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 Post subject: Quantifying Physical Fitness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 06, 2012 7:18 pm 

Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:21 pm
Posts: 89
I recently got back on the wagon of physical fitness, and this time I wanted to quantify my progress in a neat, easily measurable way to help with motivation. I started Googling and ended up looking at the Army Physical Fitness Test as a way to crudely measure physical fitness with one neat, easy-to-calculate number.

For anyone (or everyone) who is unfamiliar, the test requires a 2 mile run, followed by two minutes each for completing the maximum number of push ups and sit ups possible. There are handy charts sorted by age and gender that convert your raw results into a score of 0-100 for each event, for a maximum possible score of 300 points. The test measures endurance and strength while requiring only a pair of running shoes and flat ground to administer.

Has anyone else sought after an easy, overall quantitative measure of fitness? Those who like to track finances closely might be the right demographic to ask this question to. I was surprised to fail the test when I started two months ago (active duty forces must score 180 or better), but I expect to easily pass when I try again this month.

Because there is such a huge population of highly fit people taking this same test, there is a good amount of literature available online. My first goal is to "pass", but after that I am striving to attain the equivalent fitness of an average soldier, and after that, passing the minimum for special forces. The test is an imperfect measure of true fitness, but it's better than nothing - and being able to compare myself to clear guidelines established for an elite group of people is very inspiring and helps me keep going.

Anyways, I found this approach to getting in shape highly motivating and thought I would share it. I welcome any comments on similar experiences!


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 Post subject: Re: Quantifying Physical Fitness
PostPosted: Sun Oct 07, 2012 6:47 am 

Joined: Mon Feb 07, 2011 6:33 pm
Posts: 1164
Location: Illinois
Another good one is the FBI's test, which is very similar to the Army's. It consists of:

Max situps in one minute
Timed 300 meter sprint
Max pushups (no time limit)
Timed 1.5 mile run
and max pullups*

Your results for each categoy give you a score of 1-10 for a maximum score of 50.

*From what I've read the pullups aren't actually used to determine your score for FBI purposes, but are used for bragging rights.


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 Post subject: Re: Quantifying Physical Fitness
PostPosted: Sun Oct 07, 2012 9:28 am 
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You might look into the Cooper's tests.

You might also consider monitoring your resting heart rate and VO2max to get an idea of how well you body is utilizing oxygen. That's a good measure of overall fitness although you will need a treadmill at the gym to measure it, and even that is not an ideal way to measure it. But, above all else, VO2max is what separates the good endurance athletes from the rest of us.


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 Post subject: Re: Quantifying Physical Fitness
PostPosted: Sun Oct 07, 2012 11:24 am 
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Joined: Mon Jun 23, 2008 6:54 am
Posts: 636
I've spent much of the last decade thinking about this, and could spill a lot of ink on the topic.

As an active duty Soldier I have some strong opinions on the APFT. I used to think it was fatally flawed, but l have more appreciation for it now. Due to the simplicity, you can train for and administer the test virtually anywhere, on a mass scale, and it does a reasonable job of separating people into different levels of fitness. It's imperfect; an 80 or 90% solution.

Here are the main problems with fitness testing (or any kind of testing for that matter): First, you can't test everything. The APFT tests for an extremely narrow definition of fitness (Cooper test is even worse in this regard), heavily skewed toward endurance. Soldiers frequently complain about guys who can score 300 in shorts and a t-shirt, but seriously struggle under a heavy load (e.g. carrying their wounded buddy). Second, take a test a few times and your scores typically improve, not because you are getting more fit, but because you are learning how to play the game. An example is learning how to best pace yourself during various portions of the test. Kids improve their SAT scores the same way: by learning how to take the test, not getting smarter. So producing a single numerical value is interesting, but misleading due to the aforementioned reasons. You simply cannot say that a person scoring 295 is more fit than a person scoring 285, yet in practice the scores are often treated this way. Best you can do is say the 295 person is more fit than maybe a 225 person.

The Crossfit community has made a lot of strides on this stuff. They have a definition of fitness that includes strength, endurance, speed, agility, balance, etc. Every workout is essentially a test that touches on some blend of those traits, and you don't know what's coming next.

