tests during pregnancy
Testing your fitness during pregnancy is less about trying to see improvements or smash personal bests. It's about making sure the exercise you're doing is still appropriate for where your body and your fitness are. What you're able to do at the beginning will (most likely) not be what you're able to complete by the end.
'Pregnant women should only undertake exercises or activities that they undertook prior to conceiving,' says ante and postnatal personal trainer and founder of LDN Mum's Fitness, Sarah Campus.
'Postpartum women need to ensure they get medical clearance from their healthcare practitioner before returning to exercise and this should not be before six weeks for a vaginal birth and not before 12 weeks for C-section.'
Before your first session, a PARQ (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire) adapted to pregnant/postnatal should be carried out at the start of your session. Then, in each session moving forward from there, it should be established if there have been any changes from the initial PARQ.
How often to test your fitness during and after pregnancy
During pregnancy and postpartum fitness, frequent testing may be appropriate. This will be to make sure the programme you're on still suits where you are in your journey.
Although you may have a full programme written at the start of your training (with progressions/modifications all set in place and the numbers are taken care of), you can’t really expect to necessarily fit your programme design every step of the way,' explains Campus.
'It’s more important that the programme fits you every step of the way. There's no one size fits all, and it is important to listen to your body.
'And, even though it's suggested that fitness tests should be carried out periodically every 3-6 months, for pregnant/postpartum women it's advised to continually test. This is to help adjust the programme and exercises to continue to suit your goals and stage in the pregnancy/postpartum journey.'
3 pregnancy and postpartum-safe fitness tests
The following tests are good markers during pregnancy of how exercise and are best done under the supervision of a personal trainer.
1. Talk Test
A very common pregnancy exercise test, it's used to keep you on the right side of intense when you're working out.
- It's just as straight forward as it sounds: try to hold a conversation (or sing out loud to yourself) while moving.
- If you can't, you're going too hard. Reign it in, tiger.
2. Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
This pregnancy fitness test is helpful for monitoring how well your body is dealing with the demands being placed upon it when you exercise.
During pregnancy physiological responses are increased during exercise (heart rate, cardiac output, stroke volume, etc.), and so it's important to keep an eye on how exerted you're becoming. It's recommended that pregnant women do not exceed 140 beats per minute as the maximum heart rate whilst exercising.
- During exercise ask yourself how you feel on a scale of o to 10.
- 0 = feeling nothing at all, 5 = feeling strong, and 10 would be feeling extremely strong.
- Pregnant women should exercise at a level that feels moderate to somewhat hard, which is anywhere between 3 and 4 on the 10-point scale.
This method is a great way for you and your trainer to keep an eye on your technique, movement, posture and alignment – all important factors to be aware of.
This two-person approach should help to answer the following questions:
- Is your bump getting in the way when doing a given exercise?
- Do you have any joint weaknesses due to pregnancy or postpartum hormones?
- Do you have any imbalances due to a shift in gravity during pregnancy?
- Are you experiencing any symptoms of diastasis recti? (This is crucially important if you're postpartum.)
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