What kind of shape are you really in? Sam Murphy has some simple checks to help you work out the answer
Saturday March 11, 2006
To assess core stability
How to do it Lie on your front with your forearms on the floor, elbows directly under shoulders, fists clasped. Tighten your core muscles, then press down through your forearms and lift your body on to the toes. Your head, neck, back and legs should form a straight line (like a plank of wood). Look at the floor. Time how long you can hold the position, maintaining good form.
To assess foot-strike pattern
You often hear how important it is to have the right trainers to suit your foot type and gait pattern - but how do you know what that is? You can get a basic picture with this test, as the shape of your footprint indicates whether you have particularly high or low arches, associated with different foot-strike patterns.
How to do it You'll need a sheet of cardboard, or a slab of concrete or slate to walk across. Dunk your feet in water, then walk across the surface. Compare the foot's silhouette to the descriptions below.
What it means Toe prints plus heel but little in between - high arches, associated with excessive supination, or underpronation (feet roll outwards as you run); entire foot - low or flat arches, associated with overpronation (feet roll in); toes, forefoot plus heel, joined by a broad band - normal or "neutral" foot-strike.
To assess upper-body strength
A full push-up entails lifting roughly two-thirds of your body weight. Technically, the test measures muscular endurance rather than pure strength.
How to do it Assume a push-up position - hands wider than shoulder-distance, body in a straight line, head in line with spine. Lower the chest by bending the elbows, then straighten and repeat as often as you can in a minute. If you can't do a full push-up, do the test on your knees.
What it means Men: 30+ - excellent; 25-29 - good; 20-24 - not bad; 19 or below - needs work. Women: 25+ - excellent; 20-24 - good; 15-19 - not bad; 14 or below - needs work.
To assess balance
Lack of balance plays a significant role in contributing to falls in later life - and balance deteriorates with age unless challenged.
How to do it Fix a sheet of A4 paper to the floor and balance on it with one bare foot. If you can stand for 60 seconds, try closing your eyes. Still not wobbling? Try hopping on the spot 10 times. Repeat with other foot.
What it means "If you have trouble completing this exercise, or you continually miss the paper, your balance and 'motor control' are not as good as they could be," says physical therapist Peggy Brill. This test doubles as a balance-enhancer.
To assess cardiovascular capacity
Kenneth Cooper - the man credited with inventing aerobics - developed his test in 1968, but it is still used as a measure of cardiovascular fitness. It involves running or walking for 12 minutes, maintaining a steady pace.
How to do it Use a flat, measurable route or a treadmill. After a five-minute warm-up, set a stopwatch and run or walk as fast as you can. Record the distance and compare it to the values below.
What it means 1.46 miles or above - excellent; 1.33-1.45 miles - good; 1.32-1.26 miles - fair; 1.25 or below - poor.
To assess explosive power (the ability to exert a force quickly)
How to do it Stand facing a clear wall space. Keeping feet flat, raise your arm and mark the highest spot where your fingertips touch the wall. Leap up, arms overhead, and touch the highest point you can. Subtract your standing height from your jumping height in cm.
What it means Men: 61-70cm - very good; 51-60cm - good; 41-50cm - average; 40cm or less - below average. Women: 51-60cm - very good; 41-50cm - good; 31-40cm - average; 30cm or less - below average.
To assess leg strength/endurance
This test - in which you sit on an invisible chair against a wall until your thighs feel as if they are about to combust - gives a good idea of lower body strength.
How to do it Lean your back against the wall and shuffle your feet forward. Slide down until your knees and hips are at a right angle and start your stopwatch.
What it means Men: 76 seconds or more - very good; 58-75 seconds - average; 57-30 - below average; 29 or below - poor. Women: 46 seconds or more - very good; 36-45 seconds - average; 35-20 seconds - below average; 19 or below - poor.
These tests are suitable only for those in good health. If in doubt, see a doctor.