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4 Exercise Tests to Gauge Your Fitness

Tony Bonvechio
by Tony Bonvechio
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4 Exercise Tests to Gauge Your Fitness

The beginning of a fitness routine is what stops most people from even trying. When it comes to fitness, many people worry they’re not in good enough shape to start a serious exercise program. Luckily, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, most people are fit enough to do the basics — and the basics work. Try these four simple tests to find out where you stand in terms of mobility, strength and cardiovascular fitness.


What it tests: Mobility and stability
Equipment needed: None

The overhead squat is one of the best exercises to test mobility and stability. It takes impressive head-to-toe coordination to nail an overhead squat, and this move prepares you to do nearly any exercise. 

Test yourself: Stand with your feet directly under your hips, toes pointed straight ahead. Lift your arms so your biceps line up with your ears, then bend your hips and knees to sit as low as possible without letting your heels leave the floor. Aim to get your hips below your knees while keeping your knees in line with your toes and your torso as upright as possible.

Full disclosure: This test is hard. Don’t expect to nail it on your first try. If your squat needs some work, try some of the strategies in this article.

Needs improvement: Hips above knees, heels come off floor, knees fall in and torso leans forward past 45 degrees.
Good: Hips parallel to knees, heels on floor, torso leans forward no more than 45 degrees.
Great: Hips below knees, heels on floor, torso stays upright.

This test may not be suitable for individuals who:

  • Are deconditioned or frail, with lower-extremity weakness
  • Have balance concerns
  • Have orthopedic issues, especially in the knees
  • Fail to demonstrate proper squatting technique

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What it tests: Core strength
Equipment needed: Water bottle

Core strength means more than having a flat stomach or six-pack abs. It means having control over your spine and hips in any situation. The classic plank is still the standard test for overall core strength.

Test yourself: Support yourself on your forearms with your elbows directly under your shoulders. Before assuming the full plank position, place a water bottle lengthwise on your lower back so it makes contact with your back and your butt.

Then, dig your toes into the ground and straighten your legs so your body makes a straight line from head to toe. Brace your abs like you’re about to take a punch to the belly and squeeze your glutes like you’re trying to crack a walnut. Breathe normally (in through your nose, out through your mouth) and don’t move a muscle! Don’t let the water bottle roll around; if it falls off, it means you’ve lost your ideal core position.

Needs improvement: Can hold plank for less than 10 seconds.
Good: Can hold plank for 1020 seconds.
Great: Can hold plank for 20 seconds or more while maintaining alignment from head to toe.

This test may not be suitable for individuals who:

  • Suffer from low-back pain
  • Have had recent back surgery
  • Are in the midst of an acute lower back flare-up


What it tests: Upper-body strength
Equipment needed: None

From junior high gym class up through the highest ranks of the military, the pushup is used to build strong shoulders and arms. And while it’s considered a basic exercise, it’s far from easy. In fact, many people can’t do a pushup because they get the lowering portion wrong. For our pushup test, we’re using a bottoms-up pushup to see how your upper body and core work together.

Test yourself: Lay face down on the floor with your thumbs under your armpits. Straighten your legs with your feet together and toes dug into the ground. Brace your abs, squeeze your glutes and push yourself into the top of the pushup position in one smooth motion. If you can maintain a straight line from head to toe, you pass the test.

If you struggle with this test, check out this article about how to do your first pushup.

Needs improvement: Can’t complete one pushup.
Good: Can complete one pushup, but hips sag toward ground.
Great: Can complete one pushup while maintaining straight line from head to toe.

This test may not be appropriate for individuals with shoulder or wrist problems.

4. YMCA Step Test

What it tests: Cardiovascular fitness
Equipment needed: 12-inch step, stopwatch, metronome

Cardiovascular fitness may be the best indicator of overall health because your heart and lungs supply much-needed oxygen to all your working muscles during exercise. If they can’t pump oxygen-rich blood effectively, you’ll fatigue quickly and struggle through your workouts. The YMCA step test is a simple way to gauge your cardio capabilities.

Test yourselfSet the metronome (if you don’t have one, there are many free smartphone apps available) to 96 beats per minute and your stopwatch for 3 minutes. Step onto the box using the following cadence:

Beat 1: Step up with one foot
Beat 2: Step up with the other foot
Beat 3: Step down with one foot
Beat 4: Step down with the other foot

Repeat for 3 minutes, then immediately sit down and check your heart rate for 15 seconds. Multiply that number by 4 to get your beats per minutes (BPM). The lower your BPM, the fitter you are.

Needs Improvement: Heart rate is higher than 120 BPM.
Good: Heart rate is 90-120.
Great: Heart rate is 90 BPM or below.

Due to the nature of step testing, this assessment may not be appropriate for individuals who:

  • Are extremely overweight
  • Have balance concerns
  • Have orthopedic problems
  • Are extremely deconditioned, as the intensity of the test may require near-maximal effort

Written by Tony Bonvechio, a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts, and a personal trainer in Providence, Rhode Island. Read more from Tony at bonvecstrength.com.

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Sponsored by - Clarins
About Clarins

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About the Author

Tony Bonvechio
Tony Bonvechio

Tony Bonvechio (@bonvecstrength) is the co-owner of The Strength House in Worcester, MA, where he trains primarily powerlifters and team sport athletes. A former college baseball player turned powerlifter, he earned his Master’s degree in Exercise Science from Adelphi University. You can read more from Tony at bonvecstrength.com.


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