7 MOVES THAT WILL REVEAL HOW FIT YOU ARE

If someone were to ask you what your definition of being fit is, what would your response be? Strong core/abs? Be able to squat your bodyweight? Run a mile? The toe-touch test? While these are all ideal indicators of being fit, they don’t necessarily provide an accurate measure of one’s fitness. A lot of guys think they are fit because they can bench press and squat the world (I used to be one of such people) and have washboard abs. The fact of the matter is how fit a person goes beyond physical strength. Don’t get me wrong, being strong is a renowned gift and warrants acknowledgement. There is more to fitness than being able to Deadlift 300 pounds.

There are several assessment protocols that measure fitness and plenty enough to chose from. But the following are 7 simple tests that can reveal how fit you are and can be done pretty much anywhere using just your bodyweight. These tests will identify strengths, weaknesses and limitations while measuring upper/lower body strength, core strength, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility and mobility.

OVERHEAD SQUAT: Using a PVC pipe or a rolled up towel held at slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, bring your hands over your head with elbows fully extended. Your feet should be slightly wider than hip-width. Take a deep breath, brace your core and sit your hips back as far and low as you can while trying to keep your torso rigid.

Things to look for:

-Do your knees cave inward as you descend? (This is caused by weakness and/or poor activation of gluteus medius and other hip external rotators)

-How deep can you squat? Are you able to bring your things to parallel? (Could be a result of tightness in hamstrings and hip external rotators)

-Do your arms, along with the PVC pipe or towel, drift forward during descent? (This could be caused by tight shoulder internal rotators and weak core/trunk stabilizers)

-Are your heels rising off the floor? (Tight/weakness in dorsiflexors and/or ankle instability)

The Fix: Exercises like band-resisted clamshells and side-band stepping are ideal for activating and strengthening gluteus medius which is responsible for knee function and hence better squatting. Regular stretching and foam rolling of the hamstrings and hips can improve depth. Working on external rotation/retraction exercises like band pull-apart and face pull will keep the arms from dropping forward.

 

SCAPULAR WALL SLIDE: Stand wit your back about a foot or slightly less from a wall. Establish three points of contact against the wall : head, shoulder blades and tail bone. Bring your arms full extended in from of your then pull your elbows back to touch the wall. Point your left and right forearms towards 11 ‘o’ clock and 1 ‘0’ clock. From there, extend your arms up against the wall while trying to keep your wrist and forearms pressed against the wall (creating the letter ‘Y’) . Hold for a second and then bring them back down to your starting position.

Things to look for:

-Were you able to extend your arms up against the wall while maintaining your 3 points of contact and keep them pressed against the wall?

-Did any of your body parts come off the wall during ascent and descent?

-Did you feel any pain/ache during the movement?

The Fix: If you answered ‘yes’ to the first question, congratulations! You have excellent shoulder mobility and flexibility. But if you answered ‘yes’ to the lat two questions, your shoulders are internally rotated thus causing limited mobility in external rotation. This can sometimes come with rounded shoulders or a slouch posture. Interestingly enough, this very test can also be used to correct the issue. Externally-rotated targeted exercises and practicing pulling the shoulders back are the best remedies.

 

PLANK: I don’t consider the plank to be the best measure of core strength given the fact that it requires a great deal of shoulder strength and endurance. But it can be a good indicator of how strong the anterior core is. With a stopwatch timing you, hold a plank for as long as you can.

Things to look for:

-Are you able to maintain a neutral spine all throughout? (lumbar hyperextension, dropping the head)

-Did you hold for longer or less than 30 seconds?

-Did you hold for longer than 60 seconds?

The Fix: Being unable to maintain a neutral spine during a plank not only means the anterior core is weak. It also means the posterior chain isn’t activated enough to keep the body upright. The gluteus muscles and lumber stabilizers must be strengthened to help correct this. Although not universally accepted, holding a plank for less than 30 seconds could be a sign of a weak core. I believe 45 – 60 seconds is a moderate standard to aim for. The only drawback to the plank is it can be quite difficult for people with preexisting shoulder injury and chronic pain. Either way, gradually work your way up to 1 minute.

