Fitness Testing Irrationality

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The purpose of fitness testing is to determine the function

and health of an individual and an appropriate measure of

exercise demands at which an individual can begin.

Although this test usually is implemented prior to beginning

an exercise program, it can be used as an intermittent

measurement tool, to determine progress. Fitness testing

comprises the following:

HEALTH QUESTIONNAIRE

This phase addresses an individual’s health status/history.

The questionnaire is an important aspect of the test since

health problems must be addressed and brought to the

forefront. Moreover, it is important to have the waiver signed

to protect an instructor legally in the event of an unforeseen

and imperceptible mishap.

The remainder of the test, described below, holds little

validity as to a person’s overall function and health and the

results should be taken with some reservation. Before I

explain each aspect, consider that if a room in a house were

to be measured, to put in a new carpet or hardwood flooring,

the entire area would be measured with a tool designed for

the task, such as a measuring tape. One part of the floor

would not be measured and the remaining dimensions

guessed. Nor would a person measure with his or her foot

length then tell a flooring retailer that the living room is

twenty paces by thirty paces. This would be pointless since

any individual’s foot length is not accepted universally or an

accurate method of measurement – unlike the yard, meter,

or actual foot (twelve inches). With that in mind, we then can

consider the following steps in conducting a fitness test.

BODY COMPOSITION

The percentage of body fat is measured, usually with fat

calipers, since they are inexpensive compared to other body

composition tools. The more deconditioned (fat) a person,

or the better conditioned (muscle and leanness) a person,

the less accurate body fat percentage readings become if

calipers are used as the tool of measurement. Other

methods also lose their accuracy with very muscular and

obese individuals: the extent being relative to the device in

question.

Calipers are acceptable for determining millimeter (mm) fat

thickness, in order to establish data for comparison

purposes, but the readings, together with the mathematical

formulae provided to suggest “x” percentage of fat and

muscle, should be avoided in regard to body composition

constitution. (About eight years ago, I had a very experienced

caliper tester, who taught and certified instructors in fitness

testing, tell me that my body fat was close to 20%

[overweight] although my abdominals were quite visible and

the remainder of my body fairly lean and muscular.)

Moreover, mm thickness can vary significantly, and this

depends on the skill of the person who performs the test

and how and where the tissue to be measured is pinched.

Even experienced caliper users must be quick in application

and take a single reading since continual prodding and

pulling of the skin alters the architecture and pliability of the

tissues, thereby encouraging different results.

Nor will caliper body fat measurement account for areas not

measured. Some individuals, for example, have large

buttocks and carry an excessive amount of fat in that area. I

tend to carry it in the lower back and buttocks more than in

other areas, a distribution that is not a typical male

characteristic. Many men have leaner buttocks and carry

more fat in the front of the abdominals. Yet, the buttocks are

not measured with a caliper reading. Hence, how can a

mathematical equation be created so that allowances are

made for fat buttocks that may or may not exist and in any

measure?

MUSCULAR STRENGTH & ENDURANCE

With this test, trainees do not prove their ability on the leg

press or bench press, although doing so would not

disclose much information. Rather, strength is determined

with a hand-held dynamometer. In other words, the strength

of a person’s grip supposedly indicates how strong a

person is overall. Therefore, if a person has a relatively

weak grip, compared to the average population, and

regardless of the strength in the remaining muscle groups,

that person will score below average. The extent of an

individual’s grip is irrelevant to what can be achieved or

what has been achieved as governed by the function(s) of

the remainder of the body and its health status.

Although I regularly perform grip exercises, my grip is barely

above average for my sex and age group, even after more

than two decades of regular exercise and grasping heavy

barbells. At the time of my fitness test (mid 1990s), I was

one standard deviation below normal in grip strength,

although I could leg press several hundred pounds and

easily chin my body weight for at least fifteen repetitions. My

father, who was a practicing plumber at the time, used his

grip daily and scored almost three standard deviations

above normal, yet I could out-lift him in the gym and was

more fit overall. This example demonstrates that grip

strength is not an indication of strength or function in

general.

The muscular endurance test I experienced was measured

through a maximum count (uncontrolled,

crank-them-out-as-fast-as-you-can) push-ups and sit-ups

or stomach crunches. After twenty push-ups, my upper body

was heavily blood engorged and I could not continue. After

eighteen stomach crunches, my abdominals also were

fatigued significantly. Again, I scored below normal since I

was used to a short tension time while under intense strain

when I exercised, including abdominal exercises. I did not

practice high repetition push-ups or stomach crunches, and

this reflected the SAID Principle in my results. Although I

had good pectoral and abdominal development, and I could

lift heavy weights relative to most other people, apparently I

was not in very good condition as far as muscular

endurance was concerned.

