When I first started attending the gym regularly, I had no clue what I was doing there. Naturally, I hopped on the cardio machines, put in my time, and left when I was sweaty and finished.
One of my favorite stories to tell people is the story of the first time I ever saw Erik in the gym. I worked with him at the time, but didn’t know him that well. So I was super embarrassed when he saw me–my overweight pudgy self–on the treadmill trying to run.
My face was as red as you can imagine any person’s might be after extreme exhaustion. Except–I had been on the treadmill less than 10 minutes and I was trying really, really hard to run a mile without stopping. I couldn’t get past four minutes without stopping to walk.
And now this handsome guy I worked with was walking my way. I still remember…and I’m not sure why…but I remember wearing these ugly blue long heavy workout pants that day. And an oversized tee to hide all the jiggle, of course. I was a mess.
And Erik walks up to me and says, “Hey! I didn’t know you worked out here!”
Yeah, just got a membership last week.
“Cool!” He replies. “Maybe we can lift together sometime.”
Sure, I thought. Or maybe I said it, I don’t remember much other than just being embarrassed about my red face and pissed about the fact that I couldn’t yet run a mile.
Lift? Of course I wasn’t going to lift. I was at the gym to get smaller. Not make my already thick thighs bulkier. Pffttt. (Insert eye-roll.)
So when I plateaued a few months later after realizing that I STILL didn’t look the way I wanted to, my belly hadn’t stopped jiggling yet, my thighs still gave me heat rash on hot days, and the only thing I could accomplish at this point was a few steady miles with a crap ton of knee, hip, low back, and foot pain….
Erik CONVINCED me that I needed to start lifting.
Sigh. Fine. (Insert another eye roll.) This whole cardio thing clearly wasn’t working well, or fast enough.
“Lifting is the only way to meet the goals you’re looking for. You need muscle…muscle that burns fat. You need to eat more protein, and you need to start lifting more like a dude if you ever want to get small.”
Or something like that. It made no sense to me. But he convinced me to let him train me. I obviously had ZERO clue what to do with a weight, so why not?
Erik checked me out.
The first thing that Erik did was assess my fitness. I didn’t realize what he was doing at the time, but he was figuring out my strengths, weaknesses, and where I wanted–or needed–to focus on in order to achieve my results.
We already knew my cardio fitness was at least decent at this point. I could finally run a mile (plus a few) without stopping. So all that running and ellipticalling (I think I just invented a new word) improved my cardiovascular health a bit. All that was left was to test my strength.
I remember Erik raved about my “natural strength.”
I benched over 100 lbs in my first max out session. (I don’t think the bar went all the way to my chest, but heck, it was the first time I held a barbell like that!) Erik said my squat form needed no work, and that my body was built to lift. I was excited. I did something well! I was a natural?! And at something so badass!!!
What did he do next?
He put together a program–a Wendler style (powerlifting and strength/muscle-building) training program that we did together. And he based this whole program around what I was and wasn’t able to already do. He knew what I needed in my life and developed a plan for me. I didn’t know how to just walk into the gym and pick up a weight and throw it around and get results. Does anyone when she first starts? But Erik was able to assess my needs and was able to tell me where we needed to start and together, we set specific goals to finish.
Let us help YOU set and meet YOUR goals.
My point is–I talk to people–women especially, who are in this same situation. They want to change their bodies but they aren’t sure where to start. They do all they know how to do, and that’s running or ellipticalling. 😉
Am I speaking to you?
The difference between you and me, is that I was lucky enought to have Erik walk up to my red-faced self in those stupid blue pants that one day several years ago. I got the help I didn’t initially ask for or even expect; yet, it turned my life around in more ways than I can explain here. You may not have this, or him, in your life to change, inspire, and motivate you. But guess what you do have?
You’ve got something better.
Both of US.
We want you to get started, if you haven’t yet, on your journey to improve your strength and better your health. So that’s why we’ve put together a fail-proof fitness assessment for you to use to assess your cardio and strength abilities and we’ll help you figure out where you need to begin.
I call it fail proof because I’ve been using it for years. And it’s the same test that several fitness trainers across the globe use–it’s universal for acquiring a basic level of fitness for any person. It’s not hard to do and you can use it on yourself, your significant other, or your BFF. In fact, it’s probably best to do it with a partner so you can make sure your numbers are accurate.
BTW–if you’re already in good shape and kickin’ it in the gym, you don’t have to assess yourself, however I will say it’s really fun to see where you fall in regards to “average, advanced,” etc. I performed the test on myself less than a year ago and was actually surprised that my cardio was advanced. I guess I tout that I hate cardio so much that I expected to be about average, but who’d have thought all that extra CrossFit I love really works?! 😉
Here’s what you do:
These are very standard tests and should always be done in this order if possible:
- Assess your resting heart rate and blood pressure (if possible)
- Grab your true resting heart rate first thing in the morning when you wake up, BEFORE you get out of bed. Using your artery in your wrist, count the beats for one full minute. A normal heart rate is between 60-100 BPM and we’ll use this number for a comparison against your cardiovascular test as well as a measurement for improvement in health.
- If you are able to have your blood pressure taken by a professional, please do so. One in three Americans is borderline or has high blood pressure and you could be considered “at risk” for certain exercises. It’s really important to know your blood pressure. Normal BP is typically 120/80.
- Assess your body composition by using a skin-fold caliper, waist-to-hip ratios, girth (circumference) measurements, or other readily available methods.
- For a quick, at home assessment, the easiest way to do this, in my opinion, is with the waist-to-hip measurement. Studies show that the more fat that is stored in the waist area, the higher the person is at risk for diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic disorders.
