Search This Blog

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Men's Health Fit?

There was an article in Men’s Health Magazine’s November 2010 issue entitled, “Are You Men’s Health Fit?”. The article highlighted four elite athletes from different sports and presented seven physical fitness tests, stating that, if you can achieve the highest level on each test, you are “Men’s Health Fit“. Below are the tests along with the Men’s Health standards and my comments.

1. Test - Timed Plank:
The body, face down, is held in a straight line with the toes and forearms on the ground.
  • Below average: Plank with elbows directly below shoulder’s held for less than one minute
  • Average: Plank with elbows directly below shoulder’s held for one minute
  • Above average: Plank as above but with feet on a bench (of unstated height) held for one minute.
  • Men’s Health Fit: Plank with feet on floor and elbows below eyes held for one minute.
2. Squat while holding a wooden stick overhead with hands spaced 1.5 times shoulder width:
  • Below average: You can’t bend your knees to 90 degrees without leaning forward
  • Average: You can only bend your knees past 90 degrees if your heels come off the floor
  • Above average: You can do a full squat while keeping your heels on the floor and not leaning forward
  • Men’s Health Fit: You can do the above while holding a 45-lb bar instead of the stick.
My Comments:
This is a test of flexibility of the calf muscles, shoulder, and back rather than a physical fitness test. It’s hard to see how the ability to do this would relate to sports performance or any physical challenge other than Olympic weightlifting, which requires this specific kind of flexibility.

3. Barbell dead lift:
  • Below average: less than bodyweight
  • Average: 1-1.25 times bodyweight
  • Above average: 1.25-1.5 times bodyweight
  • Men’s Health fit: more than 1.5 times bodyweight
My Comments:
To define levels in terms of proportion of bodyweight lifted is naïve because, for physiological and biomechanical reasons, smaller people can lift more in proportion to their bodyweight. The following standards from show how body size affects standards:

                                     Deadlift as Proportion of Bodyweight
Bodyweight (lb)    untrained     novice    intermediate   advanced   elite
        148                 .85             1.58           1.82           2.57       3.26
        181                 .82             1.51           1.74           2.42       3.03
        220                 .75             1.39           1.60           2.18       2.66

Based on the table, the standards given by Men’s Health are low for anyone who trains with the deadlift exercise.

4. Standing broad jump:
  • Below average: less than 6 feet
  • Average: 6-7 feet
  • Above average: 7-8 feet
  • Men’s Health fit: more than 8 feet
My Comments:
There are few published adult norms for the standing long jump. However, a study by Santilla et al. in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (vol. 38, no. 11, pp. 1990-1994, 2006) presents the following as military standards in Finland.
  • Poor: less than 6’7” (2.0 meters)
  • Satisfactory: 6’7” (2.0 meters)
  • Good: 7’3” (2.2. Meters)
  • Excellent: 7’ 11” (2.4 meters)
The “Men’s Health Fit” standard seems a reasonable approximation of “excellent“. However, the “below average” standard should be higher and the lower limit of the “average” range should be higher. One problem is that jumping ability is largely related to the percentage of fast-twitch fibers in one’s leg and hip muscles, which is determined mainly by heredity. Thus, only a limited degree of improvement can be expected from training.

5. Pushups:
  • Below average: less than 15
  • Average: 16-29
  • Above average: 30-44
  • Men’s Health fit: 45 or more
My Comments:
The magazine’s pushup standards are quite low. The following standards for males aged 20-29 were published by the American College of Sports Medicine (see our website for the full table):
  • 25th percentile: 24
  • 50th percentile: 33
  • 75th percentile: 44
  • 90th percentile: 57
The Army standards (age 22-26) are even tougher because soldiers know they will be tested every 6 months and many of them train for the test:
  • 60 points (just passing): 40
  • 75 points: (average): 53
  • 90 points (excellent): 66
6. Chinups (undergrip) pausing 1 sec at top:
  • Below average: less than 3
  • Average: 3-7
  • Above average: 8-10
  • Men’s Health fit: more than 10
The Marine Corps scores the pullup segment of its physical fitness test for men aged 17-26 as follows:
  • 3rd class (passing): 9
  • 2nd class (good): 12
  • 1st class (excellent): 15
The Men’s Health standards are low in comparison to the Marine Corps standards. Of course, Marines are tested regularly for the number of pullups they can do, so they train at the exercise.

7. Mile Run:
  • Below average: 12 or more minutes
  • Average: 9-12 minutes
  • Above average: 6-9 minutes
  • Men’s Health fit: under 6 minutes
My Comments:
Adult norms for the 1-mile run are not readily available. However, the following 1.5 mile run standards for males aged 20-29 were published by the American College of Sports Medicine (see our website for full table):
  • 25th percentile: 13:53 (9:15 mile pace)
  • 50th percentile: 12:18 (8:12 mile pace)
  • 75th percentile: 10:42 (7:08 mile pace)
  • 90th percentile: 9:09 (6:06 mile pace)
The Army standards (age 22-26) are even tougher at the low end because soldiers know they will be tested every 6 months and most of them train for the test:
  • 60 points (just passing): 16:36 (8:18 mile pace)
  • 75 points: (average): 15:15 (7:38 mile pace)
  • 90 points (excellent): 13:54 (6:57 mile pace)
Since these standards are for the 1.5 and 2.0 mile run, the same populations would run the mile run at an even faster pace. While the pace needed to be “Men’s Health Fit” would be considered excellent by either standard, the magazine’s standards for average and above average are far too slow.

It’s difficult to ascertain how Men’s Health Magazine decided which tests were important and where it got its standards, many of which seem arbitrary. They’re low for the deadlift, pushups, and chinups, and low for the lower fitness levels in the standing broad jump and mile run. Since there are no references for the standards in the article, one might think that they were developed by group consensus among the magazine’s staff members.

One factor that the article ignores is that there are different types of athletes who, because of their body types and natural talents, excel at different sports. Elite athletes are very specialized creatures. Strength and power athletes do not generally do very well on tests of whole-body endurance while endurance athletes often do poorly on strength and power tests. Thus, it is likely that the four athletes highlighted in the article would excel at some tests and do poorly on others. It is misleading to imply that one has to do well on all types of fitness tests to be a good athlete.

By calling the highest level on each test the “Men’s Health Fit” standard, the magazine seems to be sending the message that it has very tough standards, even leading one to surmise that the magazine’s staff members are all super-fit. It would be very interesting to see how its staff would do on the tests. It would be surprising if any of them could score “Men’s Health Fit” on all the tests.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome questions and comments.