Most of our kitchen time is spent at the stove or sink, but with six easy fitness tests designed by Robert Reames—a strength and conditioning specialist with more than 20 years' experience and the author of Make Over Your Metabolism—you can turn your kitchen into your own personal gym. In a few minutes before or after dinner, you can identify some of your fitness strengths and weaknesses using what's handy in your kitchen.
Before taking the tests, warm up for a couple of minutes by swinging your arms around, walking briskly from end to end of the kitchen and taking some deep breaths. It's OK if you can't complete the tests; that just means you know where you are and what it will take to improve. Every two or three weeks, retest and record results on a kitchen calendar or notebook to keep track of your progress.
Milk Jug Lift
This test will help measure your strength, flexibility and endurance. Stand sideways to the right of a kitchen counter, with your left side closer to the counter. Place a full 1-gallon milk jug about 8 to 12 inches in front of your feet. Bending at your knees while keeping your back straight, reach down with your right arm for the jug and come back to the standing position. Then turn your torso to the left and place the jug on the counter. Return the jug back to the floor using the same smart-lifting technique. That's one rep. Do five reps, if you can, then turn around and use your left arm. Repeat as long as you can for the test.
0-5 (per side): Need to work on fitness, especially core and leg strength with squats.
6-10: A good start. Try those squats, but even slower to improve.
11-16+: Great overall fitness, congrats!
Testing your endurance doesn't necessarily mean heading to a track and running yourself ragged. Just count how many steps you can do in a minute. Stand on a rug, mat or something that will provide a little padding and that won't slip beneath you. Look at the second hand of a clock or watch, then march as quickly as you can, pumping your arms and legs, counting your steps. As you raise one knee, the opposite arm moves up. No need to make like a high-stepping soldier—your feet just need to be 2 or 3 inches off the floor. After the minute is up, take a rest for a couple of minutes and do it again, counting as you go. Then average the two sets.
0-50 steps: Just beginning, so walking 30 to 60 minutes a day will help.
51-150 steps: OK, but you can improve by speeding up your walks.
151+ steps: Excellent! Keep on stepping it up!
Wall push-ups will give you a sense of your upper body and core muscle strength, along with testing your endurance. About an arm's length from a wall, stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder width, bending your knees slightly. Spread your hands on the wall so your arms are fully extended in front of you. Keep your back from arching, trying to maintain a straight line with your body. Then bend your elbows no more than 90 degrees, dipping into the wall. Push back out, and that's one push-up. See how many you can do in 1 minute.
0-20: OK, but you know you need to work on upper body and core muscles.
21-60: Moderately fit upper body and core, but improve with pushing motion exercises like bench presses.
61+: Good job!
To test lower body and back strength, see how many chair squats you can do in a minute. Grab a chair, perhaps one with arms if you feel you might need to catch yourself. Then stand in front of it like you're about to sit. Your feet should be slightly wider than your shoulders. With your arms at your sides, bend your knees like you're sitting, but don't sit. Instead, hover a few inches above the seat, then return to a fully standing position. Be sure that your knees don't bend more than 90 degrees. See how many repetitions you can do in a minute.
0-20: To build more leg and back strength, take the stairs more often.
21-40: A good place to be. To further tone muscles, every time you sit, go slowly—don't plop into chairs.
41+: Those are some powerful leg muscles!
Your balance not only keeps you from toppling over, it's an indication of how strong your core muscles are. That also means you can improve balance by strengthening abdominal and leg muscles. To test your balance, stand straight with your feet about shoulder width apart. Be sure you're within arm's reach of a counter or table. Lift one leg a couple of inches off the floor, timing how long you can stand. Then repeat with your other leg.
0-20 seconds: You need balance practice. In spare moments, like when you're brushing your teeth, lift one leg to continue improving.
21-60 seconds: Good balance that can be improved with some crunches from time to time.
1+ minute: Excellent range. Next, can you balance on one leg while juggling?
Dish Towel Grab
Flexibility means how easily and how far we can reach and stretch. Every day, without realizing it, you test flexibility by reaching for the dishes or pulling clothes out of the dryer. This test gauges what's called dynamic flexibility, which is how far your muscles can stretch during a movement. Stand with your legs a little farther than shoulder width apart. Place a dish towel in front of your left toe. With your right hand, reach down to pick up the towel, bending your knees as needed. Bring the towel back up as you return to the standing position, then set it back down by your foot again. That's one repetition. If you need to, make the towel a sort of tepee so it's easier to grab. There's no time limit on this one, just see how many you can do. Then switch sides and repeat.
0-2: Need to work on flexibility, adding similar stretches to your everyday activities.
3-4: An OK score, but with room to improve.
5+: Advanced. You're flexy!