 

TOE TOUCH: Arguably the most premier assessment flexibility test, the toe touch has pretty much been eradicated from many fitness testing protocols. I still consider it a good measure of hamstring and trunk flexibility. So many people have tight hamstrings and not even know it. This simple test will tell you. Standing with your hands along your sides, bend at the waist (trunk hinge) and reach your hands as far as you can towards your toes.

Things to look for:

-Did your hands get past your knees and/or shin?

-Were you able to touch your toes, or better yet the floor?

-How much did you have to bend the knees?

The Fix: If you were only able to reach to your knees and shins, your hamstrings are tight and most likely your lower back too. Being able to touch the toes or the ground indicates great trunk and hamstring flexibility. Although the knees can bend slightly during execution, too much bend devalues and diminishes the test. Correcting the above miscues is simple : lots of passive stretching and foam rolling.

 

PUSH-UP: Probably the most ancient exercise of our time, the push-up remains a staple in fitness programs. While it can be used as a workout, it can also assess upper body strength and muscular endurance. Perform as many push-ups as you can. When you start getting tried, drop to your knees and continue until exhaustion.

Things to look for:

As with the plank, so many standards exist for the push-up. The way I look at it is the more push-ups you can do without having to kneel, the better and stronger you’ll be. The modified push-up, though a regression of the standard push up, can help build some upper body strength. But it’s alway going to pale in comparison to the regular version in terms of improving and developing strength and endurance.

The Fix: Incorporating lots of anterior core work can help improve push-ups. Doing push ups on higher surfaces like a bench or Reebok STEP can be a precursor to the push-up. Strengthening of trunk stabilizing muscles like the shoulder and triceps can be beneficial also.

BODYWEIGHT SINGLE-LEG RDL:

The Romanian Deadlift is a popular exercise for targeting the posterior chain but can also a good way to assess balance and strength in both legs when done unilaterally with just the bodyweight. With your hands resting along your sides, stand on your right leg and lift the opposite left foot slightly off the ground. Hinge the trunk forward while reaching your hands towards the ground as your left leg lifts up. Aim to perform 6 to 10 reps.

Things to look for:

-How much shifting is occurring at the hips?

-Is the balanced foot/ankle wobbling and/or pronating too much?

-Does your hamstring fatigue enough so much you’re forced to stop?

-How high is the non-balanced leg when fully hinged? Is it in line with the trunk?

The Fix: Hip shifting and lateral movements could be traced to weak and under-active hip external rotators. Band-resisted clamshells and side-band stepping will help with that. Another challenge with this test is wobbling and pronation at the foot and ankle. Doing inversion, eversion, dorsiflexion and plantar flexion with a Thera band is a great way to address this. Generally speaking, single-leg work like lunges, step-ups and single-leg squat variations are vital for strengthening the legs individually. Keep in mind that traditional squats done on both legs, while associated with tons of perks, do not identify which of the legs is working the hardest and and the least.

STAIR CLIMB:

Find a stairwell with lots of floors and climb up 3 to 4 flights at your regular, walking pace.

Things to look for:

-Did you get out of breath?

-If you got out of breath, how soon did it happen?

-Did you find climbing these flights of stairs overly exerting?

The Fix: Stair climbing can be a good way to measure cardiovascular endurance and VO2 Max. The latter is the amount of oxygen available for use during activity. Here’s a simple way to look at it: If after walking 2 or 3 flights of stairs you found yourself breathing heavy, it indicates there wasn’t enough readily available oxygen in your body which means your V02 max and cardiovascular endurance are low. Obviously there’s a limited number of stairs we all can climb before we get tired. Assuming the knees and hips are in good condition, I believe we all should be able to climb a minimum of 4 flights of stairs without getting out of breath. Strength training the lower body and doing a wide variety of cardio activities like HIIT, bootcamp, cycling will surely help improve cardio endurance and VO2 max.

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Bodyweight Essential : The Plank

The pull-up & push-up exercises are without question two of the premiere movements in fitness. They remain a staple in building lean muscle and strengthening the upper body. Although not definite but if a third exercise were to follow the aforementioned movements, it’ll be the plank. Arguably the most universally preferred choice for developing the core and abdominals, the plank has been around for years and is as ancient as the squat. Planking requires virtually no equipment and can literally be performed anywhere thus making it a favorite for working the abs amongst many fineness enthusiasts.

