Establishing a Baseline in Five Steps

The New Year came the resolutions flowed like champagne and now three weeks in, the gym crowd is starting to thin and those left behind are realizing this change thing is actually hard work. How many of you made the promise for a healthier thinner version of you this year? Go ahead and raise your hand right now, yes I know it was you, but that’s okay. In fact I applaud your decision to take charge of your life this year; it may just be the most important choice you’ve made recently and the most far-reaching. It’s no exaggeration to say that getting in shape adds years to your life and a certain pep to your step. Fit people live longer, have more energy, display a higher quality of satisfaction from life, and find new confidence and faith in themselves and their ability.

This year start out by taking some time to have an honest conversation with yourself about your goals and ability. Before you determine what needs to be fixed take a day to establish where you are now. We need to set out our baseline. Below are a series of exercises and tests designed to gauge your fitness ability. I use this simple routine on all my new clients to determine the starting point for their customized workout packages and help them achieve the specific goals they desire. These movements and exercises will diagnose any weaknesses or sticking points that need to be addressed in form and strength. It’s time to stop doing the same old thing and take our fitness to the next level.

Exercise 1: 1 mile run for time

After walking for 5 minutes to loosen your muscles and joints, run for 10 minutes at a speed of 5 mph or higher if you can manage at 6mph you will cover a mile in this time frame. Ideally you would want to do this on a treadmill or flat track for easy measurement and timing; or have a partner time you if you can so you can focus on the task at hand and not the clock. The real goal here is not speed but to see how much distance you can comfortably cover in ten minutes. A comfortable pace is one in which you can maintain a good upright posture and hold a conversation without losing your breath or stumbling. A good performance is 1 mile or more in ten minutes. If you manage less than that it doesn’t mean you’re a bad runner or even slow it just means you need to work on your aerobic threshold and cardio conditioning. Based on this performance I would then work with the client to establish a running conditioning program specific to their physical build and capability to raise their speed and distance.

Exercise 2: The push-up

After 10 minutes of rest and hydration; assume the push-up position. This exercise is a great way to establish core, back, leg, and arm strength as all are needed to maintain proper form and lift the body off the ground. The Average healthy adult should be able to produce ten push-ups without stopping. Now this is where it can get complicated. Your body weight can sabotage the results in this exercise and I see more frustration and embarrassment with this move than any other. If you cannot manage even one push-up all it means is you now know that you need to work on this area. Many people fail in push-ups not because they are not strong enough in their chest or arms; but because their core, hips, and legs lack the strength to hold them up and maintain form. If you cannot manage push-ups then it’s time to master the bench press. Start with light weights. Empty barbels are a good beginning load for this movement or go lighter with dumbbells. I watch my clients as they attempt this exercise I look for sagging hips a bent back and shaking arms to determine the areas I need to target and condition. Most times I can tell after only one pus-up where we need to begin. Have a friend video you if you can and watch the play back. The moment you first push-off from the ground will tell the tale. Is your body straight and level or do you sag in certain spots?

Exercise 3: Bodyweight Squat

After another few minutes of rest I will have my clients perform a simple body weight squat. I am watching for a few things here. First I am looking for good form; can they go all the way down? Do their knees turn in; do they rock back on their heels? Do they maintain an upright posture or lean forward over their knees. All are indicative of weaknesses in the knee and surrounding ligaments. The squat is an exercise of the thigh, quadriceps, and glutes; however it doesn’t matter how strong these muscles are if the knee is too weak to allow the movement. A good squat allows the thighs to be parallel to the ground at the bottom, knees about shoulder width apart, feet flat on the ground and spine erect, core braced and arms held out in front. If the client displays good from I will then have them do a set of ten to gauge their strength. If the client has trouble with this move then I will build up a program of exercises that will target the knee and legs to build up strength in this joint and balance. Many of my clients go a month or more before ever squatting with weights. It is vital that the knee is properly strengthened in this movement before attempting more.

Exercise 4: Pull-up or Arm Hang

The pull-up is a very simple test. Either you can do one or you can’t. Based on how many you can do or how far you can go up before you fail I can determine the course of the back exercises we will need to do to develop strength in your lats and back. For women I usually employ the arm hang instead of the pull-up and time them until failure. If you can at least do one pull-up then this will now be your starting point. For the next few weeks I would have you do sets of one, repeated until you cannot do anymore. After rest you would move to lat pull-downs at a weight you can control for ten reps. Ladies the lat-pulldown machine is a great way to build up your back strength. Incorporate this into your workouts along with rows and cable pull-downs.

Exercise 5: The Plank

This final exercise is used to determine your core strength. The plank is an exercise that showcases the realistic use of your abs as nature intended. Your ability to perform this move directly reflects your core strength and conditioning. To begin with simply time yourself until failure. Make sure your form is correct have a friend watch you or do this next to a mirror. Your body needs to be straight and locked. Clench your abs, glutes and legs to lock your body. Your elbows should be beneath your shoulders, Hands in front of you. Now begin, an excellent time is a minute or more. The average person can usually hold this pose for 20 -30 seconds. If you fall under 15 seconds then we know where we need to begin. Core strength is vital in many of the first four exercises and a weakness in the abs, oblique’s, and back extenders will negatively impact many key strength building movements. I never have my clients do crunches or sit-ups. Rarely will they even touch the floor when doing core exercises. Your core braces your spine and keeps it from flexing that is its purpose; to control movement.

Now you have a baseline to gauge your fitness. Given the results of these exercises, any competent health professional can tailor a workout program to maximize your gains and help you achieve the fitness you want in 2012. Feel free to contact me here at Legion Fitness for a custom workout of your own.

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