A good way to find out your fitness level is to get a submaximal graded exercise test. Submaximal graded exercise is any physical activity where the intensity or workload of a particular exercise is increased at a steady rate, but only works your body up to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.
First, your blood pressure, weight, height and maximum heart rate are calculated. If a doctor is performing the test, she will place electrodes on various locations on your body to measure your heart rate during the test. If a certified trainer is performing the test, he will check your heart rate at regular intervals during the test. The two main exercise tests use the treadmill or stationary bike. Both pieces of equipment can be programmed for incremental load and speeds. The speed is set to a constant, but the incline or resistance is increased at regular intervals. The test ends when your heart rate reaches 85 percent of your maximum heart rate value, according to the 1989 YMCA Cycle Ergometer Submaximal Test.
The benefit of taking the test is finding out your exact fitness level. This information arms you to design exercise programs for general health or as a fitness prescription for any preexisting conditions such as high blood pressure. Your test results also provide a baseline for tracking and evaluating your future fitness levels. Knowing how fit you are also helps you to create reasonable fitness goals while reducing your risk of injury. The tests can be given to anyone at any fitness level without expensive costs. Doctors may also use the test as a tool to diagnose cardiovascular disease or other chronic illness.
The test results assess cardiovascular health and measure aerobic fitness. For the best results, a certified fitness professional or health professional should administer the test and interpret the results. Trained professionals can use the test information as a reference for future fitness evaluations and as a means for prescribing rehabilitative fitness programs.
Pretest preparations for a submaximal graded exercise test include not eating, smoking or drinking any alcohol at least three hours prior to testing. Wear comfortable clothing that is loose fitting and allows for airflow. Bring proper aerobic shoes for running or cycling. Make sure to drink plenty of water or other fluids 24 hours before the test to ensure that you are hydrated. Do not exercise the day of the test and get a good night's rest the night before. You may also need to bring your medical records and any medications you are taking.
- ACE Fitness: Measuring Aerobic Capacity
- Mayo Clinic: Target Heart Rate Calculator
- ACE Fitness: What Assumptions are Typically Made with Submaximal Aerobic Fitness Tests
- Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology: The YMCA Cycle Ergometer Submaximal Test
- EXRX: Procedures for the Administration of a Graded Exercise Test
Caroline Thompson is a professional photojournalist who has been working for print and online publications since 1999. Her work has appeared in the "Sacramento Bee," "People Magazine," "Newsweek" and other publications. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in photojournalism from California State University at Hayward and a personal trainer certification from the university's Health and Fitness Institute.