Are You MH Fit? Take The Test!

 

 

DIfferent experts will have different definitions of fitness. That’s because the way you define the word depends on the type of performance you expect. Some athletes need to develop a particular type of fitness over all others – bodybuilders on one extreme, marathoners on another – but most of us are at our best when we achieve a balanced fitness. 

When it comes to the basic muscle groups one would need to perform well in any sport, the experts are in agreement. You need core stability. You need lower-body strength and power to run, jump and lift heavy objects off the ground. You need torso strength to lift your own body weight in repeated challenges. And you need enough endurance to run a marathon without stopping for defibrillation.
 
However, of course, there are always men who need to go beyond the standards of guys like us. These four athletes - Adrian Mok, Muhammed Hazlee, Augustine Lee and Yoddecha Sityodtong - represent the Men’s Health standard of fitness. Take our tests to assess how you match up to them – and see if you’re Men’s Health fit!
 

 
TEST YOUR ENDURANCE
 
Test 1: The 2.4km Run
According to Adrian Mok, one of Singapore’s top Ironman triathletes and general manager of Polar Electro, if you want to be an elite endurance runner, you’ve got to keep pushing your cardiovascular ability to the limit. “To me, a personal best effort has to be at 92 per cent heart rate or higher. However, it won’t be easy for someone who hasn’t rained for such a high, sustained pace.”
 
The best test of a person’s cardiovascular fitness is on a run. That’s why Mok suggests doing the 2.4km run as a cardio benchmark test. It is a combo of both aerobic and anaerobic capacity, as it’s not short enough to sprint through, and not quite a marathon in terms of length. So, even if you can run 100m in 12 seconds, a 2.4km run might not be a shoo-in. From a 2.4km timing, you can almost gauge one’s 10km performance and, to some extent, how well they can perform in a marathon.
 
Test Yourself
Do the test on a running track, so there is no undulating terrain to slow you down. Track running allows you to break your running down into easily quantifiable distances, so you are able to determine when you’re slowing down, or at what point your legs start to give way. Run 6 rounds on the inside ring of a standard 400m track for an accurate 2.4km test.
 
SCORE CARD  
Below average: You take more than 12 minutes to run 2.4km
Average: 10:30 to 12min
Above average:  9 to 10:30min
MH FIT: 9min or less
 
Improve Your Performance
Mok recommends doing this interval exercise once a week to build up your cardiovascular endurance. For the first week, start with 6 intervals of 400m rounds, going at a moderate 80 to 85 per cent heart rate for the first round. Take a 2-minute break after each lap. Record your time for the first round, then aim to drop a few seconds for every subsequent lap, pushing yourself a bit more each time. This will force you to run faster and at a higher intensity as the intervals stack up.
 
Increase your number of intervals by 1 each week, so that you’re doing 10 intervals after 5 weeks of the workout. Don’t forget to push yourself a bit harder for each lap. “If you can run 10 repeats and shave a few seconds off each time, you’ll end up running at above 92 per cent of your maximum heart rate by the end of the programme,” says Mok. After you’ve built up to 10 intervals, cut back to 6 but run with decreasing rest time.
 
After the first round, give yourself 2 minutes’ rest, and cut that rest by 15 seconds after every round, so that by the fifth round, you’re resting only 1 minute. To make this doubly difficult, these 6 intervals must be run at 92 per cent heart rate or more. If you are able to handle this killer workout, you’ll have no trouble with the 2.4km test.
 

Test 2: The Plank
For long endurance events, form is extremely important – from how you keep upright in a leg race to how you power your arm forward while swimming. That form relies a lot on the core of your body – the group of muscles that holds the body stable and prevents injury.
The best way to test your core strength is to do a simple plank, which is the most basic gauge of core stability.
 
“Someone with a weak core will start to tremble very quickly,” says Mok. As an added bonus, the plank also tests your back muscles. Someone with weak rhomboids (the muscle in the upper-middle of your back) will find his shoulder blades collapsing inwards, which means poor form.
 
Test Yourself
Get into a basic plank position, with your weight distributed across your forearms and toes. Your arms should form right angles at the elbows, and your feet should be placed hip-width apart. Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders, and not bent inwards.
Ensure that your shoulder blades are level with your back and not folded inwards. From the side, your entire body should form a straight line from the neck all the way to the ankles. 
 
SCORE CARD  
Below average: You hold a plank for less than 1 minute
Average: 1min
Above average:  1 to 3min
MH FIT: More than 3min
 
Improve Your Performance
There are a whole bunch of exercises that target the core, such as the V-shaped jackknife, leg raise (lying down) and plank leg raise. If these core trainers bore you, try Mok’s personal favourite, the inverted V stability ball push-up.
 
