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Five Fitness Numbers You Need to Know

Scale bodyweight, bench press maximum, some “girl name” and a time are all fitness numbers your hear in the gym.  If you are interested in optimal performance and health, I have the fitness numbers we all need to know.  Focusing on these numbers will keep you active and independent for a lifetime.


The location of bodyfat is far more important than the amount of bodyfat.  Visceral fat, the kind stored in and around the belly, is the hormonal driver of metabolic syndrome; the precursor to diabetes, elevated blood lipids, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease.  To optimize health, you need to monitor the diameter of your waistline.  The number you want to know is your waist to height ratio.  You want your waist to be less than half your height.  If your waist size is greater than one half your height, then reducing your waist diameter should be the primary goal of your fitness program.


Sleep is the ultimate exercise recovery activity.  One or two nights of sleep deprivation has been shown to reduce gym performance by 25% – 40%.  We need seven to eight hours of restful sleep, each and every night.  The most important benefits of exercise are neural and hormonal.  Sleep reboots our neural software and replenishes the hormonal system.  Medications, respiratory problems, sleep apnea, and obesity all can interfere with sleep patterns.  Fixing these health issues and developing better sleep habits produces magical progress in the gym.  Read the book, Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson.


The Functional Movement Screen (FMS), developed by Physical Therapist Gray Cook and Athletic Trainer Lee Burton, is a seven-step dynamic movement based test that has become a standard of practice in physical therapy and sports performance centers.  The FMS helps prevent injuries before they occur by identifying risk factors.  Movement indicates how a body works and lets us know how the brain is controlling the body and how the joints and muscles communicate.  Just like a good medical work up, the FMS permits the trainer / therapist to make the proper decision about the clients’ most urgent needs and avoid gym activities that are detrimental.


Recent research has demonstrated that knowing your grip strength is as important as knowing your blood pressure.  The PURE research of 140 thousand individuals revealed that a drop in grip strength is a strong predictor of mortality from all causes.  We will all face health battles and the stronger body wins while a weaker body loses.


Exercise is ineffective absent consistency.  Even a haphazard program of exercise is beneficial if you perform it on a consistent basis.  The experts say a good goal is 150 training sessions per year.  That is three times a week for 50 of the 52 weeks in a year.  Link together several years of the consistency habit and amazing changes happen.  Most people overestimate the value of a month’s worth of exercise and greatly underestimate the value of a year’s worth of exercise.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Fitness training for those of us past 40 years of age is more complicated.  Physical performance and recovery capacity is dramatically different.  If you need proof, look around for the forty year olds in the NBA or NFL.  The good news is that with proper planning, consistent performance, and the wisdom that comes with age, we can stay fit and active for a lifetime.  I have compiled a collection of tips for the forty plus fitness client.  

The Numbers You Do and Don’t Need

The bodyweight numbers from the bathroom scale are often misleading.  A great program of exercise will add few pounds of muscle and subtract a few pounds of fat so the number on the scale will not move.  The client will be stronger, fitter, have a faster metabolism but still becomes discouraged because the scale numbers have not gone down.  A horrible program of exercise removes equal amounts of muscle and fat.  It produces a weaker body with a suppressed metabolism but the client is pleased with lower scale numbers.  In many ways, the perseveration on bodyweight numbers sets you up for failure.

Ask any trainer or dietician who works with clients on body composition goals.  The general public has no food portion awareness.  Knowing the number of calories present in a portion of food is critical to reaching body composition goals.  You will never be able to exercise enough to counterbalance the effects of a poor diet.  Consistent use of a kitchen scale can quickly educate you on the number of calories in a specific portion size.

measureIf you want a more accurate and reliable measure of your fat composition, get a tape measure.  Men measure around the bellybutton and women measure around the widest aspect of the hips.  The tale of the tape will give you an accurate indicator of your progress, or lack of progress, toward losing body fat.  Make that tape measurement smaller and you can be assured that you are moving in the right direction.

Consistency is king.  Get a calendar and track your attendance.  Keep track of the number of training sessions in every month.  Most strength coaches and fitness trainers will attest that good things start to happen when the client is training ten times a month.  This is one of the simplest numbers to understand but the most difficult to achieve.  All the big benefits of exercise occur with long term, habitual performance of an exercise regimen.  The fitness media bombards us with “21 day fix,”  “30 days to six pack abs,” and my favorite “shredded in seven.”  The television will never be able to sell “Three Days a Week Forever” but that is the number that will produce the best results.

-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

There are many studies that show a correlation between grip strength and longevity, and some of them even show a correlation between grip strength and overall body strength. Grip strength is fundamentally important as it is needed to do many daily tasks: carrying the groceries or a suitcase, opening a jar or a gallon of milk.

How to Measure Grip Strength

A Dynamometer, or a “gripper,” is a useful tool for gauging grip strength. To test, you simply grip the tool and squeeze as hard as you can, closing the handle as much as possible. This is what I would call “crushing grip strength.” There is, however, another type of grip strength known as “support grip.” Support grip is the ability to keep your hand closed around an object (carrying luggage, holding a pull up bar, moving furniture, etc.). While both types of grip strength are important, I would argue that supportive grip strength is much more functional and plays a vital role in many more tasks than crushing grip strength (unless you are trying to impress someone with your handshake). The ability to hold onto an object once it is grasped has limitless function and, in my opinion, is a much better gauge to true strength.

001If you find yourself struggling to hold onto objects, whether in the gym or performing tasks outside in the real world, I would encourage you to incorporate some training which targets supportive grip strength. My top 3 exercise picks for this purpose are:

  1. Farmers walks (as heavy as you can carry for 2-3 sets of 20-50 yards)
  2. Higher rep (8-20) deadlifts using the fat grippers
  3. Pull ups (add weight if you can do more than 10)

-Jeff Tirrell, B.S., CSCS, Pn1