You probably have some idea of how fit you are. But knowing the specifics can help you set realistic fitness goals, monitor your progress and maintain your motivation. Once you know where you're starting from, you can plan where you want to go. And it's easier than you might think. Get started with the simple four-step assessment below — based on guidelines provided by the President's Challenge, a program designed by the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
Gather your tools
Generally, fitness is assessed in four key areas — aerobic fitness, muscular fitness, flexibility and body composition. To do your assessment, you'll need:
- A watch that can measure seconds or a stopwatch
- A cloth measuring tape
- A yardstick
- Heavy-duty tape
- Someone to help you with the flexibility test
You'll also need a pencil or pen and paper to record your scores as you complete each part of the assessment. You can record your scores in a notebook or journal, or save them in a spreadsheet or another electronic format.
Record your fitness levels (PDF file requiring Adobe Reader)
Check your aerobic fitness: Brisk walk
To assess your aerobic fitness, take a brisk one-mile (1.6-kilometer) walk. You can do the walk anywhere — on a trail or track, inside a shopping mall, or on a treadmill. Before and after the walk, check and record your pulse in your notebook or journal.
To check your pulse over your carotid artery, place your index and middle fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. To check your pulse at your wrist, place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery — which is located on the thumb side of your wrist. When you feel your pulse, look at your watch and count the number of beats in 10 seconds. Multiply this number by 6 to get your heart rate per minute.
Let's say you count 15 beats in 10 seconds. Multiply 15 by 6 for a total of 90 beats per minute.
After you've recorded your pulse, note the time on your watch and walk one mile (1.6 kilometers). After you complete the walk, check your watch and record the time it took you to finish — in minutes and seconds — in your notebook or journal. Then check and record your pulse once more.
Measure muscular fitness: Push-ups
Push-ups can help you measure muscular strength. If you're just starting a fitness program, do modified push-ups on your knees. If you're already fit, do classic push-ups. For both types:
- Lie face down on the floor with your elbows bent and your palms next to your shoulders.
- Keeping your back straight, push up with your arms until your arms are extended.
- Lower your body until your chest touches the floor.
- Push your body upward, returning to the starting position.
Count each time you return to the starting position as one push-up. Do as many push-ups as you can until you need to stop for rest. Record the number of push-ups you complete in your notebook or journal.
Assess your flexibility: Sit-and-reach test
The sit-and-reach test is a simple way to measure in general fashion the flexibility of the backs of your legs, your hips and your lower back. Here's how:
- Place a yardstick on the floor. Secure it by placing a piece of tape across the yardstick at the 15-inch (38-centimeter) mark.
- Place the soles of your feet even with the mark on the yardstick.
- Ask a helper to place his or her hands on top of your knees to anchor them.
- Reach forward as far as you can, holding the position for two seconds.
- Note the distance you reached.
- Repeat the test two more times.
- Record the best of the three reaches.
Estimate your body composition: Waist circumference and body mass index
With a cloth measuring tape, measure your waist circumference just above the hipbones. Record your waist circumference in inches or centimeters in your notebook or journal.
Then determine your body mass index (BMI) — an indicator of your percentage of body fat — through a BMI table or online calculator. If you'd rather do the math yourself, divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches squared and multiply by 703. Or divide your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. (To determine your height in meters, divide your height in centimeters by 100). Record your BMI with the rest of your scores in your notebook or journal.
Monitor your progress
Now that you know your fitness level, keep track of your progress. Take the same measurements six weeks after you begin your exercise program and periodically afterward. Each time you repeat your assessment, celebrate your progress — and adjust your fitness goals accordingly. Share your results with your doctor or personal trainer for additional guidance. Your results may even inspire you to sign up for the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA).