The Fitness Path: Where are you now? Where do you want to be?

Compass direction


I met with two new clients this week, and I always start off a new client with a movement screen and fitness assessment. Before we get to all the measuring, testing, and movement, we discuss the client’s goals. Over the years, I have worked with many different clients, and I have heard many different goals, often similar, but sometimes unique. While some people may be looking to improve their health, there are others who wish to focus more on appearance and weight loss. There are people with specific athletic performance goals, and a few have even wanted to compete in fitness competitions (bodybuilding). Often times, people come to me with goals already in mind, but once in awhile a person will be very vague, and we try to nail down a more specific goal. I think people have more success when they are very clear with their goals. We create a long term goal, which is usually supported by series of short term goals. After that, we discuss their health history form and any health conditions/injuries/medications that may affect their training. When we get beyond discussing their health and establishing rock solid goals, it’s time to assess and screen.

  1. Blood Pressure and Resting Heart Rate: The first thing I do after the chatting is done, is take a person’s blood pressure. 120/80 and under is considered optimal. The top number is the systolic pressure, which represents the pressure when the heart contracts. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure, which represents the pressure when the heart relaxes and expands. High blood pressure is a predictor of risk for cardiovascular diseases, including stroke. Often times, blood pressure appears elevated at this first meeting, because I believe people are a little nervous about being tested. That’s why I repeat the test again, at the second meeting. This usually gives me a better idea on whether the first reading was an anomaly or not. Also worth mentioning, being young and athletic, doesn’t guarantee that a blood pressure reading won’t be high. I once trained a 19 year old soccer player who consistently measured high, and I asked them to follow it up with their health care professional. It would be wise for you to measure your blood pressure from time to time to see where you are at. If you don’t have a blood pressure cuff, usually someone at the gym can measure it for you, or drug stores often have a free, automatic machine that will measure it. 120/80 or less is considered optimal, up to 139/89 is considered pre-hypertension, and any readings 140/90 and higher, is considered hypertension. Along with blood pressure, I look at a person’s resting heart rate. I would like all clients to get their resting heart rate down into at least the 60 beat per minute(bpm) range. The average heart rate for a males and females are a bit higher than that. The average for males is 70 bpm, and in females is 75 bpm. I believe it’s a red flag if you are any higher than those averages, and cardio conditioning is going to be a very important piece of your workout plan.
  2. Body Measurements: I take measurements next, from a few key areas, that can be used for comparison in the future. The most common measurements I take are the upper arm, waist, hips, and thigh. I always measure on the right side of the body. People can differ from side to side, so I always measure the right side for accurate comparisons in the future. Waist to hip ratio can be a beneficial ratio to calculate because it helps identify abdominal obesity. The closer the ratio is to 1, the more risk there can be for serious health problems, which include hypertension and diabetes. Men should try to achieve a ratio of less than .95, and women should try to be under .80
  3. Body fat: I measure body fat with a simple Jackson & Pollock, 3 site skinfold test. For men, the 3 skinfold sites consist of the chest (halfway between the armpit and nipple), abdomen (1 inch to the side of the belly button), and the mid-thigh. For women, the sites are the back of the upper arm (middle of triceps), just above the hip bone (Illium), and mid-thigh. The pinch sites are measured by millimeters with calipers, and the sum total is used to find the body fat percentage on the corresponding chart. Here are the body fat ranges for both women and men. Women: Essential Fat 10-13%, Athletes 14-20%, Fitness 21-24%, Average 25-31%, Obese 32%+ Men: Essential Fat 2-5%, Athletes 6-13%, Fitness 14-17%, Average 18-24%, Obese 25%+
  4. Functional Movement Screen: I run people through a series of 7 movements and 3 pain clearing tests (shoulder impingement, spinal flexion, and spinal extension). The movements include a squat,single leg stance, split squat, shoulder reach, straight leg raise, push-up, and quadruped movement. The screen can point out any possible asymmetries, limitations, or other movement problems. This information is vital for me to design a program. This previous blog post will explain it in much better detail. In the post, I also include a quick movement screen that can be done if you don’t have access to an FMS professional.