Assume the push-up position and balance your toes on a stability ball. Do a standard push-up, lowering your body until your chest is 2cm above the ground. Return to the starting position, then curl your legs in while rolling the stability ball towards your body, forming an inverted V shape. Hold this position for a second, then straighten your legs back out to the starting position (roll the ball back as well). That’s 1 rep. “If you can do 10 inverted V stability ball push-ups, you’re in pretty good shape,” Mok says.
 
Pro tip: Do your core workouts at the end of the day, after your other exercises. “A tired core will affect all of your other activities, and you might end up injuring yourself,” Mok says. Also, do core exercises in slow, controlled motions to emphasise stability.
 
 
Adrian Mok, 36, 175cm, 67kg
 
With a personal best time of 10h 23min for the world- famous Ironman endurance race, Adrian Mok ranks as one of Singapore’s top Ironman triathletes. His longest ever run was a 168km lap around Singapore – that’s four  consecutive marathons. “I’m more of a long-distance athlete,” Mok says. “Over short distances, I’m really not that fast.”
 
Well, he has managed to pull off a 3:09 marathon, and scaled the 73 floors of the 1999 Westin Vertical marathon in 6min 56sec (the world record is 6:45). In our book, that’s pretty fast. Mok attributes his massive cardio capacity to his triathlon-style training plan. He has a tough six days- a-week schedule, which sees him swimming 11/2 hours’ worth of interval laps on Mondays, biking 72km in a little over two hours on Tuesdays, and running 10-minute max-intensity tempos, gruelling circuits and half-marathons throughout the rest of the week. “Biking and swimming helps  to build cardiovascular ability without the impact of running,” Mok says. “It’s helped to keep me relatively injury-free through these years.” 
 
 
 
TEST YOUR POWER AND DEXTERITY
 
Test 3: The Pull-Up
A powerful upper body is essential for speed climbing. Power is a measure of how fast you can exert the strength you possess, says Oh Paul Wee, head and senior performance conditioning coach from the Singapore Sports Institute, Singapore Sports Council. However, to increase power, you first need a solid base of strength. And a good test of your base upper-body strength is the pull-up.
 
Test Yourself
Grab a pull-up bar using a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Hang at arm’s length. Pull your chest up to the bar by visualising your shoulder blades coming together and cinching down on a credit card, advises Oh. Pause for 1 second, then slowly lower your body back to the starting position and repeat. A repetition counts only when you start from a dead hang with your arms straight.
 
SCORE CARD  
Below average: You do fewer than 3 pull-ups
Average: 3 to 7 pull-ups
Above average:  8 to 10 pull-ups
MH FIT: Over 10 pull-ups
  
Improve Your Performance
When you’re strong enough to do 15 to 20 pull-ups easily, you can try moving on to executing the movement in an explosive fashion. However, be warned that it exposes you to a higher chance of injury if you’re not ready. Also, explosive movements generate a lot of momentum, so your body will be swinging quite a bit, says Oh. Grab the pull-up bar as you would normally, and contract your arms and back forcefully to bring your chin above the bar as quickly as you can. Now pause, and lower yourself in a controlled fashion. Try to do 5 good repetitions. Once you get used to the movement, try pulling your body up until the bar reaches your nipple level.

 
Test 4: The Standing Broad Jump
Climbing also involves a good measure of lower-body dexterity, says Muhammed Hazlee, project manager of Climb Asia (climb- asia.com) and a 10-year climbing veteran. One of the best ways to determine lower-body dexterity is – surprise – the standing broad jump, says Martin Rooney, a US-based personal trainer, and strength and conditioning coach.
 
Test Yourself
Stand with the tips of your toes behind a line on the ground. Your feet should be slightly less than shoulderwidth apart. From this position, swing your arms backwards as you crouch, then thrust your arms forward as you jump as far as you can. Land on both feet; otherwise the jump doesn’t count. Practise a few times to warm up, and then give it your best shot. Mark the spot where your heels land (mark the shorter distance if one foot lands behind the other), and try a few more times. Measure the distance from the starting line to the spot where your heels hit on your best jump.
 
SCORE CARD  
Below average: You jump less than 1.8m
Average: 1.8m to 2.1m
Above average:  2.1m to 2.4m
MH FIT: More than 2.4m
 
Improve Your Performance
The strength you build on a ground-based exercise like the deadlift will help with your launch. But for multiple jumps, dives and dashes, you need two additional types of exercises – one that helps you improve your speed, another that develops balanced strength in both legs, says Bret Contreras, a US-based strength coach.
 
