Fitness Standards for Strength and Cardio

Fitness Standards
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At one end of the spectrum is the lethargic couch potato, at the other is an elite Olympic athlete. Somewhere in between are most of us—yet how can we assess how fit we actually are and what we should work on? Here is a range of fitness and strength standards to refer to. Keep in mind that while these estimated standards are above average levels of fitness, they're not so advanced that they're out of your reach.

Body Fat

Rather than referring to your Body Mass Index (BMI), waist and hip measurements tend to be more reliable indicators of excess fat weight. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a healthy waist measurement for men should be at or under 37 inches (94 centimeters), and for women at or under 31.5 inches (80 centimeters). Waist-to-hip-ratio (WHR), which is your waist measurement divided by your hip measurement, should be at or under 0.9 for men and 0.8 for women.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) calculates percentages of total body. Acceptable levels are under 24% for men and 31% for women. For fitness, ACE posits under 17% for men and 24% for women. Very fit athletes will be lower than that, as low as 6–13% for men and 14–20% for women. Age differences are also taken into account.

Aerobic Fitness

Aerobic or cardiorespiratory fitness is a measure of your capacity to transport and use oxygen during exercise. The VO2max is your maximum value (mL/kg/min oxygen). Typically this test is performed on a treadmill with an oxygen mask. A VO2max score of 50 is superior for men in their 30s, with 40 and above considered good or excellent. For women in their 30s, a VO2max of 40 is considered superior with 30 and above considered good or excellent. You can see a range of standards for all ages and fitness levels on this table.

Alternatively, if you can run a mile in 8 minutes (5 min/km) for men or a little longer for women, you are in great aerobic shape. This will drop off as you age beyond 50 years.

Deadlift Strength

This is a little trickier because training in a lift can help you increase the weight lifted substantially. Your age, fitness level, and body mass also affect standards. Men can calculate their one-rep max by multiplying their bodyweight by 1.25 for intermediate fitness and 1.5 for advanced fitness. For example, if you're a healthy male weighing 200 pounds and you lift 250 pounds (114 kilos), you're doing well, and if you lift 300 pounds (136 kilos) you're considered very strong. Similarly, a healthy woman weighing 140 pounds would typically multiply her body weight by 1 or 1.25, and is very strong if she can lift 175 pounds (79 kilos). You can refer to this chart to see more recommendations for different weight categories and levels of fitness.

The Plank

With the plank, you balance face down on your forearms, balls of your feet and toes, with your body suspended off the ground. Engaging the abdominal wall, if you can hold your plank for 1 minute your fitness level is average, with 2 minutes being intermediate, and 3 minutes is considered superior or advanced.

Overhead Press

The overhead press requires you to push a barbell or dumbbells overhead with straight elbows. According to this chart, healthy adult men weighing about 200 pounds is performing at the intermediate level pressing 145 pounds (66 kilos). Similarly, healthy adult women could press 65 pounds (30 kilos). Consistent weight training can progress these numbers.

Chair Squats

You can use this to test for general leg strength and endurance at any age. Sit on a chair against a wall or anchored in some way. Place your hands on your hips. Stand up and sit down in one motion and repeat until you can't do anymore.

Standards vary for men and women by age, but more than 30 for men and more than 25 for women is very good.

Pushups

Last, the notorious pushups, which test arm and shoulder strength and the abdominals. Adopt the professional pushup position, on the ground facing down, hands and toes supporting your body with straight arms at the starting position. Lower your body until your elbows are at right angles. A good standard is 30 pushups for men and 25 for women in their 30s.

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  1. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Measuring Obesity.

  2. World Health Organization. Waist Circumference and Waist-Hip Ratio. Report of a WHO Expert Consultation. 2008.

  3. American Council on Exercise. Tools & Calculators. Percent Body Fat Norms for Men and Women.