Starting a Fitness Program? Get Baseline Measurements First

Impressive jump!

Before beginning or modifying a fitness program, it’s helpful to take some baseline physical measurements. Re-measure periodically. That way you’ll know whether you’re making progress, holding steady, or regressing. Improving your numbers also helps to maintain motivation.

Not taking measurements would be like starting a weight loss plan without a baseline and subsequent weights.

Eighteen months ago, I finished a home-based, 15-week, six-days-a-week fitness program called Core Performance, designed by Mark Verstegen. I was pleased with the results. The only problem is that it’s very time-consuming, 45-60 minutes a day. Perhaps fitness just has to be that way.

I regret that I didn’t take any fitness measurements before and after starting Core Performance.

For much of the last year, I modified Core Performance to a thrice weekly, then twice weekly program, until a couple months ago when I pretty much abandoned it. I miss the benefits now, but just didn’t want to put in the time to achieve them. In other words, I lost my motivation.

Who needs this much flexibility?

Intellectually, I know that regular exercise is important. I’ve read that you can be fairly fit with as little as 30 minutes of exercise a week. I’m not entirely convinced yet. I’ll be test-driving some of these time-efficient programs over the next 12 months.  One I’ve done already is Hillfit.

This new style of fitness is promoted by the likes of Dr. Doug McGuff, Chris Highcock, Skyler Tanner, Nassim Taleb, and Jonathan Bailor, among others.

What to Measure

  1. Weight
  2. Blood pressure
  3. Resting heart rate (first thing in the AM before getting out of bed)
  4. Waist circumference (upright and supine)
  5. Height
  6. Body mass index
  7. Mid-arm circumference, both arms, hanging relaxed at your sides
  8. Maximal calf circumference, both calves, while standing at ease
  9. Maximum number of consecutive pull-ups
  10. Maximum number of consecutive push-ups
  11. Run/walk one mile as fast as you can
  12. Maximum vertical jump (stand by a tall wall then jump and reach up as high as you can with one arm, noting the highest point above ground your fingers can reach)
  13. Can you touch your toes? Stand up straight, locking knees in extension, then bend over at your waist and touch your toes with your fingertips. If you can touch toes, can you flatten your palms against the floor? If you can’t reach your toes, measure the distance from your fingertips to the floor.
  14. Optional blood work for special situations: fasting blood sugar, hemoglobin A1c, triglycerides, cholesterols (total, HDL, LDL, sub-fractions)

The particular aspects of fitness these measure are strength and endurance in major muscle groups, cardiovascular and pulmonary endurance, a little flexibility, and a hint of body composition.

You may appreciate an assistant to help you measure some of these.

It’a long list.  If too long, just do what you think is important.  Record your numbers. Re-test some or all of these periodically, such as every six weeks after making a change.

If you’re in fairly poor condition at the outset, you’ll see some improved numbers after a couple or three weeks of a good exercise program. It takes months to build significant muscle mass; you’ll see improved strength and endurance before mass.

Am I missing anything?

Steve Parker, M.D.


Filed under Exercise

2 responses to “Starting a Fitness Program? Get Baseline Measurements First

  1. ProudDaddy

    I have yet to see a study of HIIT that doesn’t show a reduction in time for the same benefit of about 80%! As for strength training, the optimal number of reps and sets is controversial, but I don’t think anyone doesn’t believe that the first set, to failure, produces the greatest result. If you are pressed for time (or motivation), do your one set per group once or twice a week and you will see increases in strength and muscularity. For something that you will be doing the rest of your life, what difference will it make for your gains to be slightly slower?