If I had to design a simple but useful fitness test, I keep coming back to a 1-rep max deadlift followed by a 1 mile (1600 m) run. The scoring chart would look like this, out of 200 points:

Points 1600m Deadlift (lbs)

100....5:00.....400
90......5:18.....380
80......5:36.....360
70......5:54.....340
60......6:12.....320
50......6:30.....300
40......6:48.....280
30......7:06.....260
20......7:24.....240
10......7:42.....220
0........8:00.....200

Tim


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 Post subject: Re: Quantifying Physical Fitness
PostPosted: Sun Oct 07, 2012 12:17 pm 
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timwalsh300 wrote:
Here are the main problems with fitness testing (or any kind of testing for that matter): First, you can't test everything. The APFT tests for an extremely narrow definition of fitness (Cooper test is even worse in this regard), heavily skewed toward endurance...

I think that is all true. So perhaps the best way to quantify fitness is by how well you can do what you need/want to. Competition is also a reasonable way.

The problem is also not just measurement. It is generally not even possible to be optimally fit in all categories. For example, if you want strength you need to develop thick muscle fibers. Endurance requires more, thinner fibers so that the blood can reach permeate them continuously to supply oxygen.

If your goal is to do an Ironman then you would measure your fitness in an entirely different way than if your goal was to throw the most beer kegs over a wall in a given time.

I say...set goals and measure your performance against the goals. I personally do this by competing i triathlons. I have no chance of winning but I get an objective measure of my overall fitness every time. That is of course skewed toward endurance but so what. It's what matters to me personally. I also measure VO2max, resting heart rate, and strength in various ways periodically.


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 Post subject: Re: Quantifying Physical Fitness
PostPosted: Sun Oct 07, 2012 5:59 pm 

Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:21 pm
Posts: 89
I love the deadlift + 1 mile run idea... that is an elegant balance of strength and speed. There are lots of guys who can run a 5 minute mile, and lots of guys who can pull 400 lbs (I once did 390!), but I'd imagine very few can do both. The only problem is the intense nature of a max deadlift attempt. I don't think any organization would want to test their people this way, just because of the backs and knees that would get blown out by poor technique!

I also agree that within a 20-30 point range the APFT is meaningless, but it's a nice diagnostic tool for placing oneself in broad categories. I wish the APFT included pull-ups, because they do reflect more of a "pure strength" element than the endurance-focused push up and sit up event.

DH, you're right on about tailoring goals to meet personal objectives. My past problem was focusing too intently on one skill, however. I was a great powerlifter, but had never run a distance longer than two miles in my life. Now my goal is to be well-balanced.

Since I also enjoy my firearms, I have dabbled with creating a scoring system for myself that combines physical fitness with marksmanship and home security. I'm using the NRA marksmanship Qualification Program as the basis for shooting skills.


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 Post subject: Re: Quantifying Physical Fitness
PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2012 10:58 am 
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Another problem with tests, and the APFT in particular, is inconsistency among graders. I assume that you are "grading" your own pushups, so you'd be surprised by the impact of having a "strict" vs. "easy" grader. I've gotten credit for as many as 85, and as few as 56 pushups on the test at roughly the same fitness level. This is a well known fact of life among Soldiers. In theory you would do every rep perfectly, but in reality people go as fast as possible and only do the range of motion required to get credit. Within the first few seconds you figure out just how far up or down you have to go in order to maximize your score. I've also served as a grader many times, and I can attest that accurately upholding standards is difficult when people are pumping out 2-3 reps per second.

I am a big advocate of replacing the pushups with pull-ups because they would be easier to grade, in addition to being more of a strength test like you said. This is why I like the deadlift too.

Of course this is mostly a critique of the Army's implementation of its test. The bottom line for your purposes is to be honest with yourself, otherwise you could eventually find that you've improved your score primarily by relaxing your standards.

Tim


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 Post subject: Re: Quantifying Physical Fitness
PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2012 7:42 am 

Joined: Fri May 04, 2012 2:23 pm
Posts: 818
Last year, I rode a bicycle 775 miles on 2 different occasions in under 90 hours. But, I probably couldn't knock out 20 push ups without popping a blood vessel.

Not sure where that puts me on any fitness scale, but I am happy and consider myself to be reasonably fit, at least more fit than the average person.

_________________
Bichon Frise

"If you only have 1 year to live, move to Penn...as it will seem like an eternity."


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 Post subject: Re: Quantifying Physical Fitness
PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2012 7:48 am 
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Bichon Frise wrote:
reasonably fit, at least more fit than the average person.


I shudder to think about the fitness of the average person...


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