Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why Should a Person Assess and Reassess Their Fitness Level?

Many new and experienced members at a gym want to get active and fit; but most of them don’t know where to start. A simple answer is to examine where your current fitness level is, in order to define a starting point. The three parts of fitness are strength/resistance training, cardiovascular fitness and nutrition. So it would make sense to do some testing of your current fitness level in those areas, as well as attaining baseline measurements of your body composition.

When looking at your weight training fitness level there are a couple exercises that are used to assess your strength level. Most strength assessments test your larger muscle groups; such as bench press, leg press, shoulder press, and core strength. Even if you can’t bench a car, you should get your baseline strength measurement in your larger muscle groups so that you know where you started at.

Your cardiovascular fitness level represents how well you function doing aerobic exercises. This can be measured by doing a couple easy tests such as a VO2 sub maximal test, allowing you to see how well your body transports and uses the oxygen during exercise. There are numerous ways to test your V02 max; the most accurate is to participate in a treadmill V02 max test which digitally calculates your oxygen exchange rate as well as calories burned during exercise, although very beneficial, this test must be performed by a fitness professional and requires extra equipment. One test that is simple enough to perform on your own is the 12 min walk/run test. The 12 min walk/run test is a field test designed to measure the distance traveled over 12 minutes of running/walking. After the distance is recorded, you can use this number as a baseline to compare to, or further, you can estimate your V02 max by using a simple mathematical formula to determine where your cardiovascular fitness compares to collected normative data of those within your age and gender bracket.

Having strength and good cardio fitness is great, but if your diet does not compliment your exercise, you will find yourself spinning your wheels and going nowhere. Nutrition is a large part in becoming more fit and seeing the results of that. The easiest way to assess your diet is to see a nutritionist and fill out a food journal. This way your nutritionist can assess what you might need to modify in your daily diet. Another helpful tool is to figure out what your RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate) is. When you know what your RMR is, you will know how many calories YOUR body needs to function throughout the day. Some people’s RMR may be under the recommended 2000 kcal/day; meaning that if they eat the recommended 2000 kcal, they would be taking in extra calories, causing them to gain weight. On the other hand, if your RMR is over the recommended 2000 kcal, you might find yourself malnourished, making it hard to get a good workout in and stay healthy.

Finally, when looking to assess one’s baseline physical fitness and body, it is important to get complete body composition measurements. This is a quick and painless procedure that involves taking girth, body weight, and skin fold measurements to determine where your body fat percentage lies. Lastly to conclude your baseline measurements, it is wise to take a “before” picture. Taking these measurements usually scare people away because they don’t like see where they are, but that’s the reason they are starting a workout routine, they want to get better. There is no better way to help your self-confidence or hold you accountable than to physically and numerically see where you are, or where you came from.

Once you have found your starting point in all of the three areas of fitness assessed, along with your baseline body measurements (with a picture) written down, you can now start your workout regimen, whether that is through ActivTrax, with a personal fitness trainer, or workout buddy. You should attempt to re-measure every 3 months to see any progress you have made. These new measurements are important, not only to see the improvements your have made but so that you can keep changing your routines and diet as well. As you lose weight your calorie intake will change in addition to changes in your body measurements and strength. It is common for people to plateau in weight loss, which at many times can be discouraging, it is imperative to not obsess over this number. Many times people find that when reassessed, they may not see the number on the scale change but when measurements are taken they have lost body fat and inches all over their body.

Written by Jacob Galloway
Fitness Director, Seattle Athletic Club Downtown

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