How a Fitness Test Is Performed

A fitness test, also known as a fitness assessment, is comprised of a series of exercises that help evaluate your overall health and physical status. There is wide of range of standardized tests used for these exams, some of which are intended for medical purposes and others of which establish whether you are qualified to participate (such as with the Army combat readiness test).

For general health and fitness purposes, the tests are considered the starting point for designing an appropriate exercise program. They are meant to ensure you won't be at risk of harm and provide the trainer with the insights needed to establish clear and effective fitness goals.

General Health Evaluation

Before starting a fitness program, it is important to share your medical history with your trainer and to get the necessary approvals from your doctor to proceed.

Most fitness specialists will use one or more screening tools to help determine your baseline health. This may include obtaining vital sign measurements such as your height, weight, resting heart rate (RHR), and resting blood pressure (RBP).

Many trainers will also use a physical activity readiness questionnaire (PAR-Q) comprised of seven or more questions related to your general health. Among the questions, you may​ be asked about the types of medications you take, any problems you have with dizziness or pain, or any medical condition that may impair your ability to exercise.

Body Composition Testing

Body composition describes the different components that make up your total body weight, including your muscles, bones, and fat. The most common methods for estimating body composition include:

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a dated, biased measure that doesn’t account for several factors, such as body composition, ethnicity, race, gender, and age. 

Despite being a flawed measure, BMI is widely used today in the medical community because it is an inexpensive and quick method for analyzing potential health status and outcomes.

Cardiovascular Endurance Testing

Cardiovascular endurance testing, also known as stress testing, measures how efficiently your heart and lungs work to supply oxygen and energy to your body during physical activity.

Among the three most common tests used:

  • 12-minute run tests: Performed on a treadmill and compare your pre-exercise heart and respiration rates with your post-exercise heart and respiration rates
  • Exercise stress: Testing is also performed on a treadmill or stationary bike and involves the use of a heart monitor and blood pressure cuff to measure your vital signs during exercise
  • VO2 max testing: Performed on a treadmill or stationary bike and uses a breathing device to measure your maximum rate of oxygen consumption during an activity

Some trainers will incorporate exercises such as sit-ups or push-ups to get a qualitative measurement of how you respond to specific exercises. These baseline results can be used at a later date to see if your health and fitness levels have improved.

Strength and Endurance Testing

Strength testing measures the maximal amount of force a muscle group can exert at one time. Muscle endurance testing, by comparison, measures the length of time a muscle group can contract and release before it fatigues.

The exercises used include the push-up test and core strength and stability test. In some cases, a trainer will use a metronome to see how long can you keep up with the rhythm. The results are then compared to people of the same age group and sex to establish your baseline levels.

Strength and endurance tests are valuable as they help the trainer pinpoint which muscle groups are stronger and which are vulnerable and in need of focused attention.

Flexibility Testing

Measuring the flexibility of your joints is vital in determining whether you have postural imbalances, foot instability, or limitations in your range of motion.

There are a variety of tests used to measure flexibility including:

  • Shoulder flexibility testing: Sometimes called the zipper test, shoulder flexibility testing evaluates the flexibility and mobility of your shoulder joint. Use one hand to reach behind your neck, between your shoulders, while reaching behind your back, toward your shoulders, with the other. Measure how many far apart your hands are.
  • Sit-and-reach testing: This is used to measure tightness in your lower back and hamstring muscles. The test is performed while sitting on the floor with your legs fully extended. Flexibility is measured by the number of inches your hands are from your feet when reaching forward.
  • Trunk lift testing: This is used to measure tightness in your lower back. It is performed while lying face-down on the floor. With your arms at your side, you would be asked to lift your upper body with just your back muscles. Flexibility is measured by how many inches you are able to lift yourself off the ground.
12 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • Mauch, L.; Eklund, L.; Greenberg, al. Appropriate and Inappropriate Practices Related to Fitness Testing. J Phys Ed Recreat Dance. 2017;88:6,3-9. DOI:10.1080/07303084.2017.1331636.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.