Assess your fitness level at home

LOS ANGELES Experts suggest taking a test to find out how fit you really are before jumping into your old exercise routine or copying someone else at the gym.

"I tried not to be very unrealistic by setting very high goals but starting slow, taking it easy and then working my way up," said Danna Lucca.

Lucca opted to get a trainer and an assessment before leaping into fitness. This is something expert Danny Saltos says works better than jumping full force. He suggests four simple tests to set your personal barometer.

"It's simple, it's something you can do at home -- easily assesses where you're at in terms of your flexibility, your abdominal strength, your upper body strength and your cardiovascular," said Saltos, a Crunch personal trainer.

Start with a brisk one-mile walk on a treadmill, a track, or even a marked mile near your home to test cardio or the shape of your heart and lungs.

A 10-minute mile for men is considered excellent, 11 minutes and 40 seconds for women. If it takes more than 16 to 17 minutes, you've got work to do. Although Salto recommends small steps to achieve big gains.

"If you did a 15-minute mile, maybe the next week you aim to do maybe 14 and a half," said Saltos.

Abdominal strength is needed for most everyday tasks. Testing involves a bent leg curl up with hands sliding up and down thighs for a minute.

Doing over 47 curls is best for women, 60 for men in middle age, decreasing as we head into the 65-year mark.

Push-ups test the upper body proving tough for women whose center of gravity falls below the hip, so the upper body area is generally weaker.

Women test on hands and knees, guys on hands and toes. Excellent is at least 23 or more for women in their 40s and 21 for men.

One area that most don't pay attention to but should is flexibility. As we age it becomes more important than cardio and strength in order to be able to perform everyday tasks without asking for help.

Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out and touch your toes.

"You want to hold for 10 to 15 seconds and just keep repeating it. Ten to 15 seconds, relax, recover and then do it again," says Saltos.

Known as the 'sit and reach,' this test measures flexibility of low back, glutes and hamstrings, aiming to reach the toes.

This is best done after the other tests without bouncing as that shortens the muscle.

Once a fitness level is assessed, Saltos says go slow and steady to avoid injury and burnout.

"Small increments, baby steps and you'll see overtime, you have to give it, realistically you should give it two, two to three months as opposed to wanting instant gratification," said Saltos.

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