A New Exam Looks at How Our Fitness Stacks Up to Others

By Schneider, Howard | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 24, 2008 | Go to article overview
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A New Exam Looks at How Our Fitness Stacks Up to Others


Schneider, Howard, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


There's no shortage of ways to determine if you're in shape.

There's the tuxedo test: Is the fit reminiscent of Steve Martin in "Father of the Bride"?

There's the spousal reflux test: Does your husband or wife gag when you ask, "How do I look?"

There's the Barack Obama test: Does bowling a 37 leave you exhausted?

Then there's Denise Austin, the Washington-based fitness guru, who reduces the issue to binary logic.

She's fit; we're not.

That might be overstating the case a bit. Austin, in fact, has left some room for comparison, and last week she helped the President's Council on Physical Fitness debut a new adult fitness test.

Although the test involves old standards such as push-ups, the council hopes that putting instructions and a calculator online will motivate people to take stock of where they stand on key dimensions of fitness. There's a weight management component as well.

The test won't actually provide a yes-you're-fit or no-you're- not answer. Instead, it will tell you where you stand in relationship to others of similar age when it comes to basic metrics: speed for a mile walk or a 1.5-mile run; push-ups until exhaustion; a minute's worth of crunches; a measure of flexibility done sitting on the ground with a yardstick. (The population data used for comparison have been gathered over the years by places including the YMCA and the Cooper Institute in Texas.)

If it smacks of gym class, well, as much as I hate to admit it (being among the ones who never managed the rope climb and who could mount the parallel bars about as well as I could a camel), it turns out that the calisthenics and other basic stuff they used to make us do really are good for you.

But Austin said the "class rankings" aren't the point. Although it's fun to see whether you're in the top half or quarter (kind of like the SATs without the math or those greasy No. 2 pencils), she said the hope is that people will use the test as a benchmark to measure their improvement. If you manage a dozen push-ups this time, shoot for 15 in a few weeks, and if you can only do one, aim for two; if you complete your run in 12 minutes, train for 11 1/2, and if you walk it in 20, strive for something less the next time.

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