9 Ways to Measure Your Fitness

 

BALANCE

Running is an intricate one-foot balancing act. To stay steady on your feet, nerve endings in your joints and muscles (called proprioceptors) sense changes in your body position. Improving your balance can enhance the ability of these proprioceptors to anticipate movement changes so your runs are smoother and faster. Besides, studies show that balance naturally declines with age if you don't actively work on it.

IMPROVE IT

One-Legged Squat

Place a stability ball between your lower back and a wall. Lift your right foot off the ground and lower down into a squat. Push back to start—but don't lower your right foot. That's one rep. Continue for eight to 10 reps, and then repeat on the other leg.

Keep your stride: Maintain your footing with these top running shoes for 2010.

TEST IT

Standing Stork

Place your right foot against your left leg. Start timing. Stop timing when your left foot moves or you lose your balance. Repeat on the other side. Average the times.

SCORE IT

Seconds

Great >50

Good 26-49

Fair 25 or less

JOINT MOBILITY

Most runners realize their muscular flexibility could use some work, but they don't think about the range of motion of their joints. Joint mobility is a measure of how effectively you are able to move your ankles, knees, and hips through a normal range of motion. When these joints are tight, your body recruits other muscles, which then become overworked and vulnerable to injury, says Craig Rasmussen, C.S.C.S., a fitness coach in Newhall, California

IMPROVE IT

Squat-to-Stand

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Grab your toes, bending your knees if you need to. Keeping arms straight, pull your glutes down and lift your chest while holding your toes. Reach up one arm, then the other, to form a "Y." Stand up, keeping arms raised. Repeat 10 times.

SCORE IT

Great

If with feet flat on the floor, your torso is parallel to your lower leg throughout the test, your thighs are below parallel to the floor, and you're able to keep your knees aligned with your feet without knees caving inward.

Good

If you can meet the above parameters, but only with heels elevated on the board.

Fair

If you have trouble maintaining form in either heel position.

SPEED

Whether they're interested in running a personal record or simply finishing their morning five-miler in less time, most runners are interested in getting faster. What you may not realize, though, is that speed training can help prevent injury because it demands that muscles fire hard for a split second. This requires more power than slogging out miles, and therefore builds more muscle that can protect you from the wear and tear of distance running, says Martin Rooney, C.S.C.S., chief operating officer of the Parisi Speed School in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.

IMPROVE IT

Speed Drills

"There are two ways to get faster: Increase stride frequency and length," Rooney says. This first drill trains your brain and your muscles to communicate superfast—so your muscles fire quickly to improve stride frequency. The second works the hamstrings and glutes, the two muscle groups that control stride length.

1. Quick Steps Drill

Take as many short steps as possible—as quickly as possible—for five yards. Walk five yards, then repeat. Do three sets of five reps. Rest 30 seconds between sets.

2. Straight Leg Bound

Run 30 yards, taking as big of a stride as possible while keeping legs straight (shown at left). Rest 60 seconds. Repeat up to five times.

TEST IT

Lap Test

Go to a track and warm up with an easy 10-minute run. Then, using your watch to time yourself, run one lap (which is 400 meters or a quarter-mile) as quickly as possible. If a track isn't accessible, run a quarter-mile on a measured stretch of flat road.

SCORE IT

Female Male

Great -60 seconds -55 seconds

Good 60-70 seconds 55-65 seconds

Fair >71 seconds >66 seconds

Battle of the sexes: Learn more about women's training needs here.

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