Fitness Shape

Fitness Shape

No mile-long run required.

By K. Aleisha Fetters
May 8, 2017

Remember that sit-and-reach test from grade school? Or the timed mile? All kinds of dread! But you don’t have to relive your childhood PE class to get a read on your current state of fitness. Our quick (and far more accurate) assessments will show you where you’re truly at now—and how to take your body to the next level.

Fitness Shape

Being able to tally double-digit miles in an afternoon is impressive, but how long you can huff and puff isn’t actually the ultimate test of aerobic fitness. What is? Your aerobic capacity, or how efficiently your body uses oxygen. Also known as VO2 max, it’s directly linked to superior heart health, exercise recovery, and overall fitness potential, says Pamela Geisel, a certified strength and conditioning specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery Tisch Sports Performance Center in New York City. Traditional VO2 max tests are done on a treadmill and are notoriously intense (if you’re not a runner, you’ll likely fail), but a 2016 study found that the average person can use a simple bench test to get a picture of how well their heart recovers following aerobic exercise.

THE TEST: THREE-MINUTE BENCH STEP

Stand facing a 12-inch-tall bench and set a metronome to 96 beats per minute (download the Metronome by Soundbrenner, free, iOS and Android). Start a timer for three minutes, then place one foot on the step (a), followed by the other to stand on the bench (b); step back down onto the floor along with the cadence—up, up, down, down. Continue until the three minutes are up. When the timer sounds, stop and count your pulse for the next 60 seconds.

HOW’D YOU DO?

Excellent: Your heart rate is less than 100
Average: Your heart rate is between 100 and 115
Needs Improvement: Your heart rate is greater than 115    

BOOST YOUR SCORE!

Increase your aerobic capacity in as little as six weeks with this high-intensity interval workout: three times a week, get on a treadmill and run at a near-max pace for four minutes. Rest for three minutes, then repeat for four total rounds. A recent study found that this approach was better than other HIIT protocols at improving VO2 max.

Fitness Shape

Ah, the pushup: the queen of the upper-body exercises. Right? Well, not quite. While pushups may be one of the most efficient moves, seeing how many you can bang out (modified-on-knees or not) isn’t so reflective of your overall upper-body strength. When it comes to fending off shoulder injuries, promoting good posture, and rocking everyday feats of strength, it’s more crucial to pinpoint how well you can pull. That means you want to be checking the flip side of your body (your back), an area in which many women are actually the weakest, says certified strength and conditioning specialist Tony Gentilcore, founder of the CORE personal training gym in Boston.

THE TEST: INVERTED TRX ROW

Lie on your back underneath a TRX; the handles should hang just higher than arm’s length above the floor. With your arms extended, grab the handles, palms facing each other, and lift your upper body a few inches off the floor (a). Your body should form a straight line from head to heels. Bend your elbows to pull your body up toward the handles (b). Once the handles are on either side of your chest, pause, then return to start. That’s one rep; continue for as many reps as you can.

HOW’D YOU DO?

Excellent: Completed 8 or more reps
Average: Completed 5 to 7 reps
Needs Improvement: Completed 0 to 4 reps           

BOOST YOUR SCORE!

For each pushing exercise (cable press, pushup, bench press) that you perform during your weekly routine, do two pulling exercises (assisted chinup, single-arm row), says Gentilcore. This will get your back strength where it needs to be without neglecting your chest. Another option: Complete our 15-minute back workout three times a week.

No weights? No problem. You can still sculpt your arms with these 20 exercises:

Fitness Shape

You may think of bottom-half strength as a collective effort—thighs, hammies, glutes, and calves, get in formation—but it really can all be zeroed in on your booty. “The gluteus maximus is the keystone of your body,” says certified strength and conditioning specialist Bret Contreras, Ph.D., a sports scientist renowned for building enviable backsides. They make up the single-largest muscle group and are the team captain when it comes to your lower-body power and performance. Testing one leg at a time requires more strength and stability (the fewer muscles splitting the work, the more each has to pitch in). Plus, imbalances between the two sides are easier to spot than if you were to do a more traditional two-legged lower-body test (like banging out a set of squats).

THE TEST: SINGLE-LEG HIP THRUST

Sit on the floor with your back against the long side of a 12- to 14-inch-tall flat bench. Rest your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, and your arms straight out on the bench. Lift your right foot off the floor (a). Keeping your face forward, push through your left heel and squeeze your glutes to raise your butt off the floor until your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees; your left shin should be vertical and your chin tucked to your chest (b). Pause, then lower to start. That’s one rep. Complete as many reps as you can while maintaining proper form. If you begin to twist as you rise, or fail to reach full hip extension, that’s the end of the test. Repeat on the opposite side.

HOW’D YOU DO?

Excellent: Completed more than 20 reps per leg
Average: Completed 20 reps per leg
Needs Improvement: Completed fewer than 20 reps per leg

BOOST YOUR SCORE!

You need three glute strengtheners: the hip thrust, squat, and deadlift. Try variations of this trio three days a week, contreras says. (One side stronger? doing one-leg types of those same exercises—like this move above—can help even things out.) Most essential is sticking to enough weight or reps to just barely eke out your last rep with proper form.

Fitness Shape

All these years, you’ve been taught it’s crucial to touch your toes. Pretzel-ing up in yoga may look cool, but flexibility doesn’t reflect how you move in real life, says kinesiologist Dean Somerset, a certified strength and conditioning specialist. How well you can move with control through a range of motion—your mobility—is what determines your ability to safely perform an exercise or get off the floor without grunting. One area in which women tend to be flexible but not mobile: their hip flexors. Trainers often test them by having clients lie on a table and hold one knee, letting the other hang, but that checks passive mobility (when the muscles are lax). This test looks at whether you can actively contract the muscles—a more complete picture, says Somerset. (The Slim, Sexy, Strong Workout DVD is the fast, flexible workout you’ve been waiting for!)

THE TEST: BACK-TO-WALL HIP FLEXION

Stand with your back against a wall, feet together and about six inches away from the wall. Press your lower back into the wall so your entire spine is in contact with it. Grab one knee and pull it to your chest as close as you comfortably can (a). While keeping a flat back, let go of your knee. Try not to let it drop at all (b). Repeat on the opposite side.

HOW’D YOU DO?

Excellent: Your knees stay in place for longer than 15 seconds
Average: Your knees stay in place for up to 15 seconds
Needs Improvement: Your knees drop as soon as you let go

BOOST YOUR SCORE!

We think about stretching only during workouts (if at all), but you’ll get way more reward if you add it in throughout the day. The test here doubles as an awesome move for strengthening your hip flexors at the end of their range of motion, where they tend to be weakest, Somerset says. At least twice daily, perform five three-second holds per side.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Women’s Health. For more great advice, pick up a copy of the issue on newsstands now!

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