Many beginners ask about fitness assessments right away, but experts suggest that the first concern should be gauging how well they move.
Movement affects your form no matter which activity you choose, whether it’s strength, cardio, or stretching. By focusing on how you move from the beginning, you can identify weaknesses, measure progress in a reliable way, and ultimately avoid injury.
“Once people learn how to move, they tend to make huge strides very quickly,” says Ashley Crosby, MS, CSCS, a strength-and-conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Jupiter, Fla.
Crosby recommends the tests below to assess where you are now. Repeat on a monthly basis to see how you’re progressing. Ask a workout buddy to take a video of you doing the moves (or use a personalized feedback app, such as Coach’s Eye) for a visual record of your form and mobility.
This is a great way to gauge how parts of your body move together.
Assess It: If your chest drops, it may signal a weak core. If you can’t keep your arms overhead and in line with your torso, it could mean limited shoulder mobility. If your heels lift, ankle mobility is the culprit. If your knees collapse, hip strength is an issue. (For moves targeting each of these key areas, see “Beyond the Core: How to Protect Your knees.”)
Tight latissimi dorsi (the winglike muscles that run down the sides of your back) can impede your ability to do overhead movements.
Assess It: If you can’t extend your arms while stabilizing your core and lower back, tight lats are likely to blame. Try stretching out those muscles, or use a foam roller to gently loosen them. (For a lat-focused foam-rolling move, check out “Expert Answers: Upper-Body Foam Rolling“.)
This test assesses how well you can move your hips independent of the rest of your body, which affects how you’re able to perform basic exercises.
Assess It: Once you hit the end of your range of motion, note it and don’t force past it. Side-to-side and front-to-back tilts as well as hip circles can help improve mobility over time. Activities such as Hula-Hoop, salsa, and belly dancing can also support a healthy pelvic tilt.
Glute Bridge With Leg Extension
When other muscle groups — such as the lower back — kick in to compensate for lack of glute strength, pain and injury are often the result.
Assess It: If your hips drop when you extend either leg, weak glutes are likely the cause. This test can also reveal an imbalance: If your right hip drops, the culprit is a weak left glute, and vice versa. (For glute-strengthening moves, visit “Build a Strong Butt.”)