The simplest way to get into a plank position is by first getting into a push-up position. From there, bend your elbows to 90-degrees and ensure that your shoulders are directly above your elbows. With your weight resting on your forearms and your legs fully extended, the exercise commences by holding that position for as long as possible. Ensure that there’s alignment from your head through your shoulder blades, butt and feet. The plank is an anti-extension exercise which means the lumbar spine will naturally want to ‘sag’ or go into lumbar extension and you have to resist it for the movement to be effective.

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When performed correctly, the plank develops the rectus abdominis, anterior core stabilizers, lumbar spine, quadriceps, glutes and shoulders. It requires major involvement of the shoulder girdle thereby making it difficult for those with preexisting shoulder pain. Individuals with chronic shoulder pain should seek out regressed versions of this movement (more on that later). Different metric standards exist for the plank making it difficult to determine what hold time is considered ideal. Some older individuals may not be able to hold a 1-minute plank while a 25-year old female could easily hold a 2-minute plank. As a rule of thumb, hold your plank for as long as possible and until your abs and shoulder start to burn.

For those interested in some challenge and competition, the world record for the longest plank belongs to Mao Weidong of China with a time of 4 hours 26 minutes and was set in September 2014.

If you enjoy doing the plank and would like to add some new challenges, here are a few progressions:

1. Body Saw Plank: This progression of the plank requires a TRX, stability ball or gliders. Set up the way you would for a regular plank but with your feet and legs placed on top or attached to either of the aforementioned accessories. From that position, glide your entire body back as far as possible while keeping your forearms stationary and then glide it forward as far possible again. If using a stability ball, the forearms should be mounted on a bench with legs extended on the ball. The advantage of the body saw plank is that it’s quick and it eliminates what could potentially be a long hold time. This is ideal for individuals pressed for time.

2. Plank on a Stability Ball: The unstable surface of a stability ball presents a unique challenge. Going from planking on the floor to planking on an unstable surface proprioceptively forces the body to adapt to new demands. Balance and motor control are enhanced thus forcing the abdominal muscles to react in a way it never did with the conventional plank. Variations include legs on ball/hands fully extended on the floor, forearms on ball/feet on the ground, hands fully extended on ball/feet on the ground and forearms on bench/legs extended on ball. Due to the advanced nature of this exercise, many people will have a hard time mastering it initially. Take your time in perfecting the old-fashioned plank before adding this progression to your routine.

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3. Lifting One Leg/One Arm Up: This is a very challenging progression of the plank so it must be carefully performed. This progression is performed by either lifting one leg up or one arm so you’re planking on only 3 of your 4 limbs. To plank on leg, simply lift either your left or right leg just a few inches off the ground. A higher lift will result in more gluteal activation. To plank on one arm, take one hand off the ground and extend it in front of your or place it on your opposite shoulder. The latter requires the hands to be fully extended. With either progression, the body will naturally want to rotate and you must resist falling to one side. The anti-rotation component coupled with anti-extension makes this progression ideal for strengthening the entire abdominal region.

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4. Plank Push-Up: This creative plank progression combines a traditional plank and a push up making it a great bang-for-your-buck choice for effectively targeting the abdominals, chest, triceps  and anterior deltoid. To perform this exercise, assume a plank position. From there, extend both your elbows one at a time until you’re in a full push-up position. Reverse the actions by bending both of your elbows and return to a plank. You can alternate hands or continually push off the same hand, though the former is more effective because both arms will be put to work. Intensity can be measured in reps (from plank position to push-up is 1 rep) or timed.

For those dealing with chronic shoulder pain, planking on a bench can be just as effective as planking on the floor. While holding until the abs begin to get a good burn is always recommended, the exercise should be discontinued if the shoulder region begins to flare up. Individuals with torn shoulder labrums and rotator cuff injuries should be especially conscious of this. This regression is also ideal for beginners who lack adequate core strength.

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If you routinely perform planks and have never done any of the progressions, trying adding some of them to your workouts. Most plank variations can be done anywhere which means you can do them in the office on a quick break or at home during a TV commercial break of your favorite shows. Exercises like Deadlift, Squat and Overhead Press can improve plank strength and hold time because of the recruitment of the lumbar muscles in the aforementioned exercises. It’s no surprise that individuals who are great at planking also perform compound movements.

I’ll talk about the side plank (the sister exercise to the traditional plank) on another post.