Methodology: Fitness Tracking

Along with trending of how good I’m feeling and other more subjective measurements, I think it will also be important to track and trend something more directly tangible: physical fitness levels.  The military and government use standardized fitness testing as a means of measuring health.  It’s actually a really convenient and not difficult to measure metric that is useful in measuring overall health.  Adapting this to my own experiment will be useful in determining if a diet I am eating is hurting or helping my health.

Physical fitness tests come in two major forms: measuring overall muscular performance and endurance or measuring cardiovascular fitness.  Rather than coming up with my own fitness tests I’ve decided to model it off of how the U.S. military does theirs (plus one extra one on top of that).  The tests themselves all vary slightly but they do have a common base.  The intent is to try to make sure that service members are capable of achieving minimum physical requirements to do standard jobs that may come up in their line of work during wartime.  As an added benefit if you are meeting these requirements then you are also improving your health as well.

The pushup is probably the most common thing among them.  This will be a decent proxy measure for upper body strength.  To pass these tests one is looking at needing to be able to do on the order of 40-50 of those in a minute.  A pull-up is another common one, which I thought would have been universal.  However it seems that this is not a feature of the present day USAF, USN or Army physical fitness test.  You do find them in the USMC tests however.  All of them have a variation of a crunch or sit-up test, with a person needing to again be able to do on the order of 50-60 of them in under a minute.

Beyond the strength exercises are the cardiovascular exercises.  These consists of tests of both endurance and peak performance.  Each of the services uses a distance run being achieved under a certain time as a measure of cardiovascular endurance.  In the case of the USAF it’s a 1.5 mile run.  That’s bumped up to two miles for the army and three for the Marine Corp.  The navy starts with a 1.5 mile run but then adds on to that an additional test.  Along with the 1.5 mile run they add on a 500 yard or 450 meter swim.

The big question for me becomes which of these tests to do, or do I tailor these for my own needs?  I like the idea of having an objective measure from a test that allows me to score myself with a larger population.  If I hybridize these tests I lose the ability to do that, so instead I’m going to stick with performing the test as required and pick one of the services.  Along with a regular “fitness test” I’m also going to track two other things.  The first thing I’m going to track is the number of pullups I can do in a row.  I will run that separate from the actually scoring of the test so that I’m not skewing either of those two numbers.  I’m also going to continue to maintain my “calibration run” test of doing a 10 minute mile pace for 20-30 minutes and figuring out where my heart rate stabilizes (a much more detailed write-up in a future blog about that).

Since I can’t say I’m in peak performance shape as of right now, nor do I think I will be by January 1st, I have to look at this data in a slightly different way however. With my overall objective being some modicum of health and mobility for years, this test should probably be something I’m working towards in perpetuity.  However in the short term I’m going to be building up my performance. This means that I can’t just look at absolute numbers and see if they got better or if they didn’t.  Assuming each were healthy in their won way it would be unfair to the diets in the beginning of the experiment.  What I can look at is improvement, or worsening, of scores depending on how much effort I’m putting into my working out.  I can combine that with whether my body is feeling battered or invigorated by doing these relatively innocuous workouts to achieve improved performance.  For example, if for schedule or motivation reasons I haven’t been running over three months then I can expect my cardiovascular scores to all worsen substantially. If I wasn’t motivated because I had no energy due to diet, or because my body was constantly feeling beat down when I did work out then I would attribute that to diet.  If on the other hand it was due to excessive work hours or some other life issue then I really have to look at that as not a diet related factor.

Ideally I will be able to maintain a reasonable running and cross training plan which will allow me to at least maintain my current levels or improve.  The amount of working out that is required to proficiently run 2-3 miles, do a good 40-60 pushups/situps in a minute isn’t exactly enormous.  It’s also better for my overall health so it’s something I should strive for anyway.  By keeping it to this relatively constrained fitness problem I should be able to take the results combined with the journaling to determine how my fitness changes over the course of a given diet.  Sadly to be done truly effectively the diet phases would probably have to last a good year or so.  However I think that even in three months there would be some changes, especially if one diet works especially poorly.

So to summarize, the physical fitness tests that I will be regularly measuring will be:

  1. The standard USAF Fitness Test
  2. Maximum pull ups test
  3. My personal 10 minute mile Running Calibration Test