How to measure fitness improvement

April 1. No pranks for me, I meant business! It was assessment day – meaning I had to repeat my baseline workout to see how I have improved since January. The bodyweight workout is designed to be indicative of overall fitness. Having regressed in 2012, I am determined to reclaim my fitness in 2013. Weight goals and measurements are not effective for me – in previous years obsessed with weight goals and always making them lower. I needed to focus on achievement this year!

My assessment measure physical achievement on basic bodyweight exercises. I was disappointed with my performance in January. I was most disappointed with my pullups and burpees – having allowed my fitness level to decrease significantly in the previous 9-12 months. However, I did not focus on these assessment results the last 3 months – and I built my initial training around my 2013 goals.

  1. Headstands & Handstands photo (26)
  2. Heavybag Crunches
  3. 10 STRICT pullups
  4. Replacement behaviors for emotional eating
  5. Bench Press bodyweight
  6. Squat 300 lb.
  7. Planche (last minute add on)

Mind Games

I was anxious the night before my assessment, in anticipation of my performance. While I have been training without fail and have seen weekly gains, I was presuming failure. I was experiencing a fear of failure. I did not want to have the same ‘scores’ – nor worse. However, there was absolutely no reason to suspect I would not display improvement.


Sunday was a race pace 10K – and I admit my legs were a bit fatigued. The insane winds that I ran through exhausted my lungs more than usual as well. The night before my assessment, I was already making excuses – if I underperform it will because of my run today and I will know to rest the day prior to an assessment next time! 

I had expectations of my performance – and I honestly do not even know what my expectations were. In my mind, I simply needed to improve. And I was preparing excuses in case I failed! I reached out to a friend who help me calm my mind and refocus into a positive mindset.


Well, I improved. And I performed well – improving on all exercises, even if just a little. I did not know what to expect and I am mildly surprised by some of the results. I have highlighted the greatest improvements:

Exercise Jan. 2, 2013 April 1, 2013 Percent Improvement
Pushups 55 63 14.5%
Squats 206 219 6%
Pullups 11 18 64%
Burpees 25 39 56%
Traveling Lunges 98 112 14%
BB Inverted Row 42 44 5%
SB Plank :35 sec :55 sec 57%
KB Swings (20kg) 81 90 11%

I finished with a 1-mile run at a 1.0 incline = 9 minutes 18 seconds (in January I could not complete a mile run after the workout).

The take home

The highlights.

  1. The minimal improvements on squats and lunges could be the result of Sunday’s training run. While I would have liked to see more improvement with squats, it is unrealistic to expect significant improvements in muscular endurance when I am working on my absolute strength for my 2013 goal.
  2. It is evident that my cardiovascular endurance has improved tremendously in 3 months – burpees and 1-mile run. My pullup training is demonstrating effective as well, with a 64% improvements!

Alterations needed?

  1. I need to closely assess my inverted row – which was more an issue of grip strength during the assessment. July 1, when I repeat the assessment, I will use straps for the inverted rows and hope to attain a score more representative of my back strength and improvements. I also reviewed my workouts for the last 3 months and with my heavy emphasis on pullup training, I have  sparingly performed these horizontal pulls – and this will change in the coming months!
  2. I will rest completely June 30th, in an effort to see greater improvements in squats and lunges.

The bottomline

I had let my fitness level slip – and with it my self-esteem. It was important to me to get back on track. I did this by setting specific goals. I also completed this assessment, allowing me to see my starting point and track my progress. And now I feel good about my success and I am motivated to work more!

Do you have specific health and fitness goals for 2013?

How do you measure success? Improvement? I am on a journey to be in the best shape of my life for my 30th birthday – in just over a month. While the ‘best shape of my life’ is still somewhat ambiguous, I have quantified it into this assessment and my personal goals for 2013.

Are you tracking your journey?

Notes: I chose not to complete body circumferences and body fat percentage for a few reasons – but mostly because I become obsessed with them. I do weigh myself and take progress pictures in addition to these assessments in an effort to monitor progress. I am down 4 pounds from January 2.

The ups and downs of the kipping pullup

There is a lot of hype surrounding kipping pullups. I recently had a group of guys impressed by the fact that I could perform kipping pullups – although I am not sure why. You see, they had not been impressed with my deadhang pullups – completed just prior to the kipping pullups. And what is a kipping pullup? Cheating on a pullup.

I do kipping pullups, so I am not opposed to them. I just do not want anyone believing that they will help them be capable of doing strict or deadhang pullups. They are different exercises – with completely different emphases. Here are my ups and downs of the kipping pullup.

The ups

  1. Increased confidence as a result of personal achievement and ability to quickly improve reps and yield a high volume of reps.
  2. Friendly competition (due to the ease in achieving volume compared to deadhang).
  3. Mastery of the technique requires self-trust.
  4. They are fun.

