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Edition 54 - Easy Testing Part 1 of 2: How Fit Are You Really?
‘How fit are you?’
It’s quite a deep question isn’t it? What do we mean by fit? Are we talking about how far you can run or how fast you can run? Are we talking about how much you can lift or how many times you can lift it? How strong your muscles look or how strong your muscles are? There are so many ways to answer this question you might not know where to start, so when it comes time to say ‘right - I want to get fit’, you might not actually know what you need to do in order to achieve that.
It’s very easy to get bogged down in the noise around the fitness industry and start shooting wildly in the wrong direction at your target. For example, wanting to get stronger, then picking up a training programme that has you doing 15 reps for each exercise - no matter how long you do it for, it will never make you strong. Or a footballer wanting to get fitter for the upcoming season, and their coach has them doing long slow jogs to get them there.
The reality is a football match consists of maximal sprint after maximal sprint, with very brief recoveries - these players are in for a shock when the season comes.
So, how do you work out where to focus your energy when you train? How can you establish which aspects of fitness you are lacking in and need the most attention? What should your training look like in order to divert your efforts to the correct training approach? Well the best place to start is with this all-encompassing list of 9 types of physical fitness qualities we can train for, courtesy of Dr. Andy Galpin’s guest appearance on the Huberman Lab Podcast.
These are often referred to in the strength and conditioning industry as ‘buckets’, and within your prescribed training, whether aware of it or not - you will be filling certain buckets depending on the specifics of the work you are carrying out. The great thing we are establishing here is simplification - there are thousands of exercises out there, different training concepts, thousands of PT’s, coaches and influencers giving conflicting information - however, all you need to know, is that any type of activity you carry out in the gym is only ever going to boil down to 1 of these 9 things.
The Buckets That Need Filling
1. Skill/Technical Execution
6. Muscular Endurance
7. Anaerobic Capacity
8. Vo2 max/Aerobic Capacity
9. Steady State Endurance
Notice that you didn’t see ‘fat loss’ or ‘weight loss’ on this list. This is because reduction in body fat happens as a result of some of the physiological adaptations to exercise listed above - it is a byproduct. For example, the presence of muscle (hypertrophy) increases resting metabolic rate, while strength and speed training cause changes to the nervous system and neural pathways which also bring about body fat burning. So rather than worrying about what the scales or body fat callipers say, focus on filling your buckets, the rest will follow!
So what do they all mean, and how do you work out where you stand? Today we are going to focus on the first 4 physical qualities, then next week we will cover the remaining 5.
1. Skill - Technical execution of a given movement. This relates to proprioception (awareness of the location of our moving body parts in relation to space and time), motor unit recruitment, neural pathways etc.
What might filling this bucket look like? Purposeful rehearsal of a movement in pursuit of best possible form means we are filling this bucket.
How to measure where you’re at: Film a movement
Upper push - eg. Push up
Upper pull - eg. Pull up / Bent Row
Lower push - eg. Squat
Lower pull - eg. Deadlift
Observing the key joints - shoulder, elbow, lower back, hip, knee, ankle
Film yourself perform 3 reps per angle, and you are looking for 4 things:
Symmetry - front/back left/right
Stability - controlled (no shaking) pause and control
Awareness - be aware of technique
ROM - full range of motion
Against these 4 things, you will give yourself 1 of 3 scores:
Close to perfect
Not putting words in your mouth but, close to perfect?
2. Speed - Maximum velocity in a given movement or series of movements. PS. The reason we don't have an 'agility' bucket, is because it would fall under the umbrella of speed. Although you are measuring change of direction, you are most importantly measuring ‘how fast’ these changes of direction happen. Speed (to me at least) is simply ‘how fast?’.
What might filling this bucket look like? Measuring bar velocity during a squat jump.
How to measure where you’re at: Not essential for non-athletes, but eg. 30m sprint time.
3. Power - The manifestation of strength combined with speed (force x velocity). To increase power is to increase both the load of what you are moving AND the speed at which you can move it. I could ask you to throw a 2kg ball at a wall as hard as you can, and it may travel fast. But perhaps you could only throw it fast because it was light? I give you a heavier ball and it travels much slower - it is too heavy for you to generate any speed. The first is too easy, the last is too hard, and neither are making your power output very high. Somewhere in between is an optimal load you can tap into to maximise your power output. Here we can ‘access’ our power more readily, train it effectively, and use it for performance.
What might filling this bucket look like? Box jumping for height or broad jumping for distance.
How to measure where you’re at:
Broad jump - This is jumping horizontally for distance from 2 feet planted. You should be able to jump your height (15% reduction for women). So if you are a 1.85m male like me, that is how far I should be able to jump. If you are a 1.65m female you should be able to clear 1.4m at least. Measure from the tip of the toe on take-off, to heel on landing (furthest point back).
Vertical jump - Put your hands together and overhead and touch a high wall. You need to mark the wall (pencil?). Then jump as high as you can and tap the wall (you need to have something on your fingertips that will mark the wall, like coloured chalk). Measure the distance between your standing reach height and jump height marked by your fingertips. 24 inches or higher is the goal for males, and females minus 15% (around 20 inches).
4. Strength - Strength is only about one thing. Force. 1) How heavy is the thing that requires moving? 2) Can you move it? When you think about strength, you might need to ignore some false preconceptions you might have about what strength is, for example strong = big/muscular, strong = lots of repetitions, 100 press ups etc. Nope. Those are different things. Your strength is defined by the absolute maximum amount of weight you can lift (or squeeze) for 1 rep.
What might filling this bucket look like?: Hand grip dynamometer, dead hang from a bar, 1RM leg extension or a goblet squat hold.
How to measure where you’re at:
Grip strength test: Using hand grip dynamometer. Goal is a minimum 40kg (ideally 60kg +)
Dead hang test: Minimum: 30 sec, Good: 30-50 sec, Ideal: 60+ sec
Leg extension test - Can you 1 rep your bodyweight on the leg extension machine? If you don’t want to attempt your full bodyweight, set it to a lighter weight and attempt 3 reps, then use a 1RM calculator to work out your 1 rep max. Eg. If I weigh 80kg, I can work at 75kg but need to get 3 reps out.
Goblet Squat: 45 sec hold with a kettlebell or dumbbell 50% of bodyweight - Or for beginners, try a 30s hold with 33% of BW.
“The methods are many but the principles are few” -
Movement of the Week:
Try at least 1 test for each of the 4 aspects of fitness!