7 ways to challenge your fitness

We all have it in us to get a little fitter. Test and improve your fitness levels with these seven challenges from our personal trainers.

Being able to run 10k, or lift 100kg isn't the be all and end all of fitness. Your overall fitness actually incorporates these seven elements:

  • Cardiovascular fitness
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Agility
  • Speed
  • Power
  • Balance

Achieving success in all of these areas can seem daunting, or exhausting. But our personal trainers have supplied some quick challenges which can help identify the areas you could work harder on, and improve your overall fitness levels.


Cardiovascular (CV), or aerobic, fitness includes activities which challenge the heart, the circulatory system as well as the lungs.

During CV exercise  you repeatedly move large muscles in your arms, legs and hips. You’ll breathe faster, and more deeply. You’ll draw more oxygen into your lungs, and your heart will beat faster to transport the oxygen to the working muscles whilst transporting the waste products away.

Poor aerobic fitness is a major risk factor for early death and so by performing regular CV exercise you will literally be adding years to your life.

Adults are recommended to achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise every week for general health benefits.

TAKE THE CHALLENGE: Walk or run 1 mile

What you'll need: Space to run and a stop watch.

The aim is to complete 1 mile in the shortest possible time. So simply walk or run a mile as fast as you can, timing with the stop watch. The results will depend on your level of fitness, but if you do this regularly you should see an improvement over time. 


Lean muscle mass diminishes as we age (known as muscle atrophy). But strength training can help you to preserve and often enhance muscle mass, whilst simultaneously helping you to maintain a lower and healthier body fat percentage.

Other benefits of strength training include: increased bone density and reduced risk of osteoporosis, management of chronic health conditions such as arthritis, back pain, obesity, heart disease, depression and diabetes, as well as overall quality of life as it will allow you to perform everyday activities such as lifting, pushing and pulling.

Adults are recommended to train each major muscle group 2 – 3 days per week using a variety of exercises and equipment. 

TAKE THE CHALLENGE: Bodyweight ratio lift

What you'll need: A secured pullup bar

For this challenge you will spend 1-minute per exercise completing a back-to-back circuit. The aim is to increase the number of reps of each exercise over time. The number you do will depend on your strength but this will improve over time. Complete 1 minute of each of these exercises back to back and have your personal trainer or gym buddy take note of how many you do:

  • Overhand wide grip pull ups
  • Press ups
  • Bodyweight squats


    Flexibility is defined as the static maximum range of motion (ROM) available about a joint. Reduced flexibility or ROM has been associated with increased injury risk and decreased physical performance, and so regular flexibility training will help to reduce injury risk and support overall performance.

    Adults are recommended to do flexibility exercises at least 2 or 3 days each week to improve ROM.

    TAKE THE CHALLENGE: Hip flexion 

    What you'll need: A partner

    The hip flexion test will challenge and improve the flexibility of the muscles that support the movement of your knees. It's common for these muscles to become tight, particularly if you have a job where you sit at a desk for most of the day.

    To do the test first warm up. Next lie flat on your back with your legs straight out. Lift one of your knees using your hand to pull the knee up towards your chest, keeping your right leg flat on the floor. Repeat on the other side.

    Your partner will be best placed to see if your resting leg leaves the floor while you do this exercise. If it does, this is an indication that your hip flexor is too tight. Consider some stretches to improve the hip flexor mobility and repeat the test once a week to see your progress. 

    4. AGILITY

    Agility is being able to change one’s body positions quickly and efficiently. Improving your agility can increase the efficiency of certain physical movements, and ensure you’re not wasting energy by performing movements incorrectly. If you have greater agility, you can perform day-to-day tasks better than someone whose agility is not as developed. 

    TAKE THE CHALLENGE: Illinois agility test

    What you'll need: 8 cones, measuring tape, stopwatch, partner

    Mark out a rectangle on the ground with four cones. The length should be 10 metres, and the width should be 5 metres. Place a further 4 cones evenly spaced down the length of the centre.  You should have a course that looks something like this:

    Now lie on your front with your head touching the start cone and your hands by your shoulders.  When your partner shouts 'Go' you should get up as quickly as possible and follow the course as seen on the image above, without knocking the cones over. Your partner should time how long it takes you to complete the course once. 

    A good time is around 15 seconds for a male and 17 seconds for a female. Work towards this time as you practice week after week. 

    5. SPEED

    Speed training has obvious carry over to numerous sports and physical activities, such as running and cycling. Any form of sprinting activity will engage and train the type 2 anaerobic muscle fibres, which are most responsible for enhancing muscle definition. Any quick internet search for images of 100-meter sprinters will show you that they possess a lot of well-defined, lean muscle, compared to long distance runners who by comparison are little more than just legs and lungs.

    TAKE THE CHALLENGE: Max RPM on a stationary bike

    What you'll need: Stationary bike

    This challenge will help you to build up your speed when practiced over time. The aim is to try to hit your maximum revolutions per minute (RPM) possible on the bike in 30 seconds. The bike should record this for you, and you should see some improvement in as you get faster with practice, 

    6. POWER

    Power is the product of both speed and strength, and maximal power shows how quickly you can exert force to produce the desired movement. Power diminishes with age, even more quickly than strength does. Power can help to prevent falls by helping you to react quickly should you start to trip or lose your balance, so performing power-based exercises has lifelong benefits. For those interested in increasing their “big lifts”, such as the squat or deadlift, power training is an essential part of training.

    TAKE THE CHALLENGE: Vertical leap 

    What you'll need: Chalk, measuring tape, blank wall, step ladder

    The idea in this challenge is simply to see how high you can jump. To do this stand with your side against a wall. Hold the piece of chalk in the hand closest to the wall and use it to mark the spot on the wall that you reach with your feet flat on the floor and your hand stretched up as far as possible - this is the 'standing height'. Next do the same but jump as high as you can in the air. Do this three times and measure the distance between the standing height and the highest jump. 

    This is a great measure of the explosive power that you can achieve from your legs and a good way to measure your improvement in power as you train. 

    7. BALANCE

    Having good balance is essential in life as it allows us to do what might seem like very basic activities, such as walking, and going up and down stairs. In the gym environment it will help you to stay upright on the equipment, and in everyday living it will of course help to prevent falls. As we age, what can seem like an innocuous fall can lead to life-changing injuries which have a serious impact on the quality of life a person can lead.

    TAKE THE CHALLENGE: Single leg stork 

    What you'll need: Stopwatch, partner

    To do this test you should take off your shoes and place your hands on your hips. Lift either leg so that the foot rests against the knee of your other leg. Then you raise the heel of your supporting leg so that you are balancing on the ball of your foot.

    Your partner will time how long you stay in this position, with the stopwatch being stopped if :

    • your hands leave your hips
    • you hop or move your supporting foot in any direction
    • your bent leg's foot stops touching your supporting leg's knee, or
    • you place the heel of your supporting foot on the floor.

    A good score in this test is anything over 40 seconds. Try to beat your score over time. 

    Our personal trainers can help you to improve any of these areas of fitness and can help you take the tests and record the results as you progress. 

    Last updated Tuesday 20 October 2020

    First published on Friday 26 August 2016