The word “fit” is thrown around a lot. We sign up to a new gym or kick off a new running routine to “work on our fitness,” but if you’re a regular old person with no real expertise in the world of health, how do you know when you’ve reached the goal?
In addition to physical results, which are fun but not the point, there are loads of different measurements of fitness to consider and as a person trying to get her fitness in check, I’m interested in knowing which ones work best.
So, I chatted with a few experts in the field over email: Jono Castano, a fitness trainer and founder of ACERO gym in Sydney and Australian Institute of Fitness Master Trainer, Brodie Hicks. Here’s what they had to say.
First, what does “fit” mean – really?
Both Castano and Hicks agreed that the term “fit” itself is a little complicated. That there’s no real way to give a solid, singular answer on what it is.
“The term ‘fit’ can be quite ambiguous as it often means different things to different people,” Hicks shared. It can be applied to everything from cardiovascular fitness to flexibility, and everything in between. And while each type of fitness is certainly valid, he explained, this makes the definition of the word “a little non-specific”.
“Being ‘fit’ definitely has a different meaning depending on who you talk to. To most of my clients, being fit is a destination, but to me the definition of ‘fit’ is more the journey. Being fit is being able to commit to living a healthier lifestyle which includes exercise and a balanced diet,” he said.
Improvements to fitness, however, are a little easier to recognise
How we define “fit” may not be particularly clear-cut, sure. But measuring progress? There are loads of ways to do that.
At the simplest level, Castano suggested “taking note of what you did in the same workout last time. To progress, you could be adding extra weight, reps, time or distance”.
Hicks shared that he has five measurement tools that he uses to test clients on different kinds of fitness.
Number one is lower body strength testing where he asks clients to lift their maximum weight for one, three and five reps. “The fewer the reps, the heavier the weight [and] the more experienced you should be,” he said.
“Lower body strength transcends so many other facets of ‘fitness’ (including cardiovascular fitness), so even if your primary goal is cardio related, lower body strength should be an area of priority.”
This can be tested using barbell back squats or barbell deadlifts, but leg presses, rack/block deadlifts, hip thrusts and lunges are also options.
Upper body strength testing is next, following the same rules as the lower body. Here, he suggested barbell bench presses and pull up tests along with shoulder presses, bent-over rows, seated rows and lat pull-downs as options.
Third on the list is aerobic capacity testing. Hicks explained that he usually opts for a two-kilometre time trial here.
“…they provide not only a reading on cardiovascular fitness through heart rate response and time to complete the distance, but also an individual’s ‘maximal aerobic speed’ (MAS). Maximal aerobic speed can be a useful exercise prescription technique for aerobic training to ensure you’re hitting some key markers.”
Next, he’ll test for anaerobic endurance which is “all about shorter lengths and distances”. Here Hicks goes for a 500m row test which asks clients to “go hard and fast to see how quickly you can row 500m”.
“Our anaerobic system provides us with energy for very high to maximal intensity efforts lasting up to 3 minutes max,” he explained.
The last measurement is flexibility testing. “Whilst not typically thought of when it comes to fitness testing, flexibility is an important aspect of overall fitness,” Hicks shared.
“A reduction in injury rates, as well as improvement in performance, have both been shown to result from increased flexibility,” he said.
An added extra would be using photos to compare physical changes as you go along, Castano suggested.
“…it really shows the progression and transformation, not just in their body but also their face and confidence.”
What kind of results should we be aiming for?
Sorry, folks. But the answer here is not going to be a straight figure.
Though Castano did say he keeps a close eye on heart rate during training – “I always like to keep heart rates above 130bpm to ensure they [clients] are pushing themselves in the workout” – the goal is to only really measure against yourself.
Hicks simply said the best approach is to “gain your baseline measure in the tests listed above and work towards improving your numbers”. (Just be sure to work with a fitness professional if it’s your first time, okay?)
The secret here, Castano added, is to find a realistic workout schedule (“so you don’t get too fatigued”) using exercises that “make you feel good”. He also added that goals make all the difference.
“You may have an overall fitness goal but make sure to have smaller goals along the way, so it keeps you motivated,” he said.
And if you’re keen on building fitness, both trainers stressed that variety is the spice of… your workout plan.
Hicks shared his “general rule of thumb” here, which is, for strength fitness goals, adopt a 60 per cent strength focus and 40 per cent cardio focus and for cardio fitness goals, invert that split.
Oh, and don’t forget, “flexibility training should be completed in and around these primary sessions”.
Now, who’s ready for a workout?
This article has been updated since its original publishing.