  5. Cardio Test: Lately, I have been using a 3 minute step test (YMCA protocol) for measuring cardio-respiratory fitness. The step is set at 12 inches and the stepping cadence is 96 beats per minute, for a stepping rate of 24 steps per minute (4 steps per 1 cycle). A heart rate measurement is taken 1 minute post-exercise. I usually can get a good feel for someone’s conditioning from this simple test. If their heart rate really spikes high, upwards of 150 bpm, I know they would benefit from a generous dose of aerobic conditioning (training in the 120 to 150 bpm range). I will admit, there are two reasons I like to use this test. One, I don’t have cardio equipment at my studio, but all I need is a box for this test, and two, it only takes 3 minutes, leaving plenty of time for other tests. If someone is not able to handle the step test due to balance, strength, or other health conditions, I run them through the Rockport walking test, which is longer, but at a lower intensity. This test can be used to estimate the client’s V02 max (oxygen uptake), and I can also compare their walking time to a table of normative data. The client walks 1 mile for time. If I am working with a competitive runner or athlete, I might have them run a mile as fast as they can, and/or possibly race a 5K, and/or a modified Cooper’s test (6 minutes to run as far as you can) to identify their anaerobic threshold. These tests can be useful in establishing training paces and/or heart rate zones. If I am working with a team, we might use something like a 20 meter shuttle run (beep test), which increases the pace progressively as time increases. A score is given based on the number of shuttles completed before falling off pace. For SOU Volleyball, coach Rohlfing has created a modified shuttle test known as the Raider Anaerobic Test (RAT) to hold the players accountable for their Summer conditioning and build mental toughness. Find a test that will be most applicable to you, according to your goals, and measure your cardio fitness.
  6. Power: I reserve power testing for higher functioning clients and athletes. I don’t use these tests as often, but they are good to measure for those who need to build power. The tests can include standing long jumps, medicine ball tosses, timed sprints, box jumps, vertical jump reach, and possibly Olympic lifts. If building muscular power is important to you, find at least one test that will measure upper body power, and one that will measure lower body power.
  7. Strength: For general clients, I use mostly simple body weight tests for strength. These tests consist of push-ups, front planks, chin-ups/pull-ups, and a wall squat hold. For those higher level clients and athletes, I might sprinkle in some sub-maximal (5 rep) or maximal (1 rep) strength testing. As mentioned earlier, identify what tests will be most applicable to you and your goals. For body weight, I generally like to see someone do at least 20 consecutive push-ups with good form, hold a solid plank for 1 minute, be able to complete a pull-up rep (at least 1 for women,and 5 for men) with good form, and hold a solid wall squat for 1 minute straight. For those interested in focusing more on maximal strength, here are some requirements from the StrongFirst Barbell Certification. Strength Test: Deadlift (1 rep)- Men 2x body weight but not exceeding 450 lbs. Women 1.5x body weight. Bench Press (1 rep)- Men 1.25x body weight Women .75x body weight Technique Test: Squat (5 reps)- Men x body weight Women .75x body weight. Deadlift (5 reps)- Men 1.5x body weight Women x body weight. Military Press (5 reps)- Men 2/3x body weight Women 1/2x body weight. This information can be found on StrongFirst Instructor, Karen Smith’s blog post.
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I posted the above video on my Facebook page. Even if you don’t have any interest in dunking a basketball, I think you can appreciate the fact that Brandon Todd had a clearly defined goal (to dunk a basketball) and he did the training to reach that goal. If you want to reach your own goals, first you need to define them. Then you need to measure where you are at the moment, and finally, you need to do the training that is going to get you there, while reassessing along the way to make sure you’re on the right track. A good trainer should clearly understand your goals and should measure your current fitness level, because they should know where you are before they create the plan (path) ahead. I have heard trainers say that they just assess someone as they train them, but how effective is that plan going to be, and how many sessions will you have essentially wasted while they figure out your capabilities? If you don’t have someone (or can’t budget for it) to run you through a movement screen and fitness assessment, hopefully this post will give you some ideas on how you can test yourself. Define your goals, measure your fitness, and train hard. I hope you reach your goals!

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