Physical fitness benchmarks?
February 5, 2011 3:55 AM   Subscribe

What are canonical physical fitness benchmarks specific sports, occupations, and other activities?

I am interested in what counts as canonical physical benchmarks for a wide variety of sports, occupations, and other activities.

As a specific example, I used to be on a rowing crew at university and, while people compete over a wide array of different distances and times, when prompted with "So, how good are you?" the first times out of your mouth would be how fast can you row 2000m, and how fast can you row 500m (the latter often being abbreviated as a "split").

I am not interested in the following type of responses:
  • Physical training standards for specific branches of the police or armed forces (examples: HM Royal Marines, US Marshals Service). Most police and armed forces simply test pushups, situps, and some form of running benchmark, usually a 1.5mile/2.4km run or a multi-stage fitness test (MSFT). These aren't interesting because I want sport-specific or occupation-specific benchmarks.
  • The following previous post isn't useful because it asks for a general, overall depiction of a "physically fit" individual, whereas I'm interested in benchmarks for specific sports and occupations.
  • CrossFit rules! Do deadlifts, squats, and ring dips, you get uber ripped! (I'm well aware of CrossFit, used to adhere to it, and love it to bits).
  • Kettlebells are the best kind of weight training!
  • My <distant relative> lived till 102 eating well; fitness is overrated.
I am interesting the in the following types of responses:
  • Police Magazine article "Fit for the Job", May 2010. Not because of the main thrust of the article, which is to standardise the use of the mult-stage fitness test across all occupations in UK police forces, but because of the insight into different physical benchmarks of particular occupations. For example, dynamic intervention authorised firearms officers run up ten flights of stairs wearing sixteen kg of armour and kit.
I accept there may not be that many interesting answers to this question; but I've been looking up physical standards for two hours now and my curious is still unquenched!
posted by asymptotic to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In American football, it's largely about how fast you can run 40 yards.
posted by mearls at 4:12 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm being too harsh on not wanting any responses re: police or armed forces standards. I'm aware that after you pass the basic tests more specific and rigorous standards are expected. For example, in Viktor Suvorov's account of one element of Spetsnaz training (Russian armed special forces) recruits are unknowingly forced to run through a cellar chest-high with blood and entrails, in order to get them accustomed to being around blood. And of course there is US Navy SEALs "Hell Week". But I'm more curious about...more "normal" sports and occupations.
posted by asymptotic at 4:12 AM on February 5, 2011

Did you see this recent FPP about how the benchmark in weight-lifting changed from the overhead press to the modern Olympic lifts?

Anecdotally, I've noticed that when people ask about weight-lifting, they are really mainly interested in how much you bench-press.
posted by lollusc at 4:50 AM on February 5, 2011

Best answer: In cycling, it's FTP - Functional Threshold Power. Essentially, as much power as you can put out at the maximum effort you're able to hold for an hour. It's rarely tested at a whole hour, but estimated from a 20-minute time trial using an on-bike power meter. In reality, it's just one metric of a cyclist's fitness, and fitness alone doesn't win races, but the number is thrown around a lot.
posted by The Michael The at 4:59 AM on February 5, 2011

Best answer: The CPAT test is a rough physical test used to hire new fire-fighters.
It is used by most of the big fire departments in the country, including FDNY and LAFD.

It begins with a brutal stair climb, 3:20 seconds carrying 75lbs of weight, at a rate of 60 steps per minute. That is 18 stories of stairs, carrying 75lbs, in 3minutes. And that is just part one of the test.
posted by Flood at 6:24 AM on February 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Because it involves 4 different strokes and a variety of distances, competitive swimming technically has several possible answers to this question. That said, going on your example above ("How good are you?"), in speaking with a current or former swimmer, after establishing what stroke(s) they specialized in your best bet is to ask them their 100m time (or, if they were a freestyle sprinter, their 50m time, or if a distance swimmer, their 500m or 1650m time). This will generally give you a good idea of how fast someone with competitive swimming experience is, whether that experience ended in middle school or carried on through college and beyond.

Of course, at higher levels of competition elite swimmers compete in a wider range of distances, so a butterfly specialist at a D-1 collegiate program might swim exclusively the 200m and 400m butterfly, in which case asking him his 100m time might not yield you much information with regards to how fast he really is. However, generally speaking a swimmer's 100m time in a given event (or 50m in the case of sprinters and 500m time in the case of distance swimmers) is a pretty solid benchmark.
posted by saladin at 8:39 AM on February 5, 2011

Best answer: On the site (warning: pdf) you can see the Rowing Canada erg (rowing machine) targets for various distances and times, for everything from "club elite" level to "target" level which means you're ready to win international competitions. It is divided by age (jr/under23/over23) and weight (lightweight/heavyweight).

