Fitness Assessments

Overview

Inactive individuals are at risk for developing a variety of chronic diseases, disabilities and musculoskeletal pain. Exercising and living an active lifestyle has many benefits, the reduction of those risks being one of them. As little as 2.5 hours per week can make a difference in your health and well-being. However, before jumping into things it is best to establish a baseline by performing a fitness assessment. 

 

 

Fitness assessments provide an understanding of you and your current capabilities. They collect information regarding your health, lifestyle, heart rate, body composition, cardiovascular ability, posture and functional limitations. Having this understanding will help you create a program that can best achieve your goals.

Subjective Information

The first step in a fitness assessment is to gather basic information about your readiness, general health, lifestyle and medical history. Even if you’re a healthy individual gaining awareness about yourself will help lay a foundation. Let’s take a look at the type of information you’ll be gathering.

Physical Activity Readiness

Before starting a new exercise routine, it’s good to know if you’re even ready for one. Most individuals who have never exercised before or even those coming back from an extended break should take the time to assess their readiness. A Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q) is a tool that can help determine whether or not you should begin working out. It can even expose potential risk factors like cardiovascular disease. If you do find that you’re answering yes to any of the questions on the PAR-Q you should speak to your doctor before engaging in any physical activity.

General Health

Typically a personal trainer will gather general health information about you as well as your occupation. The key areas you’ll want to look at are your occupation and any habits, repetitive movements, attire or stress related to your job. These are things that can affect your body, posture and progress. 

Many people lead sedentary lifestyles and work long hours sitting. This tends to cause a rounding of the shoulders, a forward tilting head and a tilted pelvis, more commonly known as upper cross and lower cross syndromes. Additionally sitting all day can lead to a poorly conditioned cardiorespiratory system.

Repetitive movements create pattern overloads to muscles and joints leading towards tissue trauma and eventually dysfunction. An example of this could be working for long periods of time with your hands over your head. This can cause shoulder problems, a sore neck, a tight back and weak rotator cuffs.

Clothing also affects us in ways we don’t think about. If you work in an environment that requires you to wear shoes with heels your ankle is constantly in a plantar-flexed position. Your foot is tilted downward causing the calve muscles and Achilles tendons to become tight creating an imbalance in your posture leading to a decreased range of motion and eventually a flattening of the arch in your foot.

Additionally another factor of poor physical health is too much mental stress. Stress or anxiety is an invisible force that keeps you from living a happy and healthy life. Stress elevates your resting heart rate, blood pressure and breathing while at rest and during physical activity. Stress can also cause abnormal patterns in life which can affect our body, mind and spirit.

Lifestyle

Including information about your lifestyle in your fitness assessment such as habits around smoking or drinking, experience with exercise, sleeping patterns, recreational activities or hobbies play a part in developing the proper training program. If you enjoy playing sports or have hobbies an exercise program can take this into account and training can be applied to help maximize efficiency and prevent injury.

Medical History

Past medical history is also important to consider. Things like injuries, surgeries, conditions and medications can prevent certain types of training or require a specific approach to training. 

While there can be any number of injury types there has been a lot of documentation on how some of the more common injuries affect the body during movement. Those injuries are ankle sprains, knee ligament injuries, lower-back injuries and shoulder injuries. Injuries in these areas leads to a decrease in control developing movement patterns leading to a repeated or worsening injury. 

Surgeries should also be considered during your assessment. The trauma that surgeries create on the body may have similar effects which affects the safety and efficacy of exercise. They can also lead to repeated injury, pain and inflammation resulting in altered neural control if proper rehabilitation is not taken.

Lastly, chronic conditions and medications also play a part in fitness assessments. Conditions and medications alike can have effects on exercise and should be considered. Those that do have chronic conditions or are taking medications should always consult with their physicians in order to understand if and what those effects might be. 

Objective Information

Once all of your subjective information has been recorded you can begin to gather more objective information such as heart rate, blood pressure, body composition, cardiorespiratory ability, posture, movement and physical performance.

Heart rate

Checking your heart rate is a good indicator of one’s health. It can tell things like overall cardiorespiratory fitness levels based on resting heart rates. While heart rate readings during activity can indicate how the body is responding to physical exercise. The two most common pulse points for checking your heart rate are the radial pulse and carotid pulse.

