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How to Test Yourself in the Gym

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Remember those torturous high school fitness tests? It turns out your PE teacher was onto something.

If the last time you tested your fitness level was running up and down a dirty gym floor, it might be time for a re-test. Testing your performance in the gym can help you gauge your fitness and plan how to target your weaknesses.

The following tests will show you where you’re kicking butt and where you’re slacking. (For best results, take each test on a different day—you’ll have more energy and most likely score better.) Don’t worry, no awkward uniforms or whistle-blowing involved. We’ll leave those memories nice and repressed.

 

Strength

Everybody wants to be strong, but this test is about one type of strength in particular: grip strength. Your grip strength impacts almost every weight-bearing movement you perform, from deadlifting to carrying groceries. Muscles from your fingertips to your shoulder engage to grip heavy things. So, if your grip is weak, you’ll move less weight, simple as that.

Test 1: Grab a pair of kettlebells or dumbbells that add up to 75% of your bodyweight. Carrying one in each hand, walk at a slow pace for as long as possible. Keep your chest high and your core engaged.

Goal: Try to carry for 90 seconds.

If you’re looking to test your upper or lower body strength, finding a 5-rep max (the most weight you can do for 5 repetitions, with good form) is a great option. This test comes from the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and you can use it for the back squat, bench press, leg press, machine bench press, deadlift, or any big compound movement. If you’re uncomfortable maxing-out with a barbell, feel free to use machines!

Test 2:

  1. Pick a weight that allows you to easily perform 1 to 3 warm-up sets with 10 -12, 8 – 10, and 6 – 7 reps, respectively.
  2. Rest for 2 minutes.
  3. Estimate a conservative, near-maximal load that allows you to complete 6 – 8 reps by adding 5% to 10% for upper body movements and 10% to 20% for lower body.
  4. Rest 2 – 4 minutes.
  5. Add weight. 5% – 10% for upper body movements and 10% – 20% for lower body.
  6. Attempt a 5-rep max.
  7. If successful, rest 2 – 4 minutes and return to step 5.
  8. If unsuccessful, rest 2 – 4 minutes and reduce load by 2.5% – 5.0% for upper body and 5% – 10% for lower body and return to step 6.
  9. Continue until you find your 5-rep max.

Note: Maximum effort is key—if you hit 4 reps but could’ve gotten 5, it doesn’t count. Even more important: never compromise form or safety for a higher max.

Goal: Increase your 5-rep max each time you test. If you’re new to lifting, testing every 8 – 12 weeks is reasonable. As your strength gains start to slow, you can test less often to see long-term progress.

 

Anaerobic Endurance

Anaerobic endurance refers to performing shorter, high-intensity exercises. The “anaerobic” part means your body doesn’t need oxygen to create the short “burst” form of energy. In layman’s terms: 20 – 60-second bursts of maximum intensity. This is different from normal endurance, which is your ability to perform activities for long periods of time. High anaerobic endurance promotes strength, speed, and power – so it’s a pretty big deal.

Test: Squat, curl, and press for 1 minute. Grab a pair of dumbbells that total around 30% of your body weight and hold them by your sides. Perform a squat and as you stand, curl the dumbbells to shoulder height and then press them straight overhead. That’s 1 rep. Now complete as many reps as possible in 1 minute.

Goal: 18-20 reps… then more each time you test.

Periodic testing will keep you up to speed on your training, so to speak. (Skip the mask, though.)

 

Note: If you’re not a fan of this movement and would rather flip a tire, push a sled, or run soccer drills? Totally fine. Anaerobic endurance is all about the effort given in a short amount of time, not the specific movement. Shake it up and have fun with it!

Cardiovascular Endurance

Cardio is hardio, but it’s key for general fitness and health. Cardiovascular endurance is especially important for athletes, or anyone looking to perform tasks for a long period of time (like hiking, kayaking, or labor-intensive jobs). If your cardiovascular endurance is higher, your heart, lungs, and blood vessels can deliver oxygen more efficiently—which helps for any type of workout.

Test: Ok, I lied. This test will totally bring back Jr. High memories; it’s called the “Beep Test.” Place two cones 20 meters (or “European yards”) apart on a track or field. Download the free Beep Test app (available on iPhone and Android). Hit the start button and listen for the beep, which means it’s time to run to the other cone. The time between beeps will shorten as you go—meaning it’ll get more difficult. Keep running until you can’t reach the cone before the beep sounds. Hit the “record” button and write down your level/score.

Goal: Level 10 or above; get further each time.

 

Flexibility

Woman doing yoga

Flexing & flexibility… both are important, and both look good on Instagram.

Without flexibility, your strength and power will be subpar. Good flexibility means greater range of motion, which could mean better form and more gains.

Test: Gym class is in session again (sorry). You’ll need a ruler and a sit-and-reach box or a stair step. Take off your shoes and sit with legs extended in front of the body, toes pointing up, and feet slightly apart. Put the soles of the feet against the base of the box/step. Place the ruler on the ground between your legs or on the top of the step. Place one hand on top of the other and reach forward slowly. When you can’t reach any farther, hold for a couple of seconds and measure how far you got.

Goal: Reaching your toes or beyond is great, but as long as you’re improving over time, you’re doing well.

 

Core Strength and Stability

What’s better than shredded abs? A strong, powerful core. Your core is made up of muscles in the abdomen, middle back, lower back, hips, and sides. Not only does your core help stabilize your body, it transfers energy and power from the lower body to the upper body and vice versa, while also supporting your internal organs and bones. If there’s one group of muscles you should pay special attention to, it’s these.

Test: Grab a yoga or gym mat and lie face down. Raise yourself up on your elbows in a plank position, with your weight distributed evenly between your elbows and the balls of your feet. Your back should be parallel to the floor and your core tight. Hold this position for as long as possible without breaking proper form.

Man performing a plank

Get up, get tight, and, for optimal gains, smolder-stare of into the distance.

Goal: 1 minute, but keep training this movement until you can comfortably last longer than 2 minutes.

 

Explosiveness and Power

Power is the ability to quickly exert force or move weight with speed. It’s also known as explosiveness. If you want to be successful in activities like sprinting, throwing, hitting, kicking, swimming, and weightlifting, you’ll need to improve your power. The broad jump is an excellent test of lower body explosiveness. Here’s how you do it.

Test: Stand behind a line marked on the ground (you can use tape or another marker) with your feet shoulder-width apart. From a standing position, swing your arms backward as far as possible and jump forward, landing on both feet. Mark the distance from the takeoff line to the back of your heels—this is your score. Attempt 3 times and take the best jump of the 3.

Goal: A score equal to your height or farther.

Note: Don’t attempt the broad jump if you have joint or back pain or if your doctor has advised you to avoid jumping.

 

The Test of Time

Each of these tests will tell you something different about your fitness, and even doing them once is a great starting point. But, to truly reap the benefits and continue chasing down your fitness goals, you’ll want to test yourself every 4 – 6 weeks (except for the 5-rep max, which should be a bit less frequent). Don’t forget to track your progress either on paper or in your phone! Tracking your scores will give you a good picture of how your training is working (or not working) and if you need to change it up!

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