For example, I am a u23 heavyweight woman, and my times just barely hit the club elite level (and in some cases don't!). It's fun to benchmark yourself against, and nice to see progression.
posted by hepta at 9:13 AM on February 5, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you for your answers!

@The Michael The: I did catch that thread. However I'm still more interesting in sports and occupation related benchmarks. (I can hear howls of "but weight lifting is a sport!", to which I can only respond "hrrrrmmmm...". Weight lifting always struck me as a means rather than an end.

Or, as my university rowing coach told me in attempting to clarify how important indoor rowing performance is to real rowing performance, "Ergs don't float").
posted by asymptotic at 9:17 AM on February 5, 2011

Response by poster: @hepta: These erg times are completely blowing my mind. I used to be able to row a 6min 40sec 2km, but...the peak splits! Look at the peak split times! Hahahaah.
posted by asymptotic at 9:21 AM on February 5, 2011

I think for grappling sports in general, the most objective answer to 'How good are you?' would be one's performance in an open weight division.

Other than that, it's always: 'What do you weigh?' and 'How much can you lift?'

Heavier people tend to do better across the board, and lighter people have a harder time of it. Light people who are not also fast and in good cardio shape are typically out of luck.

Other things being equal, stronger people can often beat weaker people of roughly equal skill. Upper body strength takes a backseat to core and leg strength, meaning that the measure of grappling strength is probably something like the squat or deadlift, instead of the bench press.

Your ability in a sport like this is always measured relative to an opponent. You are really only as good as who you can beat, so I don't know if sports for which that's true (boxing, fencing, etc) lend themselves easily to this kind of quantitative evaluation.
posted by edguardo at 10:21 AM on February 5, 2011

Response by poster: @edguardo: You're absolutely correct. Many metrics not only require scaling with respect to body weight and height but, of course, against potential opponents. Are you aware of any "synthetic" benchmarks in sports like boxing or fencing, i.e. abstract exercises that are known to correlate to real-world performance? I'm guessing not, but I'm just curious.
posted by asymptotic at 12:24 PM on February 5, 2011

Best answer: Cross country throws around "breaking eighteen" a lot; running a sub-18-minute 5k.

When I think "benchmark", I think of a reference standard much like the one I just mentioned. Your examples, though (and most of the answers), seem to be more interested in what exactly is being measured rather than what the measurement *is*. In other words, it seems like you're interested in more of the benchmarking method rather than the actual benchmark. Is this the case?
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:33 PM on February 5, 2011

Response by poster: @RikiTikiTavi: Hmm. Thank you for pointing this out, and you're right I'm more interested in what is being measured rather than what the measurements are. In a sense, the latter must exist for all time-based sports, because once you compete with respect to time some times or distances then become considered "rules of thumbs" of sorts. But @edguardo rightly pointed out that many sports only offer comparison with respect to opponents.

However, I still find both the what's and are's of measurements quite interesting. In the end all competitions involve other people, yet you can't compete all the time, so how does one track progress? How does one predict future likelihood of progress with training? When you throw in the requirement of critical thinking for firefighters and armed dynamic entry police forces, are there better measurements to be had? These are questions that really interest me.
posted by asymptotic at 3:36 AM on February 6, 2011

The Spetsnatz pullup test is fairly well-known -- it apparently involved performing 18 strict pullups while wearing 10kg of body armor.

I can hear howls of "but weight lifting is a sport!", to which I can only respond "hrrrrmmmm...". Weight lifting always struck me as a means rather than an end.

No, weightlifting really is a sport, in which the snatch and the clean and jerk are competed. As it is weight-classed, benchmarks will tend to be expressed as multiples of the competitor's bodyweight. As you can see in this list, the world records tend to be roughly a 2x bodyweight snatch and a 2.5x bodyweight C+J. Heavier lifters will have higher absolute lifts but lower multiples of their bodyweight.

Powerlifting is the other barbell sport, in which the squat, bench press, and deadlift are competed. All-time records can be viewed here. Standards for what's considered "good" will vary, but a 1.5x bodyweight bench press, 2x bodyweight squat, and 2.5x bodyweight deadlift is a benchmark that I've encountered often.

Aside from benchmarking with respect to bodyweight, lifters will often refer to certain configurations of standard weight training plates. For example, a standard olympic barbell is 45 lbs., as are the largest plates found in most gyms, so a barbell with 2 plates loaded on each side weighs 225 lbs. -- hence the standard 225 lb. bench press test used in football. So lifters will commonly discuss their ability to perform a given lift with 225, 315, 405, 495, etc., because that's what the plates add up to.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 12:27 PM on February 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

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