#379 - Generalized Health Benchmark Test

8 minute read

What is “Healthy”?

I’ve already written about the unsatisfying definition you’ll find if you look up (“healthy”)[https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/healthy… so I’m not going to belabor the point or repeat myself here. Suffice to say there isn’t one specific universal definition. I wanted to write mine down. See the Top 5.

I wanted to write briefly about my new (attempt at implementing an old) plan: to utilize a set of common tests to measure my general physical fitness over time. The previous instance of this idea provided a more robust, granular picture of fitness… but, as a person who feels okay saying he’s more than an amateur self-tracker, I’ve learned the necessary ROI to continue tracking whatever interests me. My original “fitness benchmark” required at least a week’s worth of intense workouts to measure. The new one takes one workout, and also works as a pretty decent workout in and of itself. This minor rejigger makes the juice worth the squeeze. A related, second change was pre-planning the cadence upon which I’d take the tests (going so far as to schedule them in my calendar).

Tests in the Failed First Attempt

Picture of old metrics

I don’t know what I was supposed to do for “yoga”. That sort of lack of specificity is typical of a poorly thought out premise. Truthfully, looking at this table again, I think it may be worth keeping around, but not as a “fill out an entire line THIS WEEK”. More like a supplemental “fill in a relevant datum as needed” to the Life Tracker.

The New Hotness

As pictured in the header of this post - here’s the what and why of the new fitness benchmark test. Get ready for me to use the term “proxy metric” a lot, because it makes me feel smart. I’m going to link to Wikipedia here, so don’t think I’m taking myself too seriously. I stole most of these ideas from other organizations who’ve thought a lot more about this stuff than I have. Borrowing ideas is a great strategy for stuff like this. Also I tried to minimize the dependency on equipment as much as possible.

Morning Of

The test begins before even getting out of bed in the morning. Three of these four tests are taken from the list of vital signs they take when you go in for a standard “wellness visit” to your doctor. I utilized their expert judgment over my own.

Resting Heart Rate

Metric: Heart Rate in Beats per Minute.
Taken in the morning, before getting out of bed. Resting heart rate is a proxy measure of overall fitness.

Blood Pressure

Metric: Averages from three measures throughout the morning (standard measures - systolic/diastolic in mmHg)
This requires proper equipment, which is cheaper than you’d expect. Got a spare $25? You can buy an automated blood pressure monitor. High blood pressure is associated with heart attacks and strokes and other bad stuff. I’m not a doctor.

Body Weight

Metric: Weight in lbs, or kg, or stone if you’re from wherever that unit of measure is used
Not much to say. Weight has inextricably links to many health outcomes. Managing weight has got to be one of the Top 10 areas of focus most commonly shared by Americans.

Rolling Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

Metric: Average HRV (in milliseconds) from the previous 5 nights
This one is not taken by the nurse before you talk with your Primary Care Physician. HRV is another indicator of health, in this case, heightened stress levels tend to lower HRV, among other correlations. Read more about it here if you like. Then read the rest of his stuff.
HRV requires an Oura Ring or something similarly capable of measuring HRV. The Apple Watch can do it to some extent if you download the right app.

Pre-tests

The goal of these tests is to get a feel for your agility, balance, and explosiveness - without wearing you out.

Pinned Leg Balance

Metric: Time Stood
Stand on one foot. Place your other foot against the side of your standing leg, about halfway between the knee and the foot. Close your eyes. Time how long you can stay in this position without toppling.

Pistol Squat

Metric: Ability to complete at least one pistol squat (both sides)
A pistol squat is a one-legged bodyweight squat in which you go all the way down until you’re nearly sitting on the ground before standing back up. Pistol squats require strength, balance, coordination, and good range of motion. Also, the are conveniently just barely within my physical capacity to do most of the time. Good test candidates.

Broad Jump

Metric: Distances jumped, in your preferred unit of measure for distance
Broad jump is just a standing long jump. Put your toes on a line. Jump off both feet as far forward as you can. Measure the distance between the line and where your heels land. It tests your ability to generate power. It’s one of the tests used in the NFL combine. Turns out I’m good at these so I’m going to keep doing them and making myself feel good.

