Most men know that working out is important – whether you are training for improved sports performance, looking great on the beach or simply because you want to improve your chances of pulling one over on Old Father Time!
However, many exercisers get far too caught up in the process of working out and forget about actually achieving much in the way of meaningful results. For example, if you are hitting the gym and pumping iron three times a week, you should see improvements in your strength. Likewise if you are burning rubber and doing lots of cardio, you should see an improvement in your aerobic fitness and body composition.
So, rather than just go through the motions of your workouts with no idea if you are actually making any progress, here are five fitness tests that just about every man (and many women!) should be able to pass. If your performance doesn’t come up to the required standard, you really should consider making changes to your workout.
Test one – 10 pull-ups
Pull-ups test upper body strength – specifically the muscles in your upper back and arms. Pulling strength is important for posture and muscular balance as far too many exercisers place an unhealthy emphasis on bench pressing and other upper body pushing exercises. Pull-up performance is also closely related to your bodyweight – if you find them hard, you are either lacking in muscle power or just too damnheavy!
To perform pull-ups, hang from a bar using an overhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart. Bend your legs, cross your feet behind you, lift your chest and lean back slightly. Without jerking or kicking, pull your chin up and over the bar and then slowly lower yourself back down again. Pause for a second and repeat.
If you can do a few pull-ups but cannot hit the required ten, you just need to practice pull-ups so make them the mainstay of your workouts for the next few weeks. If you can’t do any pull-ups, build some basic strength by performing assisted pull-ups and gradually reduce the amount of assistance used until your strength improves. Also consider dropping a few pounds...!
Test two – bodyweight deadlift
The deadlift is one of the best tests of total body strength around. It features in the sport of strongman and powerlifting and uses virtually every muscle in your body – from your legs to your back to your arms to your core. Deadlifts are also how you should pick up any heavy object off the floor safely.
Every man should be able to deadlift the equivalent of his own bodyweight; not for reps necessarily but certainly once. If this sounds like a tall order, consider than competitive powerlifters can lift triple their bodyweight and that includes the women!
Being able to deadlift your bodyweight means you will always be popular on moving day and your chances of hurting your back next time you bend down to pick up a bag of groceries will be virtually zero.
To perform a deadlift, place a loaded barbell on the floor and stand with your toes beneath it, your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees a little, bend forward from your hips and slide your hands down the outside of your legs. Grab the bar tightly using a double overhand grip. Straighten your arms, lift your chest, drop your hips and arch your lower back a little. You should now feel like a coiled spring!
Drive your feet down into the floor to get the bar moving and then, as it passes your knees drive your hips forward and stand up straight. There is no need to lean back at the top of the movement – that’s a rookie mistake. At no point should your arms bend or your lower back become rounded. Lower the weight back to the floor and congratulate yourself on a job well done.
If you are new to this exercise take some time to perfect your technique using light weights and only add weight to the bar a little at a time. It may take you weeks or even months to reach a bodyweight deadlift but that’s okay – rushing may cause injury.
Test three – hip to waist ratio
What you weigh is not really very important and yet many of us have an unnatural obsession with those constantly varying numbers on the scales. The thing is, it’s not so much what you weigh but what your bodyweight consists of that is important; muscle and bone being healthy and fat being much less so. Where your fat is located is also an important issue. Statistics show that the bigger your waist is in relation to your hips, the greater your risk of suffering coronary heart disease, type II diabetes and other insidious medical conditions; ideally, your butt measurement should be bigger than your stomach measurement and the smaller your waist measurement, the better.
Measure your waist around your belly button and then your hips (butt) at the widest part. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement to get your ratio...
0.95 or less – low risk
0.96 to 1.0 – moderate risk
1.0 or more – high risk
If you are moderate or high risk, you should consider making some dietary changes and trying to be more active.
Test four – run a mile in less than 10-minutes
Aerobic fitness is inextricably linked to cardiovascular health and as men are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than women, it’s important that your workout includes not just strength training but also some activities that raise your heart and breathing rate for prolonged periods. It doesn’t matter if you swim, cycle, row or run, cardio is essential for your health.
So, how fit should you be? Just about everyone should be able to run a mile in around 10-minutes or less. This is nothing more than a brisk jog and considering that top athletes can cover over twice this distance in less time, it’s not an unrealistic target.
If you cannot run a mile without stopping simply insert a few brief walking breaks into your workout and, as you get fitter, walk less and run more. If you can run a mile but it takes you more than 10-minutes, try doing some interval training (periods of faster running interspersed with brief recoveries) to bring up your basic running speed.
Test five – 30 press-ups
The bench press is probably the most famous and commonly performed gym exercise but while it’s a good exercise for developing strength, the mighty press-up is a better test of all round fitness. Press-ups don’t just work your chest and arms like the bench press, they also require and develop core strength and teach you to develop tension throughout your entire body. When you do press-ups, your body becomes the bench!
To do press-ups (or push-ups if you are American) lie on your front on the floor with your hands directly under your shoulders and your elbows tucked into your ribs. Your legs should be straight and your toes pointing downward. Tense your abs and legs and tuck your chin in so your nose rests lightly on the floor. Keeping your body perfectly straight, push yourself up and off the floor until your arms are fully extended. Bend your arms and lower yourself back down until your chest lightly touches the floor. Exhale as you push up and inhale as you lower down. Keep your shoulders, hips and heels perfectly aligned – no dropping your hips.
If you are unable to do full press-ups, bend your legs and rest on your knees. If you can do press-ups but are unable to do 30-reps, make press-ups the cornerstone of your upper body workouts and practice them often until you can hit the required standard.
When you can pass all of these tests, you will have developed a decent level of all round fitness and you’ll probably look better too. Work toward hitting these numbers and then work on surpassing them to keep your fitness levels improving.