When we compete against ourselves, who sets the standards? We do, of course. We set the minimum standards and the goals.
One practical rule of fitness is to compete against yourself rather than against others. You're less likely to push yourself to the point of getting hurt when you compete only against yourself.
But every once in a while it's useful to compare your core fitness against well-established standards. The standard I use is the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT).
The APFT is a three-event physical performance test used to assess endurance. It is a simple way to measure your physical strengths, abilities, and cardio-respiratory fitness.
The three PFT events are two minutes of push-ups, two minutes of sit-ups, and a timed 2-mile run. Your results from each event are assigned a score. To pass you must Score 180 points or higher with at least 60 points in each event. Your age, gender and the amount of repetitions or time elapsed for each event determines your score.
I wrote about the test in This Nation's Devolution from Quality to Convenience (January 4, 2010).
I turned 60 in December 2013, and wondered how I'd score on the APFT with no special training, just my usual fitness routine. I had some free time this past Sunday so I did the three tests.
I want to specify a few things about my typical training and how I took the test. I am not a gym rat and in fact never go to a gym. I don't lift weights or do any extraordinary training. I walk or bicycle every day, often as a means of doing errands, and I run two kilometers (1.2 miles) once or twice a week. I limit running to avoid pounding my knees too much; when I was a production carpenter/builder, I carried a lot of weight and various joints reflect that wear and tear.
I do tai-chi/chi-gong type stretching and simple exercises like jumping jacks, and do sets of push-ups and sit-ups a few times a week. I do not do hours of strenuous exercise or push myself to the point of pain or passing out. Easy does it is my credo. I've seen too many people injure themselves by acting like they're still 25 years old. In other words, the key part of being an athlete is not competition against others--it's being aware of your own limits and being able to press up against that line on occasion without exceeding it.
Once you're injured, then your fitness program is severely limited. So my Number One priority is to avoid injury.
(If you have no fitness program, be sure to consult a doctor before starting any fitness routine. Get a comprehensive physical and baseline tests of blood pressure, cholesterol, fasting blood sugar, etc.)
In taking the test, I did not push past my limits; I only did only what was comfortable. Test results where the person is exhausted and in recovery for days are not valid results in my view; the point is to test your fitness on an average day, not your maximum. That's especially true if you're older like me.
Once again: do NOT attempt the APFT if you have no regular, sustained fitness program, and do not start a fitness program without consulting a physician who has access to your medical history and current records. Also, do not view the test as a competition against me or anyone else; it's only a baseline standard, not the Guinness Book of World Records. There is no prize awarded, other than fitness itself.
Finally, remember that fitness, diet (eating a variety of home-prepared real food) and mental health are one system--they cannot be separated. Total fitness builds not just strength and endurance but health, mental fortitude and a sense of well-being.
I did 50 push-ups, two sets of 25 with a brief pause in between. I finished in about 100 seconds and did not use the full 2 minutes, as there wasn't much left in the quiver after a quick 50.
As for test scores, I used the tables for males of course: The minimum for Army Rangers is 49 push-ups, so I met that standard. For Army personnel ages 17-21, the minimum number of push-ups to get a passing score of 60 is 42. So my score was 71. For male personnel ages 37-41, the minimum is 34, so my score is 76.
I don't have any illusions about my ability to meet all Ranger standards; carrying a full pack for miles and doing a 5-mile run in 40 minutes are well beyond my capabilities at 60 years of age. Nonetheless, it was fun to meet at least the push-up minimum: Army Ranger PFT.
I did 55 sit-ups in 2 minutes, and am annoyed that I didn't push myself a bit because I could have easily done another five and reached 60, meeting the standard for Army Rangers (59). For Army personnel ages 17-21, the minimum number of sit-ups to get a passing score of 60 is 53, so I passed for that age group with a score of 63. For male personnel ages 37-41, the minimum is 45, so my score is 71.
The local high school track was closed on Sunday, so I ran a course I'd previously measured with my bicycle odometer. The course is not quite level and so the slight uphill part probably hurt my time. The distance may not be perfectly accurate, but I think it's quite close. Nonetheless there is a fudge-factor here due to the limitations of the street course.
My time for the 2-mile run was 16:12, with a very consistent 4 minutes per half-mile over the course of the run.
This is a minute off the Army Rangers minimum, and slightly under passing for Army personnel ages 17-21, where the minimum time needed for a passing score of 60 is 15:54. So my score was 56 for the 17-21 age group. Since we're talking about a measly 16 seconds here (4 seconds per half mile), I am sure I could have reduced my time by 20 seconds with a bit of extra effort.
For male personnel ages 37-41, the minimum time needed to earn the passing score of 60 is 18:18, so in this age group my score is 78.
A minute after the run, my pulse was around 70. My resting pulse is around 60. My blood pressure an hour later is usual for me, 124/73. In other words, I didn't push myself very hard to make 16:12, though this is a longer distance than my usual jog.
Once again, my Number One priority is avoiding injury. I want to be jogging for many years to come, so I have to protect what's left of my joints. As an older athlete, this requires leaving my body time to recover (i.e. not running every day) and also staying lean so I'm not punishing my joints with extra body weight.
In the 17-21 age group, my score is 190 (passing is 180). I missed the minimum score for the 2-minute run by a lousy 16 seconds, but my overall score is passing for people 40 years my junior.
My score for the 37-41 age group, 20 years my junior, is 225 (passing is 180). I easily exceeded these standards with no special effort.
I met the Army Rangers standards for push-ups and missed the sit-up minimum by four, something I am confident I could make up with a bit of effort. I missed the 2-mile run minimum by a minute, not something I could make up without some devoted training. Nonetheless, only a minute shy of Ranger standards isn't bad for a 60-year geezer.
For baseline purposes, my weight this morning was 171.6 pounds, height 6-foot 2-inches, yielding a BMI (body mass index) of 22. My cholesterol (last tested in August 2013) is 190, triglycerides 57, HDL 54 and LDL 125. These are not stellar results, they're merely normal.
So what's the point? Simply this: it isn't that difficult to be fit, folks. I am not a gifted athlete (just ask my buddies on my high school teams); if anything, my endurance, strength, skill, etc. is mediocre or even below average.
I don't spend hours at the gym or training to meet some sort of crazy endurance/strength goals; I only do common-sense cross-training, and do errands on foot or on a bicycle. I do push-ups and sit-ups no more than twice a week, and this takes only a few minutes. I jog two klicks (Kilometers), around 1.2 miles once or twice a week. I bicycle around 25-30 miles a week.
The lower we set our standards, the less we expect of ourselves. In a world of global competition, this isn't a strategy that improves the odds of success.
When we compete against ourselves, who sets the standards? We do, of course. We set the minimum standards and the goals. If the goal is convenience, then we get results to match.
Being fit isn't about meeting standards, it's about feeling good and being able to enjoy activities and meals, eating what you want, not what you're limited to. I chose the Army Physical Fitness Test to make the point that minimum fitness isn't that difficult to reach, even of you're 40, 50, 60 or older.
The lower our standards and goals, the less we accomplish and the poorer the quality of our lives.
Next day report: I can feel the previous day's 50 push-ups a bit, but this is normal when you push up against your limits. This is actually the ideal in terms of building endurance and/or strength. I enjoyed my usual 2-klick morning walk and look forward to jumping on my bicycle later in the day. As far as I'm concerned, it's just another day of fitness routine.
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