Is Fitness Testing Really Necessary?, by Matthew Romans
Posted March 22, 2021 by Matthew Romans
As a part of my efforts to further my education, I recently finished taking an exercise science course online at Maryville University. The course covered a wide variety of subjects, from athletic training to sports and exercise psychology, and while I disagreed with most of the other students as far as exercise philosophy and methodology are concerned, I got a lot out of the course. One unit that was covered during the semester had to do with fitness testing. After going through that unit and participating in assignments that had to do with the subject, I thought it valid to question whether fitness testing is really necessary. It was a good exercise for me to go through the testing, so that I could make up my own mind and share my thoughts with Total Results clients and regular readers of our blog articles.
I performed the following fitness tests over the course of one week: the Stork Balance Stand Test (https://www.topendsports.com/testing/tests/balance-stork.htm), the Cooper 1.5 mile Run Test (https://www.topendsports.com/testing/tests/2-4-km-run.htm), the Rockport Walk Test (https://exrx.net/Calculators/Rockport), a push-up test (maximum number of push-ups completed to muscular failure), BMI (body mass index), and a couple of different step tests. For the tests that are designed to measure aerobic fitness/endurance, we were required to calculate our VO2 Max (the maximum amount of oxygen the body is able to use during exercise) based on things like body weight, our scores on the tests, and mathematical formulas we were given. Based on age, we would reference our scores on a norms chart to see how we compared with our peer group.
I scored extremely well on a few of the tests (the run test, the walk test, push-ups, and the aerobic step test), did fair on the anaerobic step test, and scored poorly on the balance test and BMI. Some of the results were not surprising, but other results were; what could all this mean? The result of the balance test was unexpected. This requires you to place your non-dominant foot on your dominant knee, and stand on one foot with your heel raised for as long as you can. I had a difficult time performing this task for longer than ten seconds, even though I have no difficulties with balance in performing everyday activities or things that are sport-related. Balance skills tend to be specific in nature to the activity you are doing, and if you practice those specific skills, your balance will improve. People who perform this test as a means of evaluation don't get to practice the test ahead of time, but I suspect they would perform better if they practiced it before being evaluated again on their performance.
As for the tests in which I performed well, the run test and the push-up test stood out to me. I was not surprised that I did reasonably well in the push-up test, but I was surprised that I was able to complete as many as I did (over 50). I have not done regular push-ups in many years, so it's not as if my skills were particularly sharp. The run test really blew me away. I have not run (outside of participating in sports) specifically for distance in over twenty years, yet my mile time was 4:45, and I completed the entire run in 7:19. How can this be explained? My current exercise regimen consists of one Total Results strength training workout per week, and outside of occasional hikes and walks all I do in terms of physical activity is the active nature of my job as an instructor. I perform no specific "aerobic exercise", yet my VO2 Max numbers were extremely high. I believe that I am physically fit, but I am also of the opinion that VO2 Max as a measuring tool is completely worthless. It is a test that was originally designed to measure the minimum oxygen uptake in comatose patients, but has been twisted around to supposedly measure something completely different. Even the late Michael Pollock, PhD, who performed more research with VO2 Max than anyone before him, said that, "Maximum oxygen uptake testing is not a test of anything. Any variable data from this test is almost entirely a genetic aberration." If that is the case, why is VO2 Max still held in such high esteem in the exercise physiology community? My theory is that many in that industry use VO2 Max and many of the established fitness tests to make themselves feel more important and to justify the expense of their education. I believe that these results also underscore the fact that regular high-intensity weight training is the most effective means of keeping the cardiovascular system functioning at peak capacity, and that running is completely unnecessary in order to achieve this end. It is also worth noting that I scored poorly on the Body Mass Index test. Based on my height and weight (6 feet, 190 lbs), which are the only things measured, I am considered pre-obese. This test does not take into account lean muscle versus fat mass, so it is rather arbitrary. I am certainly not a ripped Adonis, but I'm nowhere close to being obese. I had long suspected that BMI was of dubious merit, but this confirms it.
Is fitness testing necessary? For the purposes of the Total Results exercise philosophy and our clients, I believe the answer is no. The exercise physiology community considers body composition to be a form of fitness testing; we perform body composition measurements on most of our clients within their first few sessions, but we don't look at it as testing. Rather, it's an opportunity to establish a baseline in order to get on the right path toward fat loss, and we use it as a measurement of progress. We can learn more about a prospective client by going through health history paperwork, asking questions, and putting them through a couple of exercises during their initial consultation than by having them do a series of tests that are very skill-specific. It is unnecessary for people to stand on one foot, run, or step up and down on a bench in order to gain insight as to their baseline level of conditioning. All of that may look impressive to the casual observer, but none of it means very much. Many of these fitness tests carry a high risk of injury, and that runs counter to the Total Results mission. We want to help you to achieve maximum physical improvements safely and efficiently.
Our exercise philosophy is the same today as it was when we opened nearly twenty years ago. We will continue to work every day to improve and give you the best exercise experience money can buy. Our mission is your amazing!