Got 13 Minutes? Take This 4-Part Fitness Test
Back in the day, I knew a lot of guys who adopted the motto, "Whoever dies the biggest wins!" And over the years, I've watched a lot of those guys achieve their goals. They got really big, really strong, and then died, some before 50. I guess they won? If only they'd taken this fitness test.
With age and wisdom, most of us adjust our goals. We still want to get strong and build muscle, but we also want to feel good and stick around for a long time.
Here are four quick, science-backed fitness and health tests. You don't have to take all of them at once. Just try to fit them in this week. Three will take about a minute, and the other will take exactly 10 minutes. Comment at the bottom and let us know how you did.
According to a study that will make you mad, 90-percent of men and 80-percent of women are overfat. That means, statistically, YOU are overfat. And that overfatness can lead to cardiometabolic dysfunction and a whole bunch of chronic diseases that'll kill you until you're dead.
But wait, what exactly does "overfat" mean? Think of it as a new category on the body fat continuum:
- Normal Weight
- Overfat (the new category)
- Morbidly Obese
"Normal weight" and the three latter categorizations are typically measured using the BMI scale. As you know, this is an oversimplified formula based on height and weight. It does not discriminate between muscle mass and fat mass, nor does it tell you anything about WHERE you store your fat.
That last bit is important. First, storing fat in the abdominal/belly area is much worse for you health-wise than storing it elsewhere. Second, BMI doesn't tell you a thing about visceral adipose tissue and subcutaneous adipose tissue:
- Visceral fat is stored inside the abdominal cavity and around your internal organs. That's the stuff that'll lead to insulin resistance and, generally speaking, dying too young.
- Subcutaneous fat is that jiggly stuff just beneath your skin. It's less dangerous but definitely gross if it reaches the droopy level.
Health expert Philip Maffetone and his researchers believe that a person who's not obese or even overweight (as measured by BMI) can still have an unhealthy level of body fat – particularly in the abdominal region. (1) That overfatness is either a sign of growing health problems or a predictor of soon-to-be health problems.
They think we should just do away with the confounding BMI scale and use something different. Their method is fast, simple, and will probably hurt your feelings.
Here's the Maffetone method in a nutshell:
That's it. Strict? You bet, but their research is compelling if you want to dig deeply into the study.
How to Take the Maffetone Test
To help you break down that one-sentence fatness test, I'll use myself as an example:
- How tall am I? I'm 5'11". That's 71 inches. Half of that is 35.5.
- What's my waist measurement? Well, although Maffetone uses the term "waist," what he means is "belly." The measurement should be taken across the belly button area. Your pants size is not your waist size. Here's the diagram Maffetone uses:
- My jeans size is 32, but my belly measurement is 34. That's the number we want, so get out the tape measure, don't suck in your gut, and do the deed.
- Now look at the definition of overfatness again: "If the circumference of your waist measures more than half your height, you're overfat."
My 34-inch belly measurement is NOT greater than half of my height – 35.5 inches. So, I'm not overfat. I'm also handsome and clever.
How To Use This Info
The researchers here are focused on avoiding heart disease, the 13 types of cancer associated with being too fat, type 2 diabetes, etc. They're concerned with longevity and quality of life. Their test seems severe, but it's ultimately more reliable than BMI and more realistic for athletic folks. It's also easy to do at home.
The research is pretty clear: excess fat stored in and around your belly is bad news in the long run, even if you're not "overweight" by conventional standards. Many men store fat in the intra-abdominal area – beneath their abs. This means they may have visible abs or a hard belly yet still be too fat internally, what doctors used to call "heart attack fat."
This harsh test can act as a wake-up call. And sure, it may be a little too strict, but for a long life free of common, preventable diseases, it's wise not to stray too far from these numbers.
Gather up four of your male friends. Statistically, one of you will die from a heart-related problem. Let's make sure it's not you. This should be the easiest test to pass, but I've known several bodybuilders and big-boy powerlifters who would struggle with it.
Walk up 4 flights of stairs in under 45 seconds. (Really, that's it.)
- Start a timer and walk (don't run) up four flights of stairs, or about 60 steps.
- No stopping and resting.
Researchers at the European Society of Cardiology devised this as a quick test of overall heart health and to judge your likelihood of developing coronary artery disease. It was accurate, even compared to those doctor-supervised stress tests and fancy heart imaging studies (2).
How to Evaluate Your Results
- Anything under 45 seconds is good.
- Around 60 seconds means you might have some work to do.
- Anything over 90 seconds and, well, it's time to make a doctor's appointment.
Remember, this isn't a sprint to the top. Just walk and make sure you can sustain that pace.
Men who can do 40 good push-ups aren't likely to die within the next 10 years. Men who can do less than 10 are far more likely to push daisies within the next decade (3).
Researchers at Harvard devised this test after conducting a 10-year study. Surprisingly, push-up capacity was more strongly associated with cardiovascular disease risk than the results of the standard submaximal treadmill test.
Muscular strength has an "independent protective effect" for all-cause mortality. That means testing your heart health isn't just about slogging away on a treadmill.
- Do one set of as many unbroken push-ups as you can with good form (chest to floor every rep).
- The test is over as soon as you fail to get another full rep, or if you have to take a 2-3 second break to get another rep.
This isn't saying that doing push-ups prevents cardiovascular disease. Rather, push-up ability is merely indicative of having the kind of upper-body strength that provides cardioprotective benefits.
Being able to crank out 40-plus push-ups in a single set is also a decent metabolic conditioning test and a test of relative strength.
According to Dr. Jarett D. Berry, not being able to run a 10-minute mile means you're generally unfit.
- Run one mile on the treadmill with the speed set at 6 miles per hour. That's a 10-minute mile.
- Do NOT just go out and run a mile as fast as possible, then collapse. That's not the idea. The goal is to be able to SUSTAIN that exact pace for 10 full minutes.
People who identify as runners or weigh a buck-twenty will laugh at this one. Too easy. But this is a great test for strong lifters and bigger guys.
As lifters, it's pretty easy to slack off on our cardiovascular fitness in favor of heavier one-rep maxes. But we need a balance. The goal is to have the ability to pass this test at any moment with relative ease and ALWAYS be able to pass it as we age.
May I bypass the hypersensitive, woke BS and just tell it like it is? Okay, cool. If you can't pass these tests, it's most likely because you're just too fat. And you're probably too fat because your diet sucks. You should fix that.
T Nation is here to help. Try this diet strategy that helps you retain your hard-won muscle while dropping the fat.
- Maffetone PB et al. Overfat Adults and Children in Developed Countries: The Public Health Importance of Identifying Excess Body Fat. Front Public Health. 2017 Jul 24;5:190. PubMed.
- European Society of Cardiology. Test your heart health by climbing stairs. ScienceDaily. 11 December 2020.
- Yang J et al. Association Between Push-up Exercise Capacity and Future Cardiovascular Events Among Active Adult Men. JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Feb 1;2(2):e188341. PubMed.