The downs

  1. Increased risk of injury – particularly crucial for athletes to be conscientious about – due to the joint strain and repetitive nature.
  2. They do not translate into the ability to perform deadhang pullups. You can argue with me if you want to, but especially as they are taught at CrossFit gyms, there is no lattisimus dorsi recruitment in a kipping pullup. A deadhang pullup is initiated by this recruitment. The kipping pullup is momentum based, not strength based.
  3. It requires greater than average gripping ability (not necessarily grip strength).
  4. They are cardiovascularly exhausting (oh, have I mentioned that as a momentum-based exercise it is therefore a predominantly cardiovascular exercise – like most CrossFit exercise designs).
  5. They will not generalize to anything else in life – except maybe gripping ability on monkey bars???
  6. They will not improve fitness.

The bottomline

A kipping pullup is not a progression towards a strict, deadhang pullup. Hence, why kipping pullups are not part of my training for my 2013 pullup goal. My goal specific training is all pullups, assisted pullups, and lat pulldowns! I just do kipping pullups for fun.

Have anything to add to my ups and downs?

Is obesity a threat to national security?

While many of us immediately think about the physical and mental health implications of being overweight or obese, I’m sure most of you have never thought about what this might mean for our nation’s security. You might even ask why anyone would. Let me explain…

Protecting and serving our nation—whether as a member of the military, law enforcement, or other civil service—is a physical job. You never know when you’ll need to run, crawl, duck, or jump, just to survive or save the lives of others. And these physical reactions must be quick. When is the last time you saw an obese man or woman move quickly?

Reports show that 1 in 3 Americans is obese. Applying logic, we can estimate that 1 in 3 Americans is ineligible for military service because of his/her weight. A problem?

Yes, a problem.

According to a report published by Mission: Readiness, 27 percent of young Americans are too overweight to join the military. Roughly 15,000 of young potential recruits fail their entrance physicals every year because they are too heavy; thousands of others simply never even try to enter because of their weight.

The percentage of Americans who are overweight or obese is rising rapidly, more than doubling over the past four decades. Likewise, the number of enlistment-age adults who cannot join the military because of weight problems continues to rise. If we continue at this rapid rate, who will be left to serve and protect our country?  Obesity may not be an immediate threat to national security. However, it sure could be by 2030 if we don’t take courageous steps to prevent obesity.

Further, if you combine weight problems with other health problems, over half of young Americans are unable join the military. 32 percent of all young people have non-weight-related health problems that keep them from serving in the military. Add to that those who are ineligible due to lack of high school diploma or having a criminal record, and approximately 75 percent of young Americans are unable to join the military. That leaves only 25 percent of young Americans eligible for military service. Of those, how many are willing to serve?

Pullups for every Marine

 The Marine Corps is known for its high physical standards and demands. The physical examinations for combat entry are brutal, with only the top percentage of our country physically capable of meeting the minimum requirements. Until recently, male and female requirements have differed – females with less stringent requirements. For example, males needed to complete a minimum of 3 strict pullups (20 for a perfect score), while women only had to complete a 15-second flexed-arm hang. These discrepancies are being removed – with males and females in comparable combat jobs expected to attain the same physical standards. New rules now require women to complete a minimum of 3 strict pullups (or chinups).

How many Marines will we have in 2030? If only 25% of our young are eligible for military service – all of which are not willing to serve – how many will be capable of meeting the hard-body Marine Corps standards?

The bottomline

Our nation needs a health revolution and it can start with you and me. Let’s lead by example and commit to being fit and healthy role models for our children and grandchildren, friends and neighbors.


Christeson, W., Taggart, A. D., &Messner-Zidell, S. (2009). Ready, willing, and unable to serve. Washington D.C., Mission: Readiness.

Women can do pullups too! – GOAL 3

I am sad to say that my third goal is a carry-over goal. It is becoming an annual goal, I suppose? I first set this goal for 2010. Then 2011. I skipped 2012 and now it returns for 2013. If I didn’t know in my heart that I haven’t achieved it because I haven’t been putting good-faith efforts towards it, I would have to reassess whether it is a good goal. It IS a good goal. In fact, it is a GREAT goal. It’s been said that only 1-3% of women can perform one pullup…

GOAL 3 – 10 STRICT Pullups


I will be able to complete 10 strict pullups, consecutively. No break – with the exception of perhaps regripping. Absolutely no kipping. No assistance. At my peak, I achieved 7. Last I attempted, I managed 3.

This year I WILL achieve this goal. And I have set myself up for success by implementing a routine prescribed by a good friend and exercise physiologist – specific to my pullup goal. Sure, I could have designed a plan myself, but I like being told what to do…plus this adds some accountability as I know he will be checking in on me!

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. – Hebrews 12:11-12