As the saying goes, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." This is particularly true with fitness. Before you hit the gym, or start a new program, it's a good idea to know where you are and where you need to put your efforts in order to get to where you want to be. The fitness assessment will give you that information; which is why the IAFF/IAFC Wellness/Fitness Initiative recommends an annual fitness evaluation, and it should be a part of every well-run wellness/fitness program.
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The fitness assessment is not a test--there is no pass/fail--so it is not an instrument to be feared. It's your "road map" to fitness. Fitness assessments should be non-punitive and confidential, and given only after a medical clearance. The first assessment will establish your "base line." The assessments will let you know where you stand in comparison to national norms for your age and gender. For instance, the terms "poor," "below average," "average," "above average," "good," and "excellent" are often used in describing the results for each component. You will want to place special emphasis in your training on the areas which are below average. The assessments you take following your initial one will give you a clear knowledge of how your training is paying off, and what areas still need improving.
A good fitness assessment will measure all the components of fitness which are cardiorespiratory function, muscular strength and endurance, joint and muscular flexibility, and body composition (percentage of body fat). The IAFF/IAFC Wellness/Fitness Initiative calls for specific protocols to measure each fitness component, which in some cases requires specific equipment. For instance, it is recommended that a treadmill be used to measure cardiorespiratory function; hand grip, leg and arm dynamometers to measure muscular strength; a sit and reach box to measure flexibility. Push-ups and sit ups are used to measure muscular endurance.
However, if your department does not have the specialized equipment, there are many different accepted protocols that can be used for fitness assessments, and any reputable certified personal fitness trainer should be able to assess you in these areas. Based on the results, the trainer should be able to lay out a fitness program for you which account for your unique strengths and weaknesses. With the knowledge gained from the fitness assessment, you and the trainer should be able to set specific, reasonable and obtainable goals to meet before your next fitness assessment.
Whether your department has its own certified personal trainers, or you seek outside professional assistance, obtaining a fitness assessment is well worth your time, effort, and money. Everyone is unique, and therefore one fitness program will not be suited for everybody. You will save a lot of time and effort if you know where you are and how to get to where you want to go. The fitness assessment is a great tool to put you on the right track.
Bill Pollok is the former Health & Fitness Coordinator for the Norfolk, VA, Department of Fire and Rescue. He is presently the Director of Fire Services for the World Instructor Training Schools, an organization that trains and certifies firefighters and others to become Personal Fitness Trainers. He can be reached at (757) 652-9559 or firstname.lastname@example.org, www.witseducation.com.