6 Tests to Gauge Your Overall Fitness

Ready to start a new fitness plan? Take this test beforehand to track your progress.

This is adapted from Dr. Jordan Metzl’s Workout Prescription: 10, 20 & 30-Minute High-Intensity Interval Training Workouts For Every Fitness Level.


Here’s what’s great about doing self-tests to measure fitness: you never get a wrong answer. The result is a snapshot in time, not a life sentence nor a mark on your permanent record. Whatever your result, you can build on it (or build in another direction). These tests reveal strengths and weaknesses, not final analyses. What you come up with today will be different from what you come up with a few weeks from now. Therein lies the usefulness: it’s all about you, where you are, and where you can go.

The following tests are simple, fast ways to get an idea of certain fitness benchmarks. They give you a set of numbers you can use for comparison against later tests.

Each measures a certain aspect of fitness. You can run through the entire battery in a few minutes – however, I suggest giving yourself 3 to 4 minutes to rest between exercises. This battery will measure, in no particular order, upper-body strength and mobility, core strength, lower-body strength and flexibility, balance and stability, and cardiovascular fitness. After four weeks, have at it again and see how you do!

Overhead Squat

Overhead Squat
Photo: Beth Bischoff

Fully extend your arms above your head, slightly more than shoulder-width apart. With your feet shoulder-width apart, lower your body as far as you can by pushing your hips back and bending your knees. Your torso should stay as upright as possible. Pause, then push yourself back up to the starting position. Perform 10 reps.

What it tells you: Watching yourself in a mirror helps answer the following questions.

  • Can you lower your body until your thighs are below parallel to the floor? (Are your knees bent past 90 degrees?)
  • Can you keep your heels on the floor?
  • Can you keep your toes pointing straight ahead?
  • Are your hands drifting forward as you squat and are your back and chest leaning forward?
  • Do your knees cave inward?

Any of these problems could mean a variety of weaknesses, ranging from poor mobility in your upper and lower body to poor stabilisation and control. (Get better at squats with these 6 Variations Every Runner Should Know.)

Wall Slide

Wall Slide
Photo: Thomas Macdonald

Stand with your head, upper back, and butt against a wall. Place both of your hands and arms against the wall in the ‘high-five’ position, elbows bent 90 degrees and upper arms at shoulder height. Keeping your elbows, wrists and hands against the wall, slide your elbows down toward your sides as far as you can. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you go. Then slide your arms back up the wall as high as you can while keeping your hands in contact with the wall. Lower to the start and do 10 reps.

What it tells you:

  • Do your elbows or hands come off the wall?
  • How high can you slide your hands up the wall? Can you get them overhead?
  • Do you feel any pain in your shoulders or upper back?
  • Can you keep your shoulder blades squeezed together?

If you struggle with this exercise, it most likely means you need to improve your shoulder strength and flexibility.


Photo: Mitch Mandel

Set a stopwatch and perform a plank for as long as you can.

What it tells you: This test assesses your core strength, including the strength of your abs, glutes, and lower back. Want to get stronger in the middle? Try this 20-minute core routine from Dr. Jordan Metzl.


Photo: Mitch Mandel

Do as many pushups as you can in one minute.

What it tells you: Pushups are a great assessment of upper-body strength and conditioning. They also rely on core strength and shoulder mobility, which will both be improved by high intensity interval training workouts (like you will find in with these 5 Essential HIIT Moves).

One-Legged Balance Touch 

One-Legged Balance Touch
Photo: Beth Bischoff

Set a timer for one minute. Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart. Lift your left foot about 3cm off the floor, balancing on your right foot. Reach forward, bending at the hip while keeping your left leg straight and extended out behind you, and touch the floor (you can use one hand or two). Return to the starting position and repeat as often as you can without breaking form for 1 minute. Repeat the process on your left leg.

What it tells you: How good is your balance? And how well do your legs help provide that balance? You should find out with this test. You should also be able to determine whether one leg is stronger or delivers better balance than the other. (Try these moves to bring more balance to your body.)

300m Shuttle Run 

300m Shuttle Run
Photo: Ewald Sadie

Pace off a 25m distance. Run the 25 metres, then return to where you started. Complete this 50m round-trip run six times, and record your time.

What it tells you: It’s a marker for speed and conditioning (and a particularly challenging one). It doesn’t really matter what your time is the first time you test. What matters most is that you improve your time the next time you’re tested. (This research on how to get faster shows you don’t always have defined limits when it comes to speed.)

When you rerun the battery four weeks from now, here’s hoping you’ll see an inspiring, even eye-popping transformation after focusing on more strength-training.


This article has been excerpted and adapted from Dr. Jordan Metzl’s Workout Prescription: 10, 20 & 30-Minute High-Intensity Interval Training Workouts For Every Fitness Level (published by Rodale, owner of Runner’s World). It is available from:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Books-A-Million | Google Play.



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