Try the single-leg hip thrust: At the gym, set up a bench with its length facing the foam pads of a leg extension machine. They should be about 1m apart. Now, sit on the ground with the bench behind your back, and leg extension machine in front of you. Spread your arms on the bench for balance and place your right foot on the higher pads of the machine. While keeping your leg bent at 90 degrees, use your glutes and hamstrings to lift your hips off the floor until your body forms a straight line from your right knee to your shoulders. Perform 5 to 8 repetitions and repeat.
 
 
Muhammed Hazlee, 25, 1.85m, 67kg
 
This is vertical sprinting – a controlled explosion to the top. A World Cup speed climbing wall is 15m high and features a route that is graded around 6C – fairly hard for an average climber, even if it’s at a controlled pace. Competing in knockout fashion in pairs, a participant needs to explode up the wall, remember where to place his feet, block out his competitor’s stomping footsteps, and keep on going until he hits the buzzer at the top.
 
Muhammed Hazlee, project manager of Climb Asia (climb-asia.com) and a 10-year climbing veteran, flits up such a wall in less than eight seconds. “Speed climbing is about explosive power and hand-and-leg coordination,” he says. A speed training session actually mimics competition climbing. As the event tends to finish in a few hours, speed climbers tend to meet tougher competitors the further they advance. “We train at a very high level of intensity, and aim to push that level even higher as the session progresses.
 
Hazlee credits explosive pull-ups as the most important exercise for speed climbing. After a thorough warm-up, his main set consists of explosive pullups to failure – that’s pulling yourself far up enough until the bar reaches your lower chest. Sets on the campus board (an apparatus with wooden rungs meant to be climbed only with your arms) are also part of his repertoire. The latter is essential to teach you how to rein your body in when it swings out of alignment.
 
He also does interval sets on a 15m to 20m climbing wall that keeps getting faster. “I’ll set a target to reach the top in, say, 10 seconds, and keep aiming to go faster all the time,” he says. It’s not all about muscling your way up, though, as this constant movement is also a mental conditioning exercise.
 
 
HOW TOUGH IS YOUR CORE?
 
Test 5: The Crunch
Like most sports, the key to success in bodybuilding begins in  the middle of your body. “However, unlike endurance sports, which require a stable core, in bodybuilding, you need to develop a powerful core, says Augustine Lee, a bodybuilding champion and director of Fitness Factory. “Your core is the foundation of muscle-building. A strong core doesn’t only defend your spine against unwanted movements during weight training – the twists and jolts that produce injuries – they also enable the movements you do want. It’s the part of your body that allows coordinated actions of your upper- and lower-body muscles.”
 
Lee recommends the crunch test, a fundamental test of core strength. The average man should be able to do 3 sets of 20 crunches before feeling muscle fatigue in his abs. If you aspire to be MH Fit, you should be able to do 3 sets of 50 crunches before muscle failure.
 
Test Yourself
Lie on your back on an exercise mat, with your knees bent, and feet flat on the floor close to your buttocks, or raised up on a bench. Clasp your hands behind your neck to support the weight of the head, without pulling on your neck. Slowly curl up with your shoulders, then your upper back, to no more than 30 degrees, while feeling the  tension in your abs. Hold your position momentarily, then lower the torso. Repeat the  movement without resting, and avoid jerking when performing each crunch.
 
If you can perform 3 sets of 20 crunches, rest for 5 minutes. Then try to complete 3 sets of 30 crunches. If you nail that as well, rest for 5 minutes and try 3 sets of 50 reps. Lee’s standard: 3 sets of 100 reps with a 10kg weigh plate.
 
SCORE CARD  
Below average: You're unable to complete 3 sets of 20 crunches without muscle failure.
Average: You complete 3 sets of 20 crunches without muscle failure.
Above average: You complete 3 sets of 30 crunches without muscle failure.
MH FIT: Complete 3 sets of 50 crunches without muscle failure
 
Improve Your Performance
To improve your crunches, do crunch drills, says Lee. Break your drills up into 1 minute, 30 second and 15 second intervals. First, do as many crunches as you can in a minute. Then, rest for 3 minutes, and do as many as you can in 30 seconds. After that, rest for another 3 minutes, and go all out again for 15 seconds. This is 1 set. Do at least 3 sets at a go, with 2 days’ rest between each workout. Gradually, as your core strengthens, do your crunches with weight plates or dumbbells.

