Ready to start a fitness program? Measure your fitness level with a few simple tests. Then use the results to set fitness goals and track your progress.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

You probably have some idea of how fit you are. But knowing the specifics can help you set realistic fitness goals, monitor your progress and maintain your motivation. Once you know your starting point, you can plan where you want to go. Get started with the simple assessment below.

Generally, fitness is assessed in four key areas: aerobic fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body composition. To do your assessment, you'll need:

  • A watch that can measure seconds or a stopwatch
  • A cloth measuring tape
  • A yardstick
  • Heavy-duty tape
  • A scale
  • Someone to help you record your scores and count repetitions

You'll also need a pencil or pen and paper to record your scores as you complete each part of the assessment. You can record your scores in a notebook or journal, or save them in a spreadsheet or another electronic format.

Your heart rate at rest is a measure of heart health and fitness. For most adults, a healthy heart rate is 60 to 100 beats a minute.

To check your pulse over your carotid artery, place your index and middle fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. To check your pulse at your wrist, place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery, located on the palm side of your wrist below the thumb.

When you feel your pulse, look at your watch and count the number of beats in 10 seconds. Multiply this number by 6 to get your heart rate per minute. Let's say you count 15 beats in 10 seconds. Multiply 15 by 6 for a total of 90 beats a minute.

The target heart rate zone is an increase in your heart rate — 50 to 75 percent of the maximum heart rate for your age — great enough to give your heart and lungs a good workout.

You can use the target heart rate zone as a guide for making sure your exercise is intense enough. If you are not reaching your target zone, you may need to increase the intensity. If you are achieving a target rate in the lower end of the target rate zone, you can set goals for gradually increasing your target.

If you already exercise regularly, you can stop to check your heart rate periodically during an aerobic workout. If you do not exercise regularly, you can do a simple test by checking your heart rate after a brisk 10-minute walk.

Target heart rate zone
Age Target heart rate zone: Beats a minute Maximum heart rate: Beats a minute
25 98-146 195
35 93-138 185
45 88-131 175
55 83-123 165
65 78-116 155

Another strategy to assess your aerobic fitness is to time yourself on a 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) run or jog. The following times are generally considered indicators of a good fitness level based on age and sex. A lower time generally indicates better aerobic fitness, and a higher time suggests a need for improvement.

Good fitness results based on timing of 1.5-mile run
Age Women: Time in minutes Men: Time in minutes
25 13 11
35 13.5 11.5
45 14 12
55 16 13
65 17.5 14

Pushups can help you measure muscular strength and endurance. If you're just starting a fitness program, do modified pushups on your knees. If you're generally fit, do classic pushups. For both types:

  • Lie facedown on the floor with your elbows bent and your palms next to your shoulders.
  • Keeping your back straight, push up with your arms until your arms are extended.
  • Lower your body until your chin touches the floor.
  • Do as many pushups as you can until you need to stop for rest.

The following counts are generally considered indicators of a good fitness level based on age and sex. If your pushup count is below the target number, the target can serve as a goal to work toward. Counts above the targets indicate better fitness.

Good fitness results for pushup counts
Age Women: Number of pushups Men: Number of pushups
25 20 28
35 19 21
45 14 16
55 10 12
65 10 11

The situp test measures the strength and endurance of your abdominal muscles. Here's how to do the test:

  • Lie on the floor with knees bent at a 90-degree angle and feet flat on the floor. A partner holds your feet firmly to the floor. Another option is to place your feet on the wall so your knees and hips are bent at a 90-degree angle. Cross your arms across your chest. This is the down position.
  • To move into the up position, raise your head and shoulders off the floor. Don't lift your buttocks off the floor.
  • Return to the down position.
  • Each time you move to the up position is counted as one situp.
  • Do as many situps as you can in one minute.

The following counts can generally be considered indicators of a good fitness level based on age and sex. If your situp count is below the target number, the target can serve as a goal to work toward. Counts above the targets can indicate better fitness.

Good fitness results for situp test
Age Women: Number of situps Men: Number of situps
25 39 44
35 30 40
45 25 35
55 21 30
65 12 24

The sit-and-reach test is a simple way to measure the flexibility of the back of your legs, hips and lower back. Here's how:

  • Place a yardstick on the floor. Secure it by placing a piece of tape across the yardstick at the 15-inch (38-centimeter) mark.
  • Place the soles of your feet even with the 15-inch (38-centimeter) mark on the yardstick.
  • Slowly reach forward as far as you can, exhaling as you reach and holding the position for at least 1 second.
  • Note the distance you reached.
  • Repeat the test two more times.
  • Record the best of the three reaches.

The following measurements can generally be considered indicators of good flexibility based on age and sex. If your outcome is below the target number, the target can indicate a goal to work toward. Measurements above the targets can indicate better flexibility.

Good results for sit-and-reach test
Age Women: Furthest reach Men: Furthest reach
25 21.5 in. (55 cm) 19.5 in. (50 cm)
35 20.5 in. (52 cm) 18.5 in. (47 cm)
45 20 in. (51 cm) 17.5 in. (44 cm)
55 19 in. (48 cm) 16.5 in. (42 cm)
65 17.5 in. (44 cm) 15.5 in. (39 cm)

If the circumference of your waist is greater than your hips — you carry more weight above the hips — you have an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The risk is even greater for women if waist circumference is 35 inches (89 centimeters) or more and for men if waist circumference is 40 inches (102 centimeters) or more.

With a cloth measuring tape, measure your waist circumference just above the hipbones.

Your body mass index (BMI) is a calculation that indicates whether you have a healthy amount of body fat. You can determine your BMI with a BMI table or online calculator.

If you'd rather do the math yourself, divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches squared and multiply by 703. Or divide your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. (To determine your height in meters, divide your height in centimeters by 100).

The following BMI results demonstrate whether you are at a healthy weight.

Interpretation of BMI results
BMI Weight status
Below 18.5 Underweight
18.5-24.9 Normal weight
25.0-29.9 Overweight
30 and above Obesity

The results of your fitness assessment can help you set goals for staying active and improving fitness outcomes. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends one of the following activity levels for adult fitness and health benefits:

  • 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity weekly plus muscle-strengthening activities two or more days a week
  • 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly plus muscle-strengthening activities two or more days a week
  • An equivalent mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity plus muscle-strengthening activities two or more days a week

Moderate aerobic activity includes:

  • Walking fast
  • Water aerobics
  • Bicycling on mostly level ground
  • Pushing a lawn mower

Vigorous aerobic activity includes:

  • Running
  • Swimming laps
  • Fast bicycling or biking hills
  • Playing basketball or soccer
  • Playing singles tennis

Muscle-strengthening exercises include:

  • Lifting weights or using resistance bands
  • Calisthenics that use body weight for resistance
  • Heavy gardening or yardwork

Keep track of your progress in improving your fitness. Take the same measurements about six weeks after you begin an exercise program and periodically afterward.

Each time you repeat your assessment, celebrate your progress and adjust your fitness goals accordingly. Share your results with your doctor or personal trainer for additional guidance.

March 14, 2017