The radial pulse can be found on the right side of the arm just above the thumb. While the carotid pulse can be found on the neck. To check either pulse place two fingers in the desired location. Once a pulse is found count the pulses for 60 seconds. Do this over the course of 3 days, preferably in the morning and average the results. This will give your your resting heart rate. With a resting heart rate target heart rates can be established. 

The two methods for estimating target heart rate zones are the straight percentage method and the Karvonen method. The straight percentage method subtracts your age from 220 and will give an estimated HR max. With your estimated HR max you then multiply it by 65-95% of intensity to establish training zones one, two and three.

  • Zone One: HR max * 0.65 – HR max * 0.75
  • Zone Two: HR max * 0.76 – HR max * 0.85
  • Zone Three: HR max * 0.86 – HR max * 0.95

The Karvonen method establishes training intensity by finding the difference between max heart rate and resting heart rate. This is one of the more common and generally accepted methods of calculating training intensity. In order to estimate your target heart rate for zones one, two and three use the following formula:

  • THR = [(HR max – HR rest) * intensity] + HR rest

Both the straight percentage method and the Karvonen method should be combined with cardiorespiratory assessments and should be adjusted as necessary.

Blood pressure

Blood pressure is the pressure of blood flowing through the body and against the walls of blood vessels after blood leaves the heart. The two parts of blood pressure measurements are systolic (pressure in the heart after it contracts) and diastolic (pressure in the heart when at rest or filling with blood). The American Heart Association states an acceptable systolic measurement is ≤ 120 while an acceptable diastolic reading is ≤ 80. You will need a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff or someone / somewhere that has one to measure your blood pressure. 

Body composition

Body composition measurements provide insight into the percentage of body weight that is fat-free tissue versus fat. Fat-free tissue refers to weight of muscles, bones, waste, connective tissues, organs and teeth. While fat includes essential and non-essential fat. Taking body composition measurements upfront is essential for understanding current levels of body fat. 


They also come into play when designing a program. Once you’ve set a benchmark body composition measurements then become valuable for monitoring progress over the course of your journey and staying motivated. There isn’t an accepted standard for body fat percentages. However body fat within 10-20% for men and 15-25% for women are the ideal. 

There are several methods for measuring body composition. Body fat measurements can be done via a skinfold test, bioelectrical impedance device or with hydrostatic weighing. Skinfold tests require a skinfold caliper, a friend and something to record your data. Bioelectrical impedance can be done via a portable device or most smart scales. Where as hydrostatic weighing is quite expensive and requires special equipment. 

Body circumference measurements are another type of measurement that helps fitness enthusiasts set benchmarks and track progress. They record the circumference of the body clueing in on fat patterns, fat distribution, growth of body parts and waist-to-hip ratio. Your waist-to-hip ratio is one of the most clinically used applications of body circumference measurements. It can be used as a correlation between chronic disease and stored fat.

Lastly, Body Mass Index or BMI is another body composition measurement. BMI isn’t designed to assess body fat it is a rough assessment on a person’s weight in proportion to one’s height. Elevated BMI typically indicates obesity and a risk of disease. Those with the lowest risk for disease fall within a BMI range of 22 to 24.9. This is not a concrete and definite measurement as those above and below that range can be just as at risk as those within the range.

Cardio

Cardiorespiratory assessments are one of the more crucial measurements when performing a fitness assessment. While they are not only responsible for gauging the body’s ability to use oxygen they also provide insight into the level of intensity one can endure. VO2 Max readings are the most valid measurements of one’s cardiorespiratory system and the uptake of oxygen. However a VO2 Max reading isn’t always practical as it requires special equipment and a trained technician. Therefore additional methods exist for generating approximate fitness levels.

The YMCA 3-Minute Step Test and the Rockport Walk Test are both methods for getting an idea of cardio ability. Both tests require an individual to perform physical activity and the effects to be recorded resulting in an estimated output for ability and training intensity zones. The YMCA 3-Minute Step Test requires an individual perform 96 steps per minute while the Rockport Walk Test requires an individual to walk 1 mile as fast as controllable while on a treadmill.

Posture Assessments

Posture plays an important role in our lives. It plays an even more important role in exercise. Proper posture means optimal movement. Optimal movement means the muscles are at their proper length, working correctly, producing force and protecting the body from injury. Improper posture leads to inefficiency in the neuromuscular system and injury. A posture assessment will identify deviations and if you have any of the common postural distortion patterns.

