How A Professional Athlete’s Fitness Is Measured

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Considering I have been spending hours every day working on every aspect of fitness and sports’ skills for years and my background in sports education, I’m qualified enough to write this article. In our society, the term fitness is misused, abused and not at all understood. People are so used to calling any average gym rat or bodybuilder fit without even realising how fitness is measured or judged. They don’t know all the criteria. It’s not their fault. They are just fitness illiterate. As an athlete myself, I can’t call anyone fit unless and until I have the complete fitness profile and background of the person. How does a professional athlete’s fitness is measured? There are tests to determine how fit someone is. So let’s settle this once and for all. There are two types of fitness :

  1. Specific Fitness : Specific fitness is all about the activity at hand. What does that mean? Let’s consider an activity like rock climbing; one of the most dangerous physical activities. I’m assuming you can see the attached picture here. If you can’t, refresh the page. When you grip a pull up bar, you use your whole fist to grip so that you could activate all the muscles of your forearms, upper arms and back while pulling yourself up. This guy in the pic is hanging using mostly the grip of his fingers. And that’s not even the tough part. He has a long way to go up. How many people you know from your gym who have enough strength to pull this off? I’m asking this because people go to the gym to build strength and rock climbing is mostly about strength. For this particular activity, you need an insane amount of pulling and fingers strength along with core, arms, back and thighs. A lot of fit people may fail while climbing. Likewise, different sports require different specific fitness. But if your general fitness is good enough, it gets easier to develop specific fitness. Let’s talk about general fitness.
    Rock climbing
  2. General Fitness : Every sport has metabolic, physiological and biomechanical demands. Every sport has different techniques and skills. And based on these factors an athlete of certain shape and size may have a mechanical advantage in one sport but a disadvantage in another. For example, the average height of players in the NBA is 6’7” while the average height of championship female gymnasts who have won Olympic individual all around medals is only 5’1”. But the one thing that stays common in all the sports is general fitness. The athletes from different sporting disciplines can only be compared based on their general fitness and conditioning.

Who is the fittest? How to know? Here we are not going to discuss anything about body composition but only performance-based components of fitness.

  1. Maximum Strength : Maximal strength training lays the foundation for power and strength endurance. For an athlete, the two most important exercises to test maximum strength are deadlift and back squat. 1RM (repetition maximum) test is performed to measure an athlete’s maximum isotonic strength. The maximum weight an athlete can lift with one repetition. Also, one should not design strength training program without knowing their 1RM. It also helps the athlete to track their progress. Another popular method to measure maximum isometric strength is the testing of grip strength. I can’t stress enough how important grip strength is for numerous physical activities. It can save your life some day. More details about the grip strength and how to work on it is beyond the scope of this article. But I’ll discuss it in future. It’s measured using a dynamometer.
  2. Power : The two most popular ways to measure power are 1RM Olympic lifts (snatch and clean & jerk) and plyometrics (vertical jump and standing broad jump). Another very good test is kneeling power ball chest launch.
  3. Strength Endurance : The most popular upper body pushing strength endurance test is done by performing the maximum number of flat bench press repetitions at either 185 or 225 pounds and the pulling strength endurance test is done by performing the maximum number of pull-ups using pronated grips. Partial movements are not counted. For testing isometric strength endurance of lower body, athletes perform wall sit for as long as possible.
  4. Speed : 40m sprint is the best way to measure speed. Split times can be done at every 10m to determine acceleration and peak velocity.
  5. Agility : There are many tests that can be performed to test agility. In fact, different sports have different tests. But some of the most standard tests are Illinois agility run, 505 agility, shuttle running, among others.
  6. Aerobic Endurance : Maximum Oxygen Consumption Test (VO2max) is the best measure of aerobic endurance. Here V stands for Volume, O2 for Oxygen and max for maximum. It’s a measurement of human body’s ability to consume oxygen.
  7. Anaerobic Endurance : a) Wingate Anaerobic Test (WANT) is an anaerobic test for the lower body based on cycling at maximal speed for 30 seconds using a cycle ergometer against a high braking resistance. b) Running Based Anaerobic Sprint Test (RAST) , like WANT is another very popular lower body anaerobic test using which you can determine maximum power, minimum power, average power and fatigue index. c) 500m Rowing Ergo Test is used to measure complete body anaerobic endurance. The aim is to complete 500m as fast as possible.
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