From dreaded 12-minute runs and bleep tests in school to maximum strength testing in the gym, fitness testing is a common part of sports training. Your fitness can be split into two main groups: health-related fitness and skill related fitness. As the name suggests, health-related fitness takes into account how your body’s systems perform in terms of your overall health.
Skill related fitness, on the other hand, refers to your individual ability to perform a specific skill.
For this article, we will be covering health-related fitness and how to test for it, since it is, generally speaking, the more important measurement for the majority of disciplines.
What are health-related fitness tests?
Your health-related fitness can be broken down into five main categories: cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, muscular strength, body composition and flexibility.
While each area of fitness can be tested with a number of different methods, there are a few widely known tests you may be familiar with. The general health-related fitness test is very common in schools and consists of the following tests for each area:
Cardiovascular endurance – Tested by a timed one-mile run.
Muscular strength and endurance – These are usually tested for in the upper body with a maximum push-ups test and in the abdominals with a maximum crunch test. Each of these tests is performed for maximum reps in a given time period.
Flexibility – A sit and reach test is the common flexibility test. The test requires an individual to sit with their legs outstretched and feet flat against a box that has a measuring scale on the top of it. You are then instructed to reach as far forward as you can over the box and a measurement is taken.
Body composition – This test is done to work out your ratios of body fat to lean tissue. Usually, skin-fold callipers will be used here. What are health-related fitness tests used for?
A fitness test can have different uses, which will vary depending on the individual being tested. It is important to know exactly why you are performing a fitness test and what you hope to get out of the information the test will provide. When you know why you are administering a test in the first place, you will be better able to design an appropriate testing protocol.
Below is a quick list of some of the different reasons and uses for health-related fitness tests:
- Assess an individual’s current fitness level before starting a programme. Before beginning or designing a training plan, you need to know where you or your athlete is starting from. This information will be used to design a programme appropriate to the current fitness level of the trainee.
- Measure the effectiveness of a programme. Without testing, it becomes much more difficult to judge whether or not a fitness programme is working. By taking periodic tests, you can see how effective a programme is. You will then be able to use the results to plan the next stage of the programme.
- Boost motivation. Regular testing can serve as a good source of motivation. Whether the test results are positive or negative, they can help to spur an athlete on to better them next time. It must be noted that using fitness tests as motivation will only work for a certain personality type; competitive athletes who are stimulated by seeing the figures on paper. If an athlete is easily demotivated by poor performance, care should be taken with how the results are delivered.
- To measure health status. Certain health-related tests can be used to measure your general health against where it should be. This can be important for spotting potential health issues and then designing a protocol to prevent those issues becoming a problem.
Are health-related fitness tests reliable?
Reliability has to be taken into account before taking any test. You need to decide whether or not the information gained from a test is a truly reliable way of judging whatever aspect is being tested.
There are several factors that can impact the reliability of fitness tests:
- Weather conditions
- Time of day
- Assessor/assessing personnel and the accuracy of their measurements
- The athlete’s individual circumstances, such as hydration level, sleep quality, food intake, stress levels and general health
- The testing protocol itself
All of the above must remain constant from test to test. A variation in any of these variables will throw the results off in one way or another. For this reason, certain testing methods are going to be more reliable than others. Methods must be chosen with the fewest variables, and where variables can be controlled easily.
Another issue that greatly affects reliability is the specificity of each testing method. Any test used must be specific to the fitness aspect that it is testing. Using the general health-related fitness test outlined above as an example, we can see some very poor examples of specificity.
For instance, the muscular strength tests only make use of two exercises. These exercises do not actually test general muscular strength: they test muscular strength in those two exercises only. So, somebody could perform very well on the push-up test and be noted as having good muscular strength and endurance. However, they may not be able to perform a single pull up.
With this in mind, the reliability of health-related fitness tests really comes down to the individual that is designing and carrying out the tests. Every test must be designed with specificity firmly in mind, and every care should be taken to control the variables between tests.
Final thoughts, are health-related fitness tests useful?
In short, it depends.
Yes, they can be very useful and should certainly be used to gain information about an athlete and their training.
But, they should only be used if, as mentioned, they are specific and easily repeatable. Provided these two criteria are met, there is no reason to discount using these types of tests in conjunction with other testing methods.
That last part is an important point to make. Using these tests by themselves may not produce the very best results, mainly due to those difficult to control variables. Therefore, using a number of different testing methods together is usually the best plan of action.
One way to take your testing even further and eliminate the need for some of the standard health-related tests is to look into genetic profiling as well.
With genetic profiling, your DNA is analysed to get a much clearer picture of exactly how your body is naturally programmed to react to different training environments.