Common Distortion Patterns

Our static posture is the foundation in which we present ourselves and how we move. A weak foundation leads to problems down the line. Observing static posture exposes imbalances which can identify problem areas. There are three common postural distortion patterns. Those distortion patterns are: 

  • Pronation distortion syndrome: flat feet and inward turned knees
  • Lower crossed syndrome: forward tilted pelvis and arched lower back
  • Upper crossed syndrome: forward head and rounded shoulders

Each of these distortion patterns can have significant effects on our physical ability and require proper attention in order to correct and prevent. Through the assessment of our posture we can determine which distortion patterns are present and  develop strategies to improve. 

Static Assessments

Static posture assessments are typically performed by a fitness professional. However they can be done at home on your own with the help of a friend or a device that you can use to record your movements. Static posture assessments consists of observing the body in an anatomical position from different view angles. 

To perform a static posture assessment you should be standing erect, relaxed, arms to your side, palms facing forward and fingers pointing down. When observing the body there are various checkpoints one should be cognizant of. Each checkpoint should be viewed from the anterior (front), lateral (side) and posterior (rear). The assessment checkpoints and ideal positions per view are:

  • Foot, Ankle
    • Anterior: Straight ahead, parallel, not flat or rotated.
    • Lateral: Neutral position at a right angle to the sole of foot.
    • Posterior: Straight, parallel not overly turned inward.
  • Knee
    • Anterior: Inline with toes not turned inward or outward.
    • Lateral: Neutral position not flexed or hyperextended.
    • Posterior: Neutral position not turned inward or outward.
  • LPHC
    • Anterior: Pelvis level with anterior superior iliac spine even.
    • Lateral: Neutral position not tilted forward or backward.
    • Posterior: Pelvis level with anterior superior iliac spine even.
  • Shoulders
    • Anterior: Level, not elevated or rounded forward.
    • Lateral: Normal curve, no excessive roundness.
    • Posterior: Level, not elevated or protruding.
  • Head, spine
    • Anterior: Neutral position not tilted or rotated.
    • Lateral: Neutral position not protruding forward.
    • Posterior: Neutral position not tilted or rotated.

Dynamic Assessments

After completing a static posture assessment a dynamic posture assessment should be performed. This should reinforce what has already been found during the static assessment but also shed light on any faulty alignments during movement. By having this understanding of your functionality, overactive and under-active muscles are exposed. 

Dynamic posture assessments are related to basic movements such as squatting, pushing, pulling and balancing. The types of dynamic posture assessments are:

  • Overhead Squat
  • Single Leg Squat
  • Pushing
  • Pulling

To perform a dynamic posture assessment you’ll need the help of a friend or a device that you can record yourself performing the movement if you don’t have someone to help.

Overhead Squat Assessment

The overhead squat assessment aims to check flexibility during movement, core strength, balance and muscular control. It’s great for analyzing lower body movement patterns. Impairments viewed suggest variances in joint motion, muscle activation and muscle control. Overhead squat assessments help you figure out if there are any overactive or under-active muscles requiring corrective flexibility and strengthening routines.

To perform an overhead squat assessment you’ll need a friend or a way to record yourself. You’ll want to perform this assessment from both anterior and lateral views.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and toes pointing straight ahead. 
    • Feet and ankles should be in a neutral position.
    • For better observation perform this barefoot.
  • Raise your arms over your head with elbows extended.
  • Squat down to roughly the height of a chair and return to the starting position. 
  • Repeat 5 times from each angle.

When reviewing your movements you’ll want to look at the feet, ankles, knees, LPHC, shoulders and cervical spine.  

  • View the feet, ankles and knees from the front. They should remain straight and are tracking inline.
    • Check to see if:
      • Your feet remain flat and/or turn out.
      • Your knees rotate inward.
  • View the LPHC, shoulders and cervical spine from the side. They should all remain inline with the torso.
    • Check to see if:
      • Your lower back arches.
      • Your torso leans forward too much.
      • Your arms fall forward.

Record your findings and then refer to the following table for possible imbalances.