Does it matter if a person has poor endurance in the

push-up and sit-up, since rate of fatigue may have some

issues with the contention? What if the goal is to increase

lean muscle and strength, in that the environment needs to

be anaerobic, and such an environment does not require

the performance of dozens of consecutive repetitions with a

focus on endurance?

FLEXIBILITY

I have very good flexibility in some muscle groups,

particularly around my shoulder joints and ankles, and to a

lesser degree my hips. Yet, and because of laziness on my

part, I never sustained good flexibility in my hamstrings,

although it was attained once. I easily can perform very

deep squats, but stiff-legged toe-touches are

uncomfortable. Unfortunately, for me, flexibility of the

hamstring muscles was tested. The stretch was tested

with me sitting on the floor and reaching forward with locked

knees. I was about 2-3 inches from reaching my toes and

scored below normal in flexibility.

I never understood the need or desire to touch one’s toes

while keeping the knees locked since I do not recall having

to perform such a feat in my activities of daily living.

Moreover, with locked knees, excessive forward bending

increases the compression and strain on the lumbar discs,

an unhealthy practice for some people if performed

regularly.

Further, what bearing would tight hamstrings have on

exercises other than the stiff-legged deadlift and, to a lesser

degree, a few other lower body movements such as deep

squats? There is little purpose behind this testing except

that the authorities who created the test felt that flexibility had

to be tested in some manner. Therefore, rather than test the

range-of-motion of all joints, it is easier to focus on a limited

area of the body that typically is tight and inflexible.

CARDIO-RESPIRATORY FITNESS

The person being tested moves three steps up, then two

steps back on a tiered platform to a beat played on a

cassette music machine. If this is accomplished for a

specific period, without having the heart rate rise above the

maximum rate allowed for the person’s age group, the next

level of step-up intensity, at a faster beat, is attempted. This

process continues until the person’s heart rate exceeds the

maximum established for that age group.

What I noticed is that heart rate had much to do with the

person’s being used to an activity. I was not used to

stepping up and down on steps to a predetermined beat,

and so a considerable percentage of effort was utilized in

that skill. Had I practiced only a few times prior to being

tested, I could have increased my proficiency.

Nonetheless, I did score two standard deviations above

normal for cardiorespiratory fitness. Ironically, I never

performed any cardio-type exercise at the time, only weight

training, yet my wife regularly used the Stairmaster for cardio

exercise and scored lower. It must be considered that her

leg length was much shorter and she had to exert greater

effort to climb the same stair height. Consequently, this test

did not take into account the size of the person relative to the

steps, and this is similar to the mechanical and leverage

differences between a short person and a tall person who

lift the same weight off the floor.

As with any other physiological factors, the ability to improve

cardiovascular fitness is limited – more so than muscular

strength or muscle mass. That is not to suggest that cardio

efficiency cannot be improved upon, but only to a marginal

degree, although this would depend on how ‘deconditioned’

a person is. The fact remains, that either a person was

born with the ability to run a marathon or not. Furthermore,

the goal of the individual may not be to enhance cardio

fitness to an optimal extent, and this test would not hold

much relevance as a result.

SUMMARY

It has been argued that a fitness test, at least, provides a

benchmark for future comparisons, to see if an individual

has made improvement. However, that is the purpose of

exercise progression and accurate record keeping of

workouts.

Moreover, after my twenty years experience in this field, this

particular standardized industry test has never helped me

make a decision in exercise prescription. I could never

reason how it could. If someone is obese, it is obvious that

he or she requires additional cardio work and greater

volume and frequency to help reduce fat stores; and more

attention needs to be directed toward safety during exercise

in regard to the effects on the heart and joints. It is

unnecessary to have an obese person fail at one or two

pushups and sit-ups to help decide exercise prescription.

Other functional idiosyncrasies will present themselves

during the initial workouts, such as joint ROM and flexibility

throughout the entire body, ability to sustain constant activity

(muscular endurance and cardio endurance), and a

trainee’s strength level throughout all muscles. These are

far more accurate and usable data than those provided by a

very restricted and limited fitness test that examines specific

abilities that may not reflect other abilities. In accordance

with the SAID Principle, the results of any test reflect only the

ability that is tested.

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