Test 6: The Bench Press
In bodybuilding, although the extent to which you train every single muscle in your body counts, it’s your upper-body muscles that can score you the most points in a competition. Says Lee: “Judges expect you to show off your upper-body muscles– especially your chest and arms – and they look at criteria such as muscle development, maturity, density, symmetry and proportion.” And to be able to sculpt an impressive upper body, you need to develop power in those muscles, so that you’ll be able to lift massive loads to put on the bulk.

One of the best tests of size and strength for upper-body strength is how much weight and how many reps can you bench press before failure. The thing about the bench press test, says Lee, is that it works not only your chest but also your shoulders and triceps to exhaustion – so it’s a good test. It’s also a type of core exercise, forcing muscles in your abdomen, hips and lower back to work hard to keep your spine in a safe position.
 
Test Yourself
To determine your bench press max, you’ll need a spotter. An average person should be able to bench press at least 50 per cent of his body weight. If you’re able to bench 3 sets of 15 to 30 reps, at 20 to 40 per cent of your body weight, you’re above average. And, if completing 3 sets of 15 to 30 reps, at 50 per cent of your body weight, is chicken feet for you, you’re MH Fit! Then, you may want to have a go at Lee’s standard: Bench 1.5 times your body weight with 3 sets of 15 to 30 reps – but be careful not to overstretch yourself. 
 
SCORE CARD  
Below average: You bench less than 50 per cent of your body weight (1-rep max)
Average: You bench 50 per cent of your body weight (1-rep max)
Above average: You bench 3 sets of 15 to 30 reps, at 20 to 40 per cent of your body weight.
MH FIT: You bench 3 sets of 15 to 30 reps, at 50 per cent of your body weight.
 
Improve Your Performance
If you’re stuck bench-pressing the same weight, you’ve probably worked your pectoralis major so much that your small, stabilising muscles – your rotator cuffs and the muscles around your neck and shoulder blades – aren’t working well enough, says Micheal A. Clark, US-based fitness trainer. To get out of the rut, after your bench press routine, do 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps of the Swissball incline push-up (with hands on the ball and feet on the floor), and another routine of Swissball decline push-ups (with feet raised on the ball and hands on the floor), resting 60 seconds between sets. While doing the push-ups, keep your quads and glutes tight, and pull your navel towards your spine. You should see up to a 15 per cent gain in chest strength in 4 weeks. If you’re new to weight lifting, do only the first exercise after you bench press; and do both if you have some experience.
 
Augustine Lee, 57, 1.80m, 103kg
 
Bodybuilding may be a narcissistic sport, but it isn’t all about vanity, says Augustine Lee, a well-known competitive bodybuilder and director of Fitness Factory. “Like any other sport, it’s also a test of one’s determination, discipline and drive,” he opines. After spending nearly 30 years in the sport and having won numerous accolades, Lee knows nearly everything there is about bodybuilding.
 
Many people think the sport is about developing only certain parts of the body to look good, but that’s a misconception, according to Lee. “To become a world-class bodybuilder and win international awards, you’d need to build full-body strength and power, work on your cardiovascular endurance (to be able to perform more reps), and pay attention to your diet and nutrition,” he says.
 
His daily routine consists of 3 hours of resistance training on various muscle groups in his body, and a 30-minute run on the treadmill. “Bodybuilding is about total fitness,” he emphasises. “To be a champion, you cannot just focus on one part of your body, or on one aspect of fitness.”
 

HOW STRONG ARE YOU?

Test 7: The Push-Up
A professional muay thai match is made up of five rounds of three minutes each. And to be able to come out tops after those rounds, a fighter would not only need endurance, but also total-body strength. Former muay thai world champion (who retired undefeated) and Evolve Mixed Martial Arts instructor Yoddecha Sityodtong says: “To defeat your opponent, you’ll need a lot of power in your kicks, punches, knee-butts and elbows. And that requires you to train every muscle in your body.”

A good test of your overall strength is the push-up, says Martin Rooney, a US-based performance enhancement specialist. “Like the bench press, the push-up works your chest, shoulders and triceps to exhaustion. It’s also a core exercise, forcing muscles in your abdomen, hips and lower back to work hard to keep your spine in a safe position,” explains Rooney. But the biggest benefit may be the way it forces the web of muscles surrounding your shoulder blades to man up and support your shoulder joints. On top of that, because the push-up distributes your body’s weight equally between the upper and lower body, it also works some muscles in your lower body.
 