View Checkpoint Compensation Overactive Under-active
Lateral LPHC Forward lean Soleus
GastrocnemiusHip flexor complex
Ab complex
Anterior tibialis

Gluteus maximus
Erector spinae

Low back arches Hip flexor complex
Erector spinae
Latissimus dorsi
Gluteus maximus
Hamstring complex
Intrinsic core
Stabilizers
Upper body Arms fall forward Latissimus dorsi
Teres major
Pecs
Mid / lower traps
Rhomboids
Rotator cuff
Anterior Feet Turn out Soleus
Lateral gastrocnemius
Biceps femoris
Medial gastrocnemius
Medial hamstring complex
Gracilis
Sartorius
Popliteus
Knees Move inward Adductor complex
Biceps femoris
TFL
Vastus lateralis
Gluteus
Vastus medialis oblique

Single Leg Squat Assessment

Like the overhead squat assessment the single leg squat assessment aims to check flexibility during movement, core strength, balance and muscular control. It’s great for analyzing lower body movement patterns. Impairments viewed suggest variances in joint motion, muscle activation and muscle control. 

To perform a single leg squat assessment you’ll need a friend or a way to record yourself. You’ll want to perform this assessment from an anterior view.

  • Start with hands on hips, eyes forward and looking at something in front of you.
  • Your feet should point forward with feet, ankle, knee and LPHC in a neutral position.
  • Lifting one leg begin to squat to a comfortable level on the other leg before returning to the starting position.
  • Repeat 5 times.

When reviewing this assessment you’ll want to look at the knee and make sure it’s tracking in line with the foot. If your knee is moving inward you may have some imbalances that need to be addressed. See the following table for more information.

Checkpoint Compensation Overactive Underactive
Knee Move inward Adductor complex
Biceps femoris
TFL
Vastus lateralis
GLuteus
Vasto medialis oblique

Pushing Assessment

Similarly, pushing assessments measure imbalances and inefficiencies. Pushing assessments expose flexibility during movement, core strength, balance and muscular control while pushing.

To perform a pushing assessment you’ll need a friend or a way to record yourself. Pushing assessments are best performed in a standing position. However they can be performed on a machine if a standing option is not available. 

  • Using a standing cable chest press is ideal when performing this assessment.
  • Begin by standing upright with abs drawn in, feet in a split stance and toes pointing forward.
  • Press the handles forward and return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 20 times.

When reviewing the movements you’ll want to make sure you’ve captured the assessment from a lateral view. You’ll want to look for the following:

  • Did the lower back arch?
  • Do the shoulders elevate upward?
  • Does the head move forward?

Record your findings and then refer to the following table for possible imbalances.

Checkpoint Compensation Overactive Under-active
LPHC Low back arches Hip flexors
Erector spinae
Intrinsic core stabilizer
Shoulder complex Shoulder elevation Upper trap
Sternocleidomastoid
Levator scapulae
Mid / lower traps
Head Head migrates forward Upper traps

Sternocleidomastoid
Levator scapulae

Deep cervical flexors

Pulling Assessment

Just like the other assessments, pulling assessments measure imbalances and inefficiencies. The pulling assessment is similar to the pushing assessment in how it is performed. It’s best performed in a standing position. However it can be performed on a machine if a standing option is not available. 

To perform a pulling assessment you’ll need a friend or a way to record yourself.

  • Using a standing cable machine is ideal when performing this assessment.
  • Begin by standing upright with abs drawn in, feet in a split stance and toes pointing forward.
  • Pull the handles toward your body and return to the starting position.
    • The lumbar and cervical spine should remain neutral throughout this movement.
  • Repeat 20 times.

When reviewing the movements you’ll want to make sure you’ve captured the assessment from a lateral view. You’ll want to look for the following:

  • Did the lower back arch?
  • Do the shoulders elevate upward?
  • Does the head move forward?

Record your findings and then refer to the following table for possible imbalances.

Checkpoint Compensation Overactive Under-active
LPHC Low back arches Hip flexors
Erector spinae
Intrinsic core stabilizer
Shoulder complex Shoulder elevation Upper trap
Sternocleidomastoid
Levator scapulae
Mid / lower traps
Head Head migrates forward Upper traps

Sternocleidomastoid
Levator scapulae

Deep cervical flexors

Performance Assessments

Beyond static and dynamic assessments are performance assessments. Performance assessments are designed for clients looking to enhance their athletic ability. Performance assessments measure stability, muscular endurance, agility and strength.

Push-up test

The push-up test measures muscular endurance of the upper body and pushing muscles. It is designed to establish a benchmark of one’s pushing abilities. It’s ideal that you perform the push-up test in a standard push-up position however push-ups can be done on your knees.

