Importance of fitness standards

Ryan Richards
Make it Count

Fitness is the ability to perform a task, and wellness is the absence of disease. These mutually exclusive statements define the expected roles of the fitness professional and medical practitioner.

Too often, though, we are failing students and patients because the seemingly obvious roles of the professional aren’t being scrutinized through the lens of objective fitness and health standards.

One of the great objective measurement tools for movement health is the functional movement screen. This process explores how well, or poorly an individual demonstrates fundamental movements and postures. Specifically, the screen grades range-of-motion and postural control that should guide the direction of training.

Here’s where potential problems exist: The screen measures specific flexibility; for example, can a trainee touch his toes, or not? This is the value of the screen — if a trainee cannot touch his toes, then it’s the professional’s job to introduce strategies to correct this dysfunction. On the other hand, in the absence of a movement dysfunction, the trainee must consider more robust approaches to acquire measurable fitness qualities such as endurance, strength or aerobic capacity. In other words, if a trainee is not placed at the edge of her ability, then she will gain very little fitness improvement. Stretching a posture that already demonstrates adequate range-of-motion gains the student absolutely nothing. Asking an average adult what 10 plus 10 equals will not further educate that person; a reasonable human already knows the answer is 20. However, an average woman will gain much understanding attempting pull-ups. If she’s unsuccessful, then it’s because she’s too heavy, or too weak to pull her weight up to the bar. But insight here for learning will be crystal clear. We must have measurement strategies to guide our training if we’re ever going to reach our goals and potential. Blindly guessing will always fail to deliver substantial results.


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Here are a few common benchmarks to help guide the direction of your exercise routine. Let’s first consider a few flexibility and posture screens to quantify your movement abilities. Can you stand with your feet shoulder width apart, arms outreached directly toward the ceiling as you squat down until your upper legs are at least parallel to the floor without your heels lifting up from the ground?

Next, with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly unlocked, can you bend forward and touch your toes? If you can’t perform these screens, then a yoga class or a corrective mobility program would be a valuable place to start. If you breeze through these drills, then stretching, foam rolling and other mobility tools are probably a waste of time. For males, can you perform five pull-ups, 20 strict push-ups and lift the equivalent of 1.5 times your bodyweight from the floor? Females, can you perform one pull-up, five push-ups and lift the equivalent of your bodyweight from the floor?

These are minimum expected standards for healthy adults. Regardless of gender, most adults ought to be able to run 3 miles in less than 25 minutes without too much trouble. If these numbers are lacking, then a general strength and conditioning program should be pursued. For men and women, your waist at the widest circumference shouldn’t exceed half your body height in inches. For example, a 70 inch male shouldn’t have a waist exceeding 35 inches. Missing the mark here? Stop eating so much and consider losing a few pounds.

These fitness standards are effective starting points for healthy adults and don’t address specific needs. Young athletes and special populations may require more extensive baselines. Regardless of your fitness goals, always strive to maintain minimum standards to help you along your journey. Have a great week.

Ryan Richards is a fitness professional who has been keeping the Vail Valley strong for over a decade. You can find him at and 970-401-0720.

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