The Key Step People Skip When Getting Fit, According to a Philly Personal Trainer

Philly personal trainer Brian Maher explains why assessing your fitness is critical before delving into a training program.

If you’re like most people who are inconsistent at the gym, you probably go weeks or even months at a time without working out. Even though your body and your fitness levels have changed during this time, it’s not uncommon to jump right back into an old workout routine knowing your body is assuredly different than it was during your last workout. But it’s of the utmost importance that you assess your fitness before beginning any fitness program.

Assessing your fitness may include checking your strength, endurance, flexibility, range of motion, and more. By checking these stats, you’ll be able to figure out where to start and where to go from there. Below, what you’ll get out of gauging your fitness before you attempt to get fit, plus how to do it.

• You’ll identify your starting point. You know where you want to end up and how you want to look and feel when you’ve accomplished your goal, but where are you starting from? Just saying “I’m out of shape” isn’t specific enough when determining what you need to work on. You need to zone in more: Can you run one mile or five miles? Can you do one push-up or 50 push-ups? It’s important to know this so you can gradually increase the intensity of your workouts, instead of starting with a workout that’s much too difficult to handle right now. Starting with the wrong intensity can be a waste of time, or worse, a recipe for injury.

• You’ll be aware of injuries, muscle tightness and muscle imbalances. It’s not always easy to tell when your body isn’t functioning correctly. An injury, like a torn rotator cuff, may be easily identifiable. But what if your range of motion in your right shoulder is not nearly as good as your left shoulder? A lack of range of motion or tightness may eventually lead to injury and more pain. If injured, it’s very difficult to work out with enough intensity to see the desired results you want.

Something else that may pop up while assessing your fitness is muscular imbalance. Muscular imbalance occurs when one muscle group is much stronger than its opposing muscle. For example, if you go to to the gym and work on push-ups and bench press — which work the muscles of the chest — but don’t work the upper back as much, you’re likely to have bad posture caused by muscular imbalance. Your bad posture might not affect your day-to-day gym routine right now, but it may eventually lead to a devastating injury. Muscular imbalances can affect the way you move, and over time, can cause injuries, so it’s very important to identify these issues before they cause injury.

• You’ll be able to use this information to tell how your fitness program is working later down the line. Let’s say you’ve done a fitness program for twelve weeks and you want to know if it worked or not. How do you know if it worked if you don’t know where you started? Some tests, like weight loss, will be easy to track because most people track that regularly. However, flexibility, body fat percentage, range of motion, and strength may not seem as obvious. By tracking all the areas of fitness from the start, you’ll know for sure if this program is working for you. Otherwise, you may be wasting your time with a program that’s leading to little or no results.

How to Assess Your Fitness

Of course, doing these tests is a waste of time if you don’t know how to do them properly. Some of the tests are more straightforward than others. Your cardio test might be assessing your resting heart rate, then reading your heart rate after you’ve walked for five minutes at a brisk speed. However, you may want to consult with a fitness professional to ensure you get accurate results for your assessments both before you begin and after your training program has completed.

Whether you use a fitness professional or do it yourself, make sure all the variables are controlled. Record what speed you walked while tracking your heart rate and walk the same speed for your reassessment. Make sure you didn’t have any caffeine in your system, which can affect your heart rate. An accurate assessment will help identify the right goals, help you catch injuries before they happen, and help you determine the effectiveness of your fitness program.


Brian Maher is the owner of Philly Personal Training, a private personal training studio in the Rittenhouse Square area. He and his staff of personal trainers offer packages to busy individuals looking to make lifestyle changes by improving their overall fitness and wellness.  Read all of Brian’s posts for Be Well Philly here.

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