9 Ways to Measure Your Fitness Without the Scale

These are ways you can measure your fitness that don't involve using a scale. They test your cardiovascular endurance, coordination, mental well-being and more.

Sean Jackson
Sean Jackson is a creative copywriter living in Florida. He's had work published with Realtor.com, theScore, ESPN, and the San Francisco Chronicle. In his free time, Sean likes to play drums, fail miserably at improv and spend time at the beach.
Sean Jackson
6 min read
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When people think of fitness, one of the first markers you might consider is weight. However, there are many misconceptions about weight, including that the number on your scale always indicates how fit you are. Instead of solely looking at the scale, there are tests that determine your fitness levels for cardiovascular endurance, coordination, mental well-being, muscle endurance and more. We'll explain how these tests work and how they are performed. 

If you're new to exercising, it has been a while since your last workout or you have a chronic illness, consult your doctor before undertaking these tests or starting a new regimen. 

Read more: Best Fitness Trackers

1. Cardiovascular endurance 

A person wearing a sports bra and a Vo2 max test mask while running on a treadmill.
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When you exercise, you strengthen your heart, enabling it to pump blood to the rest of your body more efficiently. Along with improved blood flow, regular exercise lessens the stress on your heart by lowering your blood pressure and removing "bad" cholesterol (LDL). It could also reduce your risk of heart arrhythmia, which is an irregular heartbeat. 

You can measure your heart's endurance by doing a VO2 max test, during which you'll ride a stationary bike or run on a treadmill while wearing a mask. The mask is connected to a machine that calculates the oxygen level in your exhaled air compared to the oxygen level in your inhaled air. This is typically measured in milliliters of oxygen consumed in a minute per kilogram of body weight. The exercise intensity increases every few minutes to determine your stamina. 

The goal is to achieve a higher VO2 max. Doing so shows that your body can use more oxygen to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which your body utilizes to create energy. In turn, your body is better equipped to handle the rigors of exercises requiring ample oxygen and energy, such as swimming or running. 

2 and 3. Strength and muscle endurance

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Strength training has many benefits that can help your body stay young, even as you age. As you get older, your body typically experiences sarcopenia, meaning you involuntarily lose some muscle mass and strength. When you reach your 80s, you could have lost up to 50% of your muscle mass

In addition to maintaining your muscle mass, regular strength training helps increase bone density, enhance mobility and improve cognitive function. One way to measure your muscle endurance is with the plank test. 

To perform a plank test, find someplace comfortable that's free of distractions. You may want to use a yoga or exercise mat. Lay on the ground or your mat stomach-first, then elevate your body on your elbows and forearms. Lift your legs to have your toes anchor the rest of your weight. You'll want your body to form a straight line from your head (you should be looking down toward the ground) to your toes. Once you are in this position, have someone start a stopwatch. You have good endurance if you can remain in this position for more than two minutes. Those holding the pose for over six minutes display exceptional core strength. 

4 and 5. Flexibility and mobility 

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Flexibility plays a crucial role in your physical fitness. After all, if your muscles are tight, it makes it harder for you to be active. Staying flexible provides your body with many benefits, such as increased blood flow and allowing your muscles to move through their full range of motion. 

An easy way to measure how flexible you are is with the sit-and-reach test. The goal is to sit with your legs extended in a straight line. From here, you'll reach out using your fingers to try to grip your toes. If you can touch your toes and hold that position for at least two seconds, you have excellent flexibility. 

While the sit-and-reach test measures your hamstring and lower back flexibility, you should test your shoulders, too. This is when Apley's Scratch Test comes into play. Here's how to do the test:

  1. Raise your right arm over your head while keeping it straight
  2. Bend your right elbow, resting your palms on the back of your neck while having your fingers face down
  3. Take your left hand and rest it on your spine with your palm facing away from your body
  4. Move your left hand up your spine and your right hand down until you can't reach anymore
  5. Have someone record the distance between your fingers

If your fingers from both hands can touch or overlap, you have exceptional shoulder flexibility. Having more than two inches between your fingers from both hands indicates a limited range of motion. 

6 and 7. Balance and coordination 

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Balance plays a role in everything you do, from walking and swimming to tying your shoes. Having excellent balance and coordination makes physical tasks like running easier. It can also help prevent injuries from falls or slips. 

One way to test your balance is with single-leg stances. To perform this test, you'll balance on one leg. Doing this for more than 10 seconds indicates that you have a healthy balance. 

Another way to test balance is with the Romberg test. You remove your shoes and stand with your feet together and your arms crossed or at your sides. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then close your eyes. If you notice your body swaying, it could indicate balance issues. 

You can also measure your body's coordination with the alternate-hand wall-toss test. You'll stand at least three feet from the wall, throw a ball underhand so it bounces off the wall, and catch it with the other. Do this for 30 seconds and have someone count how many successful catches you've had. You have exceptional coordination if you can do 30 catches or more.

8. Body composition 

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While weight is a vital part of your body composition, there are other factors at play. These include your muscle mass, bone mass and body water. One of the easiest ways to measure body composition is with the waist-to-hip ratio test, which measures your body's fat distribution around your waist and hips. 

How this works is you'll stand up straight and exhale. Have someone use a tape measure to wrap it around the narrowest part of your waist. Often, this is around your belly button. Next, have them wrap the tape around the widest part of your hips, usually around your buttocks. From here, you'll divide your hip measurement by your waist measurement to receive your ratio. The World Health Organization deems anything above 0.90 for men and 0.85 for women as abdominal obesity

9. Mental well-being

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Your mental health has a direct impact on your physical fitness. When you live with a mental illness such as depression, for instance, you may not feel the motivation to exercise. Depression can also come along with additional symptoms and illnesses, such as headaches, digestion issues, fatigue, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. These conditions can make it equally difficult for you to maintain physical fitness.

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Therefore, monitoring your mental well-being is as imperative as exercising. To track this, you can keep a journal detailing how you feel each day, scoring your feelings from 1 to 10. Over time, you can glance back at your evaluations to determine if patterns are forming. You can also take assessments offered by mental health professionals, who can help you cope with any challenges. 

If you are living with mental distress that interferes with your daily life, asking for help is the first step. If you have health insurance, reach out to your provider to explore any mental health benefits you have. You can also research online therapy services to see if there is one that fits your needs and budget. For uninsured patients or those with budgetary constraints, see if you have a free health clinic in your area. Along with care, they can offer advice on resources available to you. For confidential, free, 24-hour support in both English and Spanish, you can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.