Before beginning or modifying a fitness program, it’s important to take some baseline physical measurements. Re-measure periodically. That way you’ll know whether you’re making progress, holding steady, or regressing. Seeing improvement in the numbers also helps to maintain motivation.
Not taking measurements would be like starting a weight loss plan without a baseline and subsequent weights.
Around this time last year, I finished a home-based, 15-week, six-days-a-week fitness program called Core Performance, designed by Mark Verstegen. I was pleased with the results. The only problem is that it’s very time-consuming. Perhaps fitness just has to be that way.
I regret that I didn’t take any fitness measurements before and after starting Core Performance.
For much of the last year, I modified Core Performance to a thrice weekly, then twice weekly program, until a couple months ago when I pretty much abandoned it. I miss the benefits now, but just didn’t want to put in the time to achieve them. In other words, I lost my motivation.
Who needs this much flexibility?
Intellectually, I know that regular exercise is important
. I’m starting to get motivated again. Not sure why. Perhaps because I’ve read that you can be fairly fit with as little as 30 minutes of exercise a week. I’m not convinced yet. I’ll be test-driving some of these time-efficient programs soon.
This new style of fitness is promoted by the likes of Dr. Doug McGuff, Chris Highcock, Skyler Tanner, Nasim Taleb, and Jonathan Bailor, among others.
What to Measure
- Blood pressure
- Resting heart rate (first thing in the AM before getting out of bed)
- Waist circumference (upright and supine)
- Body mass index
- Mid-arm circumference, both arms, hanging relaxed at your sides
- Maximal calf circumference, both calves, while standing at ease
- Maximum number of consecutive pull-ups
- Maximum number of consecutive push-ups
- Maximum number of consecutive sit-ups
- Run/walk one mile as fast as you can
- Maximum vertical jump (stand by a tall wall then jump and reach up as high as you can with one arm, noting the highest point above ground your fingers can reach)
- Can you touch your toes? Stand up straight, locking knees in extension, then bend over at your waist and touch your toes with your fingertips. If you can touch toes, can you flatten your palms against the floor? If you can’t reach your toes, measure the distance from your fingertips to the floor.
- Optional blood work for special situations: fasting blood sugar, hemoglobin A1c, triglycerides, cholesterols (total, HDL, LDL, sub-fractions)
The particular aspects of fitness these measure are strength and endurance in major muscle groups, cardiovascular and pulmonary endurance, a little flexibility, and a hint of body composition.
You may appreciate an assistant to help you measure some of these.
Record your numbers. Re-test some or all of these periodically. If you’re in fairly poor condition at the outset, you’ll see some improved numbers after a couple or three weeks of a good exercise program. It takes months to build significant muscle mass; you’ll see improved strength and endurance before mass.
Am I missing anything?
Steve Parker, M.D.
Update April 4, 2012: I added the sit-ups today after finding out that’s one of the measurements the U.S. Army monitors in soldiers twice yearly.