There’s nothing more satisfying than having evidence that you’re getting stronger and fitter. We’ve roped in the experts to share their top five fitness tests for tracking progress – none of which involve scales or calipers.
When it comes to fitness, progress is important. We work out to feel good, yes, but also to make gains. One of the biggest motivational factors can be seeing improvements in the way we move and feel, and it’s only by keeping a track of how things are going that you get a chance to reflect on what’s working and what needs a little more attention.
For too long, weight and fat loss have been pushed as being the ultimate fitness goal. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to reduce body fat but that’s definitely not the be-all and end-all when it comes to getting stronger. Your body composition may well change as a result of increasing strength but strength and fitness itself can’t be tested with a scale or calipers.
When we talk about “fitness”, we’re really using a shorthand for five key areas of physical wellbeing:
All five are important. If you can squat heavy weights but can’t touch your toes or run without stopping for 10 minutes, you may be muscularly strong but you’re not that fit. Strong Women Training Club trainer, Emma Obayuvana, says that it’s important to take into account all five elements when thinking about progression – if you don’t have access to machines and labs.
Emma looks at four key things when she’s working out how much progress a client has made:
Emma explains that an improvement in recovery time can be a great indicator of improved fitness. “After a workout segment/finisher/run, it may take less time for you to regain your breath and slow down your heart rate. Perhaps instead of 10 minutes to fully recover, it now takes eight, or instead of feeling completely shattered for the rest of the day after your workout, you now have more energy.”
An increase in strength doesn’t just mean being able to lift heavier, says Emma. It’s also about moving with better form while performing exercises. “Your grip might also be stronger, so you’re able to simply hold the weights for longer without your fingers or palms hurting.”
Speed and endurance
“Another way to notice progression is being able to perform more reps in the same amount of time or completing more rounds when doing workout finishers,” says Emma. The simplest way to test that is by setting a timer for say, three minutes, and seeing how many press-ups or squats you can do in that time. Repeat a month later and see how many reps you can do in three minutes.
You don’t need to be able to bend your body into a pretzel to see improvements in flexibility. “Perhaps the squats, lunges and cossacks are deeper than they were,” Emma suggests, while also pointing out that progression could also mean that it becomes easier to transition between different movements without having to hold on to something for assistance. Even just being able to clasp your hands behind your back is a good measure of shoulder mobility.
Ready to see how fit you really are? Below are five fitness tests devised by Sharon Dosanjh, PT and founder of Your True Fitness. Try them over the next couple of weeks and then repeat them in a month. Don’t worry if they feel difficult now – it doesn’t matter where you start so long as you keep going. Why not give them a go before signing up for one of our training plans, then try them again once you’ve finished?
“Focus on your form and not the numbers,” advises Sharon. “Good, consistent form will lead to improvement over time.” She also warns that lots of things can affect our progress, from poor sleep to dehydration so it’s worth monitoring your fitness tests over time to see if there’s a pattern. “Don’t worry about what people around you are doing – focus on your own fitness. You are your own competition!”
Take five exercises, set a timer for 5-10 minutes and complete as many rounds of the circuit as you can in that time. Go back to the same circuit a month later and compare how many rounds you can do in the same amount of time.
Sharon says that AMRAP circuits are “a fun way to build variety into your workouts while allowing you to monitor overall fitness and recovery rates.”
Have a go at a circuit of:
- Air squat
- Lateral lunge
- Dumbbell snatch
This test is super simple: do as many push-ups as you can without taking a break. You can be on your knees or toes, it doesn’t matter – you just need to make sure that you can keep going. See how many push-ups you can do a month later. It’s the kind of thing you can do with very little space and no equipment, and it’s great for checking in on your endurance and upper body strength.
60-second bodyweight test
Sharon recommends choosing any bodyweight exercise and trying to complete as many reps of it as you can within 60 seconds. As with the others, check back in after a month to see if there’s any change to how many you can do. We recommend trying something really simple like an air squat or reverse lunge.
One rep max test
If you’re back at the gym and you’ve got someone around to spot you, the one-rep max test is a great one for seeing how much power you’ve got. Normally done with a deadlift or squat, you want to see what the maximum weight you can lift once is. As it means lifting something that’s really heavy (you shouldn’t be able to really do more than one or two reps), it’s vital that you have someone who can watch and intervene if necessary. Ask a PT to stand by as you do it.
Cooper run test
One for testing your cardiovascular strength, the Cooper Run involves covering as much distance as you can with 12 minutes. In four weeks’ time, run another 12 minutes and compare how far you get. Sharon says this one is “a great way to get your heart pumping, build your speed and monitor your aerobic endurance levels.”
Ready to work up a sweat? Hop on over to the SWTC video library where you’ll find a range of 30-50 minute workouts, led by our very own trainers.
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.