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Getting a Professional Fitness Assessment

Jan 10, 2012

Written by Matthew Percia; Shala Davis, Ph.D., FACSM; and Gregory Dwyer, Ph.D., FACSM

The importance of a fitness assessment is not only to help develop an appropriate, individualized exercise training program, but sometimes also includes screening for risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases. Every fitness assessment should include tests that can measure the five different components of health-related physical fitness including: body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness, flexibility, muscular strength and muscular endurance.

Components of a Fitness Assessment
Body composition is the relative proportion of fat and fat-free tissue in the body. The most common reason to test body composition is to assist in tracking the amount of weight, or percent fat an individual loses over the course of the exercise program to achieve a desirable goal or target weight. Most research demonstrates that higher percentages of body fat increase the risk of chronic diseases such as coronary artery disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. Body composition can be assessed in many ways including by taking skin fold or circumference measurements at different sites of the body.

Cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) reflects the functional capabilities of the heart, lungs and muscles relative to the demands of the specific exercise such as in running or cycling. True measures of CRF require maximal exertion along with collection of expired gases. Since this may not be available at many fitness centers, simple step tests or sub-maximal treadmill or cycling tests can be used to predict aerobic capacity by taking exercise and recovery heart rates. In addition, resting values of heart rate and blood pressure are also taken. The results from CRF tests are used to determine specific intensities for cardiovascular exercises in a fitness or weight loss program.

Flexibility, referring to the degree to which a joint moves through a normal, pain-free range of motion, can be a determining factor in the performance of Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) as we age. A reduction in tissue elasticity and deterioration of joint anatomy with age has been shown to decrease flexibility and may lower the performance in ADLs, which can decrease quality of life. Because flexibility can vary joint to joint, there is no single test for overall flexibility. The sit-and-reach test is a commonly used test for assessment of flexibility of the hamstrings, hips and lower back.

Muscular strength and muscular endurance training can elicit benefits in increased strength, lean tissue mass, and bone density. Muscular strength can be assessed by using some sort of Repetition Maximum (1-RM, 5-RM or 10-RM) test on a variety of different exercises that involve major muscles groups. The bench press and squat are commonly used tests in assessing strength. The choice of test is based on the exerciser’s experience and ability. Muscular endurance testing might include timed tests, where the exerciser has to perform as many repetitions of a given movement as possible in a specific time period (i.e., 1 minute of curl-ups or push-ups). Results from both muscular strength and endurance tests can assist in recommending proper intensities and loads for strength training exercises.

Finding a Trainer
If you are a member at a fitness center, the facility likely has personal trainers qualified to conduct physical fitness assessments. Some fitness centers require their trainers to have a four-year degree from an accredited academic institution in a health-related field, such as exercise science or exercise physiology. In addition to this degree, a certification from a nationally accredited certifying body, such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), should be attained by the trainer, which then qualifies that individual to assess physical fitness. Many certifying organizations have features on their Web sites – such as the ACSM Profinder service – that can be used to help locate certified fitness professionals.

In order for an individual to determine realistic short- and long-term fitness goals, it is important to establish a baseline levels of different aspects of health and fitness. This process can be intimidating, especially for those who are self-conscious about their appearance and/or unfamiliar with exercising. Find a fitness professional who is not only qualified to assess your fitness levels, but with whom you are comfortable sharing your goals and allowing to take your personal measurements (such as body composition) to help you achieve your desired outcome. Once baseline values have been determined, your certified fitness professional can use this information to develop a specific exercise program to attain desired results. Your fitness professional will monitor your progress and periodically repeat these tests to track progress toward fitness goals.

View the full spring 2010 issue of the ACSM Fit Society® Page online.

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