There is plenty of advice out there about exercises to do when you're starting an exercise routine, but I haven't really seen much to help the average couch potato do a little self-assessment. So I noted a few things that may be of aid in such an endeavor.
Disclaimer: Nobody reading this should do anything I write about just because I write about it. Everybody needs to approach health and fitness from a place of knowing about themselves; I write from a position of knowing about myself, and how my own body works, so be careful.
The first test: can you get from a standing position to sitting on the floor, and back up to standing, without using your hands?
There will be many, many people out there who cannot do it. People with knee injuries probably shouldn't even try.
This is a test that will assess balance, strength, and flexibility. If you can't do this, you have some work to do. Ever seen that ad about "I've fallen and I can't get up"? Don't be that person. A huge proportion of falls are due to lower-body instability.
The second test: can you walk up forty steps at a pace of two steps per second without getting winded?
This is the equivalent of ascending two floors in a regular office building and is kind of a minimum amount of exertion a healthy person should expect to be able to perform.
This is a test of cardio fitness - the efficiency with which your heart moves blood through your muscles to supply oxygen to the tissues. If you get winded, it's because your heart is in less than optimal condition, and you need to start walking.
The third test: can you hold a plank position for at least thirty seconds, breathing normally?
This is the classic yoga position that looks like the starting point of Marine Corps push-ups: facing the floor, weight suspended between the hands and feet, arms straight below the shoulders and body straight from shoulders to heels.
This is a test of core strength and muscular stamina. Many people cannot do this because they lack strength in the back, shoulder girdle, abdomen, and legs.
Obviously, these three tests do not constitute a complete fitness assessment. But if you can't do all three, then you do have some fitness deficits.
And here's where it gets easy: just by practicing the tests, you can start to address those deficits.
If you pay attention to body alignments:
- keeping the leg joints all neatly lined up, for example, when climbing stairs and not letting the knees flop in or out, keeping the feet straight and not turned in or out;
- keeping the back and shoulders straight and the neck long when practicing plank (don't round the back between the shoulders; that's cheating);
you can practice these tests safely. Breathe as normally as possible and don't over-do things.
Building a solid fitness foundation starts with knowing what your deficits are.
You can't pour the slab until you level the ground. Whether you go to a gym, work with a trainer, or work out at home, make sure to check in with yourself; don't just always do the same things, and don't kid yourself. It's important to know where you are before you set off for your destination.