Focus on Fitness Assessments

by Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES on May 23, 2013

Best Practices

These quantitative tools are key for retaining members.

As a facility owner or manager, you know that ongoing monitoring can be essential if you want to contribute to your members’ fitness and wellness for the long term (Goldman 2012). A significant way to help people succeed in their fitness goals is to provide ongoing fitness assessments: measurements and tests that combine to determine an individual’s physical fitness.

Taking the time to perform fitness assessments for your members is invaluable. People like to see numbers and get a baseline of their current fitness level. Assessments give you a way to track and evaluate their progress. When you conduct assessments, you demonstrate the value of your services, and you influence participants to keep investing in your business (McMillan 2010). In other words, implementing assessments can increase member retention. These evaluations can also entice nonmembers to become members, another way to increase your bottom line.

Read on to learn which assessments are key, what they measure and how you can implement them in your facility.

Core Tests to Administer

Strong fitness assessments combine evidence-based tests with clinical expertise. The resulting data provide a comprehensive report that clients and staff can use to improve members’ fitness. The main tests in a fitness assessment evaluate body mass index; resting heart rate and blood pressure; and cardiovascular fitness. These are explored below. Additional tests might be used to evaluate body composition, lung capacity, flexibility and strength.

Body Mass Index

BMI uses height and weight to calculate total body mass. BMI alone is not the best measure of physical fitness, but it does provide a good indicator of whether a person’s weight falls within a normal range. The higher the BMI, the greater the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems and certain cancers.

The following categories indicate what BMI test scores mean:

  • underweight = <18.5
  • normal weight = 18.5–24.9
  • overweight = 25–29.9
  • obese = 30 or greater

Although BMI can be used for most men and women, it does have some limits:

  1. It may overestimate body fat in athletes and others who have a muscular build.
  2. It may underestimate body fat in older persons and others who have lost muscle.

To get more information about someone’s body fat content, you might consider hydrostatic weighing, which involves weighing the person underwater. This method of measurement assesses the body’s composition more precisely.

Resting Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

Measuring resting heart rate and blood pressure helps determine what levels of increasing heart rate are safe during aerobic exercise. To help members find their training heart rate, use the Karvonen Formula, as explained by the American Council on Exercise® (ACE 2013). First, determine the following heart rate parameters in beats per minute:

  • Resting heart rate. To get an RHR, have individuals take their pulse at rest (ideally, measured for a full minute first thing in the morning while they’re still in bed).
  • Maximum heart rate. Either measure this during a maximal exercise test or estimate it by subtracting the individual’s age from 220 (220 – age = MHR). The equation has an average error rate of plus or minus 12 bpm.
  • Heart rate reserve. HRR = MHR – RHR.

Next, determine the lower end and upper end of the training zone based on the individual’s current level of fitness (low, fair, good or excellent):

  • low: 45%–55%
  • fair: 55%–65%
  • good: 65%–75%
  • excellent: 75%–85%

These are examples—not absolute recommendations for training zones.

Blood pressure must also be taken into account. A person with high blood pressure should be evaluated by a physician before proceeding with any exercise program—no matter what the person’s resting heart rate is. Your assessments can help to identify such risks.

Cardiovascular Fitness

Cardiovascular fitness evaluations look at the heart rate and oxygen rate during a moderate workout of about 5–10 minutes. These measurements gauge the ability of the blood to oxygenate thoroughly when demands on the heart and lungs are greater. The results can provide important information about what level a person should attempt or start to exercise at.

Aerobic capacity—also known as maximal oxygen uptake, or VO2max—is a measure of the heart’s and lungs’ ability to transport oxygen-rich blood to exercising muscles. An increased level of aerobic capacity indicates a higher level of cardiorespiratory fitness, which is an important component of overall physical fitness.

Resources for Help

If you want to implement fitness assessments at your facility, many companies specialize in fitness assessment software to help guide you through the process. A reputable software company will provide tools that allow you to conduct the tests mentioned above—as well as enable you to customize health improvement programs and create and print reports on client fitness levels and trends. Some companies also offer meal plans, recipes, client tracking, health questionnaires and nutrition handouts. These companies listed below have the tools you need to help assess clients’ fitness status, identify appropriate health improvement programs, and track progress and outcomes:

In addition, the American Council on Exercise ( provides a course called “Fitness Assessments,” in which you learn about the assessments that are critical to safe, effective training for clients of all ages and needs. The ACE course includes hands-on instruction for posture, range of motion, cardiovascular and strength fitness assessments.

Charting Success

Knowledge is a powerful motivational tool to help clients set goals, design an effective lifestyle plan for overall wellness and monitor their progress. By providing comprehensive fitness assessments and tracking members’ progress, you create an experience that members will want to repeat as they work toward their fitness goals. Members gain increased fitness, and you gain increased retention. It’s truly a win–win situation.


ACE (American Council on Exercise). 2013. How do I measure resting and exercise heart rates? What is the Karvonen Formula?; retrieved May 13, 2013.

Goldman, S. 2012. Assessment companies help bring members into the club.; retrieved Jan. 5, 2013.

McMillan, S., 2010. The components of a good ftness assessment.; retrieved Jan. 6, 2013.\

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About the Author

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES IDEA Author/Presenter

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES, is a certified health education specialist with a master’s degree in public health from the University of South Carolina. She currently resides in Connecticut, where sh...