Test Yourself
Assume a push-up position with your hands directly below your shoulders, your feet hip-width apart, your weight resting on your hands and toes, and your body in a straight line from neck to ankles. Lower your body until your chest is around 2cm above the floor, pause for 1 second (this is essential) and then return to the starting position. Complete as many consecutive push-ups as you can while maintaining strict form. 
 
SCORE CARD  
Below average: You do fewer than 15 push-ups without resting
Average: 16-29 push-ups
Above average: 30 to 44 push-ups
MH FIT: 45+ push-ups
 
Improve Your Performance
You can boost your push-up performance by doing just two workouts a week, Rooney says. The first day, do 6 sets of 10 push-ups: 2 sets using regular form, 2 sets with your feet elevated on a bench, and 2 sets with your hands close together. Rest 2 minutes between sets. The second day, do 3 sets of 20 to 25 push-ups (or as many as you can), resting 90 seconds between sets. After the 3 sets, rest for 3 to 5 minutes, then do 1 set of as many push-ups as you can. Retake the test after eight weeks.
 

Test 8: The Dead Lift
Having very strong and sturdy lower-body muscles is essential in muay thai. “They are key because those are the muscles you depend on most when you run, jump or stand your ground while someone’s attacking you,” says Sityodtong. Moreover, you need extremely power legs to be able to deliver a knock-out kick to your opponent, or even use your legs to defend yourself. The best test of your lower-body strength: the deadlift. “It might be the best indicator of your lower-body strength because it tests the muscles that give you a stronger base,” says Mike Robertson of robertsontrainingsystems.com. It’s a “posterior chain” exercise, meaning it develops strength in your rear-body muscles: hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors and trapezius.
 
Test Yourself
Load a barbell and set it on the floor. Stand over the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed forward. Bend at your hips and knees, grab the bar overhand with your hands just outside your legs, and roll it up to your shins. Push your hips back, flatten your back, and tighten your entire body from feet to hands. Pull the bar straight up until you’re standing upright with the bar against your thighs. Lower it to the floor, keeping it as close to your body as possible. Start with a light weight to warm up, and then add weight for each subsequent lift until you reach your maximum.
 
 
SCORE CARD  
Below average: You lift less than your body weight
Average: You lift 1 to 1 1/4 times your body weight
Above average: You lift 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 times your body weight
MH FIT: You lift more than 1 1/2 times your body weight
 
Improve Your Performance
The best way to improve your deadlift is to deadlift. But that doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to one version. Robertson recommends the straight-leg deadlift, which targets your glutes and hamstrings more directly. Stand holding a barbell at arm’s length in front of your hips, with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Push your hips back, keeping your lower back naturally arched, until the bar is just below your knees. Thrust your hips forward and return to the starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top of the lift. Keep your knees at the same angle throughout the movement; this ensures that the glutes and hamstrings do the work. Do 3 sets of 6 reps twice a week, using progressively heavier weights. Retest yourself on the traditional deadlift after 8 weeks.
 
Yoddecha Sityodtong, 32, 1.80m, 82kg
 
Former muay thai world champion Yoddecha Sitydotong – who retired undefeated – has built a reputation in professional fighting circles for spending the first round “feeling” his opponent, and the second pummeling the contender into submission. “Every fighter has weaknesses,” he says. “When I get into a ring, before my opponent can figure out what my weaknesses are, I hope to have landed one of my trademark high roundhouse kicks!”
 
Yoddecha credits his fighting prowess to training. “There is a saying where I come from: Train hard, fight easy,” he says. “I train very hard because it gives me confidence, which is important once you’re in the ring. It comes from knowing that you did your homework. If you did not do your homework properly, then you will succumb at critical moments in a fight.”
 
Yoddecha trained six hours a day, six days a week in the period leading up to a fight. “It took me about two months to get into championship-fighting shape,” he says. The fitness level, fighting skills and techniques that he builds up during training is not just to last a fight, but also to defeat his opponent.
 
“A typical training session for me included fighting for about 30 rounds at 5 minutes a round, with a minute’s rest between rounds. On top of that, I also ran 20km to 30km every day. As a cool down, I will do 200 push-kicks, 300 situps (with someone punching me in the stomach), 200 pull-ups and 200 pushups,” he says.
 
When Yoddecha competes, he wants to overwhelm his opponent. After fighting professionally for over 20 years, he has stockpiled an arsenal of devastating moves. “The most dangerous weapon in muay thai is the elbow. I have knocked out opponents using spinning, flying and jumping elbows, as well as just regular elbows,” he says.
 

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