To perform a push-up test you’ll need a friend or a way to record yourself.

  • Begin in a push-up position.
    • Your ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and head should be in a straight line.
  • Lower your body to the floor or touch your chest to your partner’s fist.
  • Repeat for 60 seconds or until exhaustion whichever comes first.
  • Record your progress.

Davies test

The Davies test is designed to measure upper body stability and agility. It’s not recommended for individuals who lack shoulder stability.

To perform the Davies test you’ll need a friend or a way to record yourself.

  • Place two pieces of tape on the floor 36 inches apart.
  • Start in a push-up position with one hand on each piece of tape.
  • Quickly move your right hand to touch your left hand for 15 seconds.
  • Once completed, quickly move your left hand to touch your right hand for 15 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.
  • Record your progress.

Shark skill test

The Shark skill test is designed to measure lower body agility and muscle control. It is a progression from single-leg squat assessments and may not be suitable for all individuals. This test requires a grid on the floor which is made up of 9 boxes. You will hop from box to box following a variety of patterns.

To perform the Shark skill test you’ll need a friend or a way to record yourself.

  • Begin by standing on one leg in the center of the grid with hands placed on your hips.
  • Hop to each box within the designated pattern returning to the center box.
    • Patterns can be entirely made up but be sure to remain consistent for measurement.
  • Perform each pattern twice on each foot recording your time and being mindful of any mistakes.
    • Add 1 second for each time you:
      • Touch the ground with the other foot
      • Remove your hands from your hips
      • Hop into the wrong square
      • Don’t return to the center square
  • Record your progress.

Bench press

The bench press assessment is for estimating one-rep maximums as well as training intensity.  It is an advanced assessment and not suitable for all individuals. If your goals are strength specific then this is an assessment that you’ll want to include. When performing this assessment it is essential that you adhere to strict form.

To perform the bench assessment you’ll need a friend or a way to record yourself.

  • Begin by getting into a bench press position.
    • Back flat on a bench, feet pointing straight ahead, lower back in a neutral position.
  • Start by warming up with a light weight that can be performed for 8-10 reps.
  • Rest for 60 seconds.
  • Add 10-20 pounds to the bar and perform 3-5 reps.
  • Rest for 120 seconds.
  • Repeat steps 3 and 4 until reaching failure between 3-5 reps.
  • Record your results.

Once you have completed the bench press assessment and you have your findings refer to a one-rep max estimation chart to calculate your one-rep max.

Squat

The squat assessment is for estimating one-rep maximums as well as training intensity.  It is an advanced assessment and not suitable for all individuals. If your goals are strength specific then this is an assessment that you’ll want to include. When performing this assessment it is essential that you adhere to strict form.

To perform the squat assessment you’ll need a friend or a way to record yourself. It is best to perform this assessment in a power rack or squat rack with safety supports.

  • Begin by entering a power rack or squat rack and positioning the bar on your upper traps.
  • Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed forward, knees in line with your toes and lower back in a neutral position.
  • Start by warming up with a light weight that can be performed for 8-10 reps.
  • Rest for 60 seconds.
  • Add 30-40 pounds to the bar and perform 3-5 reps.
  • Rest for 120 seconds.
  • Repeat steps 3 and 4 until reaching failure between 3-5 reps.
  • Record your results.

Once you have completed the squat assessment and you have your findings refer to a one-rep max estimation to calculate your one-rep max.

Implementation

Fitness assessments are the foundation of a training program. By understanding the various factors covered in this section you’ll have knowledge of your current status as well as any limitations or areas that require specific attention. Fitness assessments allow you to decide what mixture of flexibility, cardio, core, balance, stabilization, power and strength are necessary to meet your fitness goals.

Not all of the fitness assessments outlined in this section are necessary. Some may be more important than others. Deciding which ones are important to you is just as contextual as the program you design from the information gathered. Whichever assessments you decide you’ll want to make sure that you’ve recorded your information so that you can reference it for later as it will serve as a benchmark in measuring your progress.

Once you have completed your assessments you’ll want to review them and see what you’ve found. Are you someone that sits all day? Do you have imbalances in your muscles that require corrective stretching? Have you had injuries that prevent you from performing specific movements? Do you want to improve your strength? Are you a bodybuilder looking to increase hypertrophy? All of these are questions that will pertain to you, your goals and your fitness program.

Here is an example of completed fitness assessment.


ASSESSMENT

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