The Workout

This is the part that’s supposed to be hard. It’s mostly adapted from the standard combat fitness trials employed by our armed services.

1.5 Mile Run

Metric: Time to Complete
Just run, for an extended period of time. Walk if you have to. Stop entirely if you have to. Stop the timer when you finish your run.
I knew I was going to have a “the run” portion of this test. I debated myself literally for a couple of hours trying to pick a distance. The Army uses 2 miles. The Navy uses 3 miles. Ultimately, I went with 1.5 miles (which is used in the police fitness test) because I can generally run one mile no matter how bad of shape I’m in (at this point in my life, anyway), but if I ran a full 2 miles I wouldn’t probably have the necessary energy to finish the remaining tests. I have given up on the pipe dream of being a guy who can move a ton of weight and run marathons and all this and that. There’s a diminishing return on investment with everything. Right now I’m thinking the maximum I’d ever really want to be capable of running consistently is about 5k… and if I can run 1.5 miles without too much trouble I think that I’d be solid for a only-minimally-rough 5k.

Pull ups

Metric: Number of chin-to-bar touches in 2 minutes
Set a timer for 2 minutes. Do as many pull ups as you can. Don’t “kip”. Keep them clean.

Push ups

Metric: Number of full push ups done in 2 minutes
Set a timer for 2 minutes. Do as many push ups as you can. Hands under the shoulders. Touch the chest at the bottom. Maybe pick up the hands at the bottom to force yourself to keep them clean.

Sumo Deadlift - 275 lbs

Metric: max reps in one set at 275
If you’re not me, this should probably read “Deadlift - whatever weight”. I do Sumo Deadlifts over deadlifts because they are easier for tall people. 275 lbs has become my standard “heavy but doable” weight. Aim for something you’d like to be able to do in the neighborhood of 3 to 8 times.

Plank

Metric: Time held in seconds
Hold a plank for as long as possible. Elbows and toes on the ground. Stiff, straight body.

The Cooldown

This part of the test is about flexibility, range of motion, and pure unadulterated vanity.

Forward fold

Metric: how difficult is it to touch the floor
Stand straight-legged. Lean forward and touch the ground. How difficult was that? That’s the test. Alternatively you can sit and lean forward. This lets you measure how far past your feet you can reach, but I find capturing that information difficult… so I use the “how much of my hand can I touch the floor with” method.

Pinned Leg Squat

Metric: Pass or fail
Stand with feet and knees together. Perform a full squat. You should be able to do this if you’ve got full range of motion. Now that I”m looking at things this may be redundant given the Pistol Squat test. But hey, that means it’s easy.

Overhead Wall Squat

Metric: Pass or fail
Stand with your toes 2-4 inches from a wall. Put your hands over your head. Squat down, keeping your arms up. The goal here is to do a squat without touching the wall. If you can’t do it, that means you’re leaning too far forward with your squats. I’m not a PT. I Googled range-of-motion tests that could be done at home and this came up as an option.

Pictures

Metric: How many likes your fitness Instagram gets
Pictures are motivating. Also juxtaposition of pictures of roughly the same pose in roughly the same environment can really bring to light the aggregate effects of slow changes made over time. I don’t have a fitness Instagram, by the way.

That’s that. Hopefully someone else will have this idea, find this page via Googling whatever and steal some of my ideas for their own use. I always encourage that. In fact, here’s a copy of the Google Spreadsheet template I made for it.

Top 5: My Personal Health Goals

  1. To maintain capacity to play sports at a decently competitive level for the foreseeable future
  2. To maintain capacity to perform moderately difficult physical tasks
  3. To look like a person who can do both of the above
  4. To avoid unnecessary pain
  5. To maintain capacity to play with my kids and enjoy life as long as humanly possible

Quotes

Dog!
- My 13 month old son, who saw a Clydesdale. He’s cute.