Soon we will be swapping our goggles and swim towels for backpacks and books. September, and back-to-school, is soon upon us. As we make the transition to the school year grind, this is the time for teachers to perform pre-tests: assessments to determine what the classroom group knows and still needs to learn. Instruction can then be tailored specifically for the group, with extra help and challenges for those below and above the average. As a parent and a teacher myself, I know that the quality of an education cannot be totally measured by beginning- and end-of-year assessments, these tests do have their place in the classroom.

In addition to my career as a fitness instructor, personal trainer and teacher, I have a background in business administration. So the Peter Drucker quote, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” has had meaning in each step of my career. In business and education, we look for measurable results. The same goes for fitness.

Assessments are an important part of determining your overall fitness level. And, just as in education, the numbers don’t tell us everything, yet they are an important benchmark in a lifelong journey to fitness. I regularly assess my personal training clients so that I can best tailor a workout and target weaknesses. But you do not need a personal trainer to determine your fitness level. In fact, you can regularly include assessments into your regular workout schedule. Get a pencil and paper and jot down your results so you can measure your progress from month to month.

Pounds and Inches.
You may be performing a basic fitness assessment every day without even knowing it. It may be the bane of your existence, but that bathroom scale can be an important part of seeing where you are and where you want to go. Jump on that scale and write down where you are. Don’t weight yourself every day. Once a month to six weeks is fine to give you a big picture of your progress. You might also want to get a waist measurement on your bare abdomen, just above your hips. Record these measurements once a month. Want to do the same thing without any of the equipment? Look at how your clothes are fitting. Are your favorite jeans getting loose or a little snug? That’s an important indicator, too.

Put Your Heart Into It.
It’s not just how you look on the outside, but how you’re doing on the inside. You don’t need fancy equipment to get an understanding of your cardiovascular strengths. Use the two finger rule. Place two fingers on your wrist or neck at the major arteries, and determine the rate of your pulse in 60-seconds by counting the number of beats. This is your resting heart rate. Record this number. Then, take a one-mile walk or run and take your pulse again. (This is your working heart rate.) A normal resting heart rate is about 60 to 100 beats per minute. Record the changes between your resting heart rate and the rate after exercise. That helps determine how hard your body is working. As you become more fit, the goal is for both your resting and working heart rate to decrease over time. You’re looking for your working heart rate to return back to your resting heart rate more quickly as increased exertion takes your body less effort. Your heart will tell you that it is getting easier to work harder

Ready, Set, Go!
In addition to your heart rate, look at time it takes you to walk or jog a mile. As you exercise more, it should take you less time to pound the pavement. If you start as a walker, you may find it becomes easier to add in some speed. I have several clients who began walking a mile and are now either running miles (yes, in the plural) or are covering lots of ground as walkers. Remember your heart rate goal from above. As you become more fit, you’ll be able to do more, in less time, and with less effort as you become more fit. However, if you are a beginner, think minutes, not miles. The emphasis here is on the time it takes you to exercise.

Reach Goals.
Flexibility indicates the range of motion in your joints and is another important (and measurable) barometer of fitness. A flexible body is one that is able to move freely and easily, without putting undue stress on any parts of the body. Improving flexibility can also improve one’s balance and coordination. To test your own flexibility, sit on the floor with your legs in front of you. How far can you reach? To you knees? Ankles? Toes? Incorporate some gentle, basic stretches in your workout routine, or try out yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi to increase your range of motion.

Push Up Made Perfect.
The mention of a push up sends many of my clients into a panic. Yet, the push up is pretty much a perfect exercise. It emphasizes muscles in the chest, shoulders and arms, yet engages almost every muscle in the body when done correctly. What’s more, there are dozes of different modifications (using a wall, on an incline, on the knees) making a push up possible for almost anyone. A push up is an indicator of strength. See how many you can do at one time, stopping when you cannot repeat the exercise with good form. As you grow stronger with a fitness regimen, the number of possible push ups should increase.

Pencils Down.
Just like beginning-of-school-year assessments, fitness tests give you a roadmap, outlining both your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t get discouraged by the results your first assessment, whether yours is DIY or conduced by a personal trainer. Think of fitness as a marathon, not a sprint. Use the fitness goals established by such an assessment to give added motivation to your workout. Think of it as your own fitness report card. But remember, all of the other important components in fitness. Are you getting enough sleep? Is your diet filled with nutritious, whole foods? And most importantly, are you having fun? Renowned runner and cardiologist Dr. George Sheehan once said, “Fitness has to be fun. If it isn’t, there will be no fitness. Play is the process. Fitness is merely the product.” So while it is important to monitor your progress and look for improvement, remember to enjoy your fitness journey. Good advice, in school and in the gym.