How do you know if you are fit? Or, at least, fit enough? And how can you tell if your fitness is improving?

You have to test yourself. And while most people haven’t participated in a fitness evaluation since their high school Presidential Physical Fitness Test, it’s good to occasionally check in on your progress.

“It’s very important to know that what you’re doing is working,” said Matt Fitzgerald, coach and author of “Run Like a Pro (Even if You’re Slow).” “Then you can course correct if what you’re doing is not working.”

In fact, some experts say that testing yourself every three to six months can tell you more about your fitness than looking at daily performance, which often varies significantly. While fitness can be measured — and expressed — in many ways, here are three tests designed to track strength and cardiovascular fitness that can be done with little or no equipment.


The Dead Hang for grip strength

The Cooper Test for cardiovascular fitness

The Plank for core strength


Greater grip strength is associated with lower rates of heart and respiratory disease, cancer and a reduction in all-cause mortality. The correlation is so strong, one group of experts recently called for it to be considered a way to measure overall health, like blood pressure or heart rate.

Not only is grip strength important for countless daily tasks, like opening jars and carrying groceries, but it’s a good measure of your overall strength. “As you train and you improve the rest of your muscular fitness, grip strength should move with it,” said Luke Baumgartner, an expert in exercise testing at the University of Memphis.

To perform the test, all you need is a pull-up bar and a stopwatch.

For men, anything from zero to 30 seconds should be considered a beginner level, said Mathias Sorensen, an exercise physiologist at the Human Performance Center at the University of California, San Francisco. Between 30 and 60 seconds can be considered intermediate, and more than 60 seconds advanced. For women, Mr. Sorensen said, zero to 20 seconds for beginners, up to 40 seconds for intermediate and more than 40 seconds for advanced.

If you can’t hang from a pull-up bar at all, or don’t have access to one, you can also test your grip strength with a farmer’s carry, which involves picking up a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand and going for a walk. Start with whatever you can carry for 90 seconds — and increase the weight as you get stronger. A very good score, for men and women, Mr. Sorensen said, is carrying 70 percent of your body weight for 90 seconds.

Because your grip will improve with your overall strength, you can also develop it by training with free weights, using dumbbells, a barbell or kettlebells.

Aerobic fitness has been correlated with longevity and lower levels of cardiovascular disease, all-cause mortality and cancer.

The best way to measure this is by testing your VO2 max, or how much oxygen your body uses during exercise. This generally involves going into a lab and exercising to exhaustion.

But you can get an idea of it on your own with the Cooper Test.

Getting your VO2 max estimate requires a little math. Take your distance (in miles), multiply it by 35.97 and then subtract 11.29. This is your VO2 max estimate. You can also plug your distance into an online calculator and compare your results against those in your age group.

For instance, 1.5 miles in 12 minutes corresponds to a VO2 max of about 43. That would be an excellent score for a 65-year-old man, good at age 45 and average at 25. For a woman, a score of 35 would be excellent at 65, good at 45 and average at 25.

To find out more about your own age group, check here.

If you want to improve your score, Mr. Fitzgerald recommends slightly increasing what experts call your training volume, or the number of workouts in a typical week. For example, jog four times a week instead of three but at low intensity instead of moderate. Then, about once a week, kick it up to a shorter, high-intensity run. Spending more training time at a slower pace means that your body can fully recover before the next run, resulting in a better overall performance, he said.

That way, when it’s time to pick up the pace, “you just have more to give and so you get more out of that session,” Mr. Fitzgerald said.

A strong core can prevent injuries, reduce back pain and help you play sports better. One of the simplest ways to test your core strength is a simple timed plank hold.

To perform the test, all you need is a flat surface. But a yoga mat can make it more comfortable.

A good goal for men and women of any age, Mr. Baumgartner said, is a plank hold of at least a minute. More than three minutes is exceptional.

If you aren’t able to hold a plank for a minute, it’s a good idea to start working on your core strength, Mr. Baumgartner said.

To build your core, start by figuring out your maximum hold time. Then do two to three sets of plank holds a few times a week, adding 5 to 10 percent of that time for each until you’re consistently hitting one minute, Mr. Sorensen said. Then keep slowly adding to the time to further increase your strength.

You can also incorporate squats, push-ups and bridges into your workouts two to three times a week to improve your core strength, or try activities like cycling, kayaking, dancing, barre classes or swimming.

Whatever your result, it’s important not to fixate on your score, Mr. Baumgartner said. The point is to consistently test yourself to track improvement.

“The result isn’t a judgment on you,” he said, “it’s a snapshot in time.”

Hilary Achauer is a freelance writer covering health and fitness.

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