Ask 10 experts for their definition of fitness, and you’ll hear 10 different answers. That’s because how you define the word depends on the type of performance you expect. Some athletes need to develop a particular type of fitness over all others—powerlifters at one extreme, marathoners at another—but most of us are at our best when we achieve balanced fitness. In other words, we’re good at everything a healthy, active man needs to be able to do.
On these points the experts agree: You need core stability. You need lower-body strength and power to run, jump, and lift heavy objects off the ground. You need torso strength to lift your own body weight in repeated challenges. And you need enough endurance to run a mile without stopping for defibrillation.
That’s why we asked our experts to create seven fitness tests that will help you assess the shape you’re in. Start with the three challenges below, which measure core and upper-body strength—areas guys generally care about most. But don’t just do these exercises once; make them part of your regular workout and you’ll quickly broaden your shoulders, build your biceps, and chisel your torso. And become as fit as you’ve ever been.
And don’t aim for average. Keep working at these exercises until you’re not just fit, but Men’s Health Fit. Let the games begin.
Fitness Test #1: Core Stability
Fitness begins in the middle of your body. That’s also where it ends, if your core isn’t strong and stable. Not only do the muscles in your torso defend your spine against unwanted movements—the twists and jolts that produce injuries—but they also enable the movements you do want. They’re the linchpins that allow coordinated actions of your upper- and lower-body muscles.
So we’ll start with the plank, a fundamental test of core stability and endurance. The average guy should be able to hold a basic plank for 60 seconds, says strength coach Nick Tumminello. If you aspire to be Men’s Health Fit, you should be able to do a more challenging version for the same amount of time.
You’ll need something long, solid, light, and straight, like a broom handle or dowel. Assume a basic plank position, with your weight resting on your forearms and toes. Your body should form a straight line from neck to ankles. You want your feet hip-width apart and your elbows directly below your shoulders.
Have a friend set the dowel along your back. It should make contact at three points: the back of your head, between your shoulder blades, and your tailbone. Hold that position. Stop if your body loses contact with the dowel at one of these three points.
If you can hold your position for 60 seconds, stop and rest for two minutes. Then do the plank with your feet on a bench. (You won’t be able to use the dowel, because it will slide off.)
Nailed it? Rest two minutes and try this version: With your feet back on the floor, move your arms forward so your elbows are beneath your eyes instead of your shoulders. If you can hold this one for 60 seconds, congratulations: You’re Men’s Health Fit.