Our Fall Fitness Challenge is wrapping up soon. The goal for this challenge was to improve our fitness through clean eating nutrition habits. And how do we check for improvements in fitness? We set a baseline, and then repeat the test at a later date. We want baselines to be measurable, observable, and repeatable. We also want to cover several different modalities and energy systems to ensure that “the fittest” doesn’t have any weaknesses. Following those guidelines, for this challenge, we are testing overall fitness using the CrossFit Total, a one-mile run, and Fran. These tests cover different domains of fitness, making them an effective way to see overall improvement.

The CrossFit Total is the sum of an athlete’s one-rep maxes for three lifts: shoulder press, back squat, and deadlift. This is a fantastic way to test one’s maximum muscular force, or how strong they are. These lifts are great because, while they are complex, they don’t require nearly as much technique as the clean and jerk or the snatch. That makes them suitable for testing across a large group of people. Testing an athlete’s “total” is as straightforward as it gets. If they added five pounds, then they got stronger.

The one-mile run is another effective test because it is also very simple: one foot in front of the other, point A to point B. While the execution itself is simple, ask any coach and they’ll point out the complexities. Can you control your breathing? Control your body to maintain a predetermined pace? Control your mind to ignore the burning muscles in your legs? In the end, what it really boils down to is how fast you can move your body from one destination to another.

The final test, Fran, is probably the most complex of them all. For time, athletes complete 21-15-9 reps of thrusters (at 95# for men and 65# for women), paired with pull-ups. Though neither of these movements appear to be particularly technical, proper technique is critical to ensure that they can be performed quickly (and safely!). And when performed at maximum speeds, Fran is a great test of anaerobic capacity, basically your ability to make your muscles work even when it feels like they are on fire and you can’t breathe. With Fran, you have two choices. One, get through it as fast as possible. Two, sandbag it, and have to walk away knowing that you could have gone faster and pushed your body harder, but you wimped out. The reason we chose this particular test for the Fall Fitness Challenge is because it is as much a test of mental strength as it is physical. Though it is impossible to measure mental strength, this is one of the best ways we have found to come close. If your time improves from test to re-test, you have either improved your technique, dug deep to find your mental strength, or improved your fitness.

Our goal is to be able to perform well at any task, and the tests above are some of the most important. Between a powerlifter and an endurance athlete, the powerlifter would obviously have a higher total, while the endurance athlete would have a faster mile time. The problem there is that by specializing in one domain, they are neglecting others and therefore developing weaknesses. Our goal is to have no weaknesses. So we may not have the fastest mile time, but we sure as hell are a lot stronger than the endurance athlete. And we may not be able to deadlift 800 pounds, but we would definitely beat the powerlifter in a footrace