“Am I In Shape?” Here’s How To Tell
“I thought I was in shape until I started getting in shape.”
One of my members said this to me not long ago and, as a personal trainer, it really rang true.
Sometimes, we don’t realize just how out of shape we are. It’s only when we stop to ask ourselves, “Am I in shape?” that we are forced to come to terms with the fact that we can’t go on a brisk walk without stopping to rest every five minutes.
As we enter into a new year, health and fitness are on everyone’s minds. And if that includes you, you’ve come to the right place.
At Breakthrough Fitness, we’re used to working with clients from every age, shape, lifestyle, and background, and helping them reach their own fitness and nutrition goals, whatever those may be. And the first step to reaching your desired fitness level is deciding what your goal really is.
What Does “In Shape” Mean To You?
TV, advertising, and social media have done a number on body image.
Whether you’re male or female, it’s hard to ignore the images of muscled hunks, chiseled biceps, and sleek waistlines that seem to be everywhere. But before you beat yourself up for not looking like a Kardashian, it’s important to step back and think about what place physical fitness has in your life.
Maybe you found yourself asking “Am I in shape?” after you found you couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs as easily as you used to. Perhaps you want to be more flexible or have more energy to chase the grandkids around.
Each of these situations requires a different fitness level, exercise program, and activity level. I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether you were “in shape” unless I know what shape you want to be in!
So the first step is to ask yourself what “being in shape” means to you.
Maybe it means…
- A preferred body weight
- A certain level of strength and endurance
- A low resting heart rate
- A low percentage of body fat (regardless of overall weight)
However, as a personal trainer, I’m obligated to remind you not to set your standards too low. Our bodies are designed to work in a certain way and setting a goal to simply make it to the fridge without mechanical assistance is not the same as being “in shape.”
Your next step is to determine whether you meet a basic fitness level for your gender, age, and physical ability.
“Am I In Shape?”
Being “in shape” will look completely different in a 35-year-old athlete than it will in an 50-year-old ex-smoker, but there are a few basic tests you can use to tell whether you are generally in “good shape.”
Since I work with mostly clients between the ages of 35-65, here are my basic fitness standards for that population.
The first thing to look at is your body fat percentage. Looking at your body weight alone doesn’t take into account which of those pounds are from lean mass (i.e. bones, muscles, and organs, which should never count against you) and which come from fat.
Your percentage of fat mass is the number you should be looking at, rather than the number on the scale. Using a set of calipers, body fat monitor, or personal trainer at your local gym, determine your body fat percentage and compare it to the chart below.
Here at Breakthrough Fitness, our goal is to fall within the green “Ideal” section. If you find yourself outside of those borders (or getting a little too close), you’ll know to increase your physical activity and focus on good nutrition.
You should be able to hold a plank for two minutes.
“What?! I can barely make it down to the floor to pick up a Cheeto and you’re asking me to plank for two minutes?!”
Relax. The world record is 8 hours and 1 minute. I’m only asking for 2 minutes.
If you can’t do this at the moment, you now have a tangible goal to work toward.
Once you’ve accomplished that (congratulations!), don’t waste your time trying to plank for longer periods of time. Instead, raise the bar with different variations.
Males should be able to accomplish 30 push-ups; females, 10.
These numbers are based off the minimum requirements for the Army. While they’re designed with a younger population in mind, I’ve seen 50-year-old women bang out 10 perfect push-ups, so don’t sell yourself short!
If you can hit this standard without breaking a sweat, increase your difficulty. Strive to be better than average.
All I’m asking for is one single pull-up, but most people (men and women) who come into the gym can’t even do that.
It’s the first one that’s the challenge. But the ability to do a proper pull-up means that your midsection and grip strength are both decent. Your personal trainer can work with that.
A 10-minute mile is a good aim. This shows your aerobic fitness and cardiovascular health.
In the local 5k races I’ve been part of, the winning female above 40 years of age usually runs an 8-minute mile. If you’re younger than that, 10 minutes is a good start.
I work with people who are completely new to strength training.
The majority of our female clients have never picked up anything heavier than a 15-lb dumbbells, and even if our male clients have weightlifting experience, it’s mostly with machines (and never legs).
Building muscular strength is one of the biggest keys to health and fitness. Muscle mass burns fat and (when done correctly) gives you functional strength to make your life easier.
Your body weight and gender determine the amount of weight you should be able to lift (at a bare minimum). For a trap-bar deadlift, men should lift 1.5x their body weight for five reps. Women should lift their body weight for five reps. For example, a 190-lb. man should be able to dead lift 285 lbs. A 135-lb. woman should be able to lift 135 lbs.
Keep in mind, these numbers are for people that have no limitations or restrictions. If you have chronic pain, disabilities, or other limitations, your standards will be different.
When it comes to squats, the most important things are flexibility and form.
Loading on more and more weight isn’t as important as getting a good range of motion and retaining the proper stance. I’m always looking for good form, depth, and higher number of repetitions (10+).
Raise Your Standards
If you’ve gotten to the point where you can complete all of these metrics, great! But that doesn’t mean you can give up.
I’ve had the opportunity to help hundreds of women and men not just meet, but surpass their original definition of fit. We did this by raising our standards.
Once you can do one pull-up, try for five. When you can do five, train for 10.
Run a faster mile.
Lift a heavier weight.
Do more push-ups.
When it comes to physical fitness, there’s no such thing as “done.” You can always be challenging yourself.
…But Be Smart
The fitness world has become extreme over the last few years, not to mention extremely intimidating!
There’s a mentality that if you aren’t in “Beast Mode,” pushing yourself to complete exhaustion every training session, you’re a sissy pants. Ridiculous!
Your journey to health and fitness is your own personal conquest and should be—above all—safe, fun, and effective.
If you push yourself too hard, you won’t enjoy it. And if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t stick with it. Ultimately, the best exercise program is the one that you’re willing to do.