- The test is easy: divide the waist circumference (taken at the most narrow part of torso) by the hip circumference (taken at the maximum posterior protrusion of the buttocks). If the ratio is greater than or equal to 0.95 for men younger than 60 and 1.03 for men older than 60, the individual is considered obese. If the ratio is greater than or equal to 0.86 for a woman under the age 60 and 0.90 for women over 60, the individual is considered obese.
- Assess your cardiorespiratory fitness by using either the Rockport Walking Test or the 3-Minute YMCA Step Test.
- The Rockport Walking Test is a great way to test your cardio health while getting a bit of decent exercise too! Simply warm up (lightly), and on a flat track or treadmill, walk one full mile at a quick pace. As soon as the mile is completed, immediately take your pulse using the artery in your wrist. Count for 10 seconds, then multiply that number by 6. Write this number down. (Assessment details below)
- The 3-Minute YMCA Step Test is a great way to test your cardio health if you are limited on time. You will need a step/bench/etc., that is 12 inches in height, a watch/timer, and a metronome set to 96 beats per minute (you can easily download a metronome app on your phone. I use “Metro Timer” with all my clients.) Start the metronome and using a “step-up, step-down” pattern, step up and down for three minutes. You don’t have to switch your lead foot unless you want to, but you must stay on beat and not swing your arms, talk, or do anything else that would raise your heart beat. One thing that helps my client is the phrase “up, up, down, down.” They repeat this to themselves while stepping up, up, down, down. At the end of three minutes, sit down on the step and assess your pulse in your wrist for one full minute. Take note of how many beats you counted at the end of the minute.
- Assessing your cardiovascular heart health:
- For the Rockport Walking Test, assessment can be tricky, but I found a GREAT online calculator that you can use to assess your health after your walk: http://walking.about.com/library/cal/ucrockport.htm.
- For the Step Test, see the charts below:
- Assess your muscular fitness with some push-ups! I know, it totally sounds like I’m making this up, but I promise I’m not. The easiest way to test your own muscular endurance is through a push-up test.
- For men, a standard push-up is tested: on hands and toes–no knees. Perform as many standard push-ups as possible without rest at the top or bottom (bringing the chest about one fist-length away from the floor) and the test is over when no more push-ups can be performed with proper form.
- For women, the same rules apply except all women must perform push-ups on her knees. (Sorry badass ladies–it’s standard.)
- Other tests, such as the Dynamic Bench Press Test (35 lbs for women, 80 lbs for men, pressing to a 60 beats per minute metronome for one minute) to see how many reps can be performed before hitting failure, the sit-up test (as many as possible in one minute), and the partial curl-up test (reaching forward with fingers, arms by side, set to a 50 bpm metronome for one minute) are all popular strength tests and you may choose these if you wish. I like the push-up test because it’s simple, effective, and can be done anywhere without any added equipment.
- Get screened for weaknesses and limitations before starting your fitness journey. If you’re concerned about any possible risks in starting a fitness program, definitely see a doctor. You can see your primary physician, a chiropractor, or physical therapist–depending on your concerns and even whom you trust. I rely on PTs and Chiros more than almost any other health professional. And if you purchased our Total Health and Fitness Makeover book and Workbook, you already have the screening test written by Dr. David Glazer, and the beginner’s guide to fitness safety by PTA Kate Zanoni.
So you’re officially assessed. What do you do now?
Simple. If you’ve already been training for a while, it’s easy to see how far you’ve come and where you need focus on next. Write down your goals!
Let’s say your cardio is above average but your strength is only average. You obviously don’t want to cut cardio, but you probably want to up your strength sessions a bit. And vice versa if you’re uber strong but your cardio sucks! It’s pretty common sense for those who have been working out already.
But what if you’re brand new to fitness? Where do you even begin with any of this?
If your cardio test is lower than average, check out this post that Erik put together for beginning exercisers. This is where you need to start in order to boost your heart health.
Assess, Get Fit, and STAY FIT.
When Erik “checked me out” and started working to make me this little ball of muscle that he did, he also told me things about myself early in the game that I desperately needed to hear, yet stupidly chose to ignore:
- Roll your feet out before you do any cardio on golf balls. Looks like all that cardio gave you plantar fasciitis. Keep the golf balls in the freezer to make it more effective.
- Take time off to rest and recover when doing all this lifting. Rest is the best thing you can do for muscle growth.
- Always warm up and cool down so that you don’t get too tight and stiff.
- Drink TONS of water and keep your potassium up. Your calves are super tight–you need to stretch and roll them more and eat lots of bananas!
When I first attacked my new fitness plan, I was excited and I didn’t want to slow down. I didn’t take Erik’s advice as well as I should have and have suffered some consequences along the way. In the next few weeks, I will go into more detail about what happens when you don’t slow down and take good advice to heart. 😉 Make sure you’ve subscribed so that you don’t miss our posts! (Subscribing is free, EASY, and it really helps our Google ratings so we would really appreciate it if you subscribe and then beg your friends and family to do the same.) 😉
And don’t forget, if you haven’t yet picked up a copy of our Total Health and Fitness Makeover, we’ll be rereleasing it soon! SUBSCRIBE to our StrongFigure Community for more details!
One way that several of our readers begin their fitness journey is through our Strong Figure Weekly Conditioning Workouts. These workouts (I post three each Monday on the blog but ONE each DAY on INSTAGRAM!) help supplement a lifting a program–meaning they’re quick total body conditioning workouts that boost your overall fitness–and are perfect to add to a strength program; but they’re also great for the beginner, the busy bee with not a lot of time to spare, those who like to work out at home, or those with limited equipment or gym memberships. Try a couple on for size and don’t forget to pin them or save them to your phone so that you have the on the go! (Or to send to your friends and try to get them to do the workouts with you.) 😉