All rise now — just how fit are you?

Matthew Solan

Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

How fit are you, really? Fitness is not always best measured by parameters like your weight, your ability to run a 5K, or whether you can do 10 push-ups. Instead, one test of fitness is how well you can stand from a seated position.

Try this: Rise from the floor without using your hands

Before you start: Keep in mind that this test is not for everyone. For instance, someone with a sore knee, arthritis, poor balance, or another kind of limitation would have difficulty doing the test with little or no assistance.

Instructions: Sit on the floor with your legs crossed or straight out. Now stand up again. (This may not an easy movement for many people, so for safety do this with someone next to you.)

How did you do? Did you need to use your hands or knees? Could you not get up at all?

Now, do the test again, only this time grade your effort. Beginning with a score of 10, subtract one point if you do any of the following for support when you both sit and stand:

  • use your hand
  • use your knee
  • use your forearm
  • use one hand on the knee or thigh
  • use the side of your leg
  • lose your balance at any time.

For example, if you sat with no problem, but had to use either a hand or a knee to get up, take off one point. If you had to use both your hands and knees, deduct four points (two points each).

If you can sit and stand with no assistance, you scored a perfect 10. If you could not get up at all, your score is zero. Ideally, you want a score of eight or higher. (For the record, the first time I tried, I got a seven.)

What the no-hands test tells us about fitness

“The sit-and-rise movement — sometimes also referred to as the no-hands test — can reveal much about your current strength, flexibility, and overall wellness,” says Eric L’Italien, a physical therapist with Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Center.

Performing the sit-and-rise test requires leg and core strength, balance and coordination, and flexibility. But if you struggle, that does not necessarily mean you are out of shape.

“Think of it as a way to highlight areas of your physical health you should address,” says L’Italien. Even if you currently do reasonably well on the test, practicing it regularly can find weak spots before they become worse.

Three exercise that can improve your performance

If you need to improve your performance, here are three exercises L’Italien recommends that can help improve your score — and ultimately your fitness. He recommends adding them to your regular workout routine. If you are just starting out, perform them twice a week and build from there.

Lunges. The simple lunge helps with both leg strength and balance.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • While keeping your abdomen tight and your back in an upright position, step forward with one leg until your knee is aligned over the front of your foot. The trailing knee should drop toward the floor.
  • Hold for a few seconds and return both legs to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite leg.
  • Do five to 10 repetitions with each leg to make a set. Do two to three sets.

Modification: Stand next to a wall for hand support if needed. For an extra challenge, hold small hand weights during the movements.

Hamstring stretch. Tight hamstrings are a significant contributor to poor flexibility among older adults.

  • Lie on your back and place a strap, belt, or towel around one foot.
  • Holding the strap, gently pull the leg back until you feel a stretch in the back of the leg.
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then release. Switch to the other leg and repeat.

Plank. This can help strengthen a weak core.

  • Lie face down with your forearms resting on the floor.
  • Raise up your body, so it forms a straight line from your head and neck to your feet.
  • Tighten your abs and try to hold this position for 10 seconds.
  • Rest and then repeat. Do two to three planks in total. Work up to holding each plank for 30 seconds or longer.

Modification: To make the exercise easier, do it while leaning against a counter or table at a 45-degree angle. You can also hold the plank from a full push-up position.

Comments:

  1. Claudio Gil Araujo, MD, PhD

    While SRT is a very safe assessment tool performed by us for more that 20 years in thousands of subjects ranging from 4 to 98 years of age in our Exercise Medicine clinic Most likely, it could be performed, if some precautions are taken, for the self-assessment of musculoskeletal (MUSK) fitness. I may list some of the relative contraindications or special conditions to be considered in undertaking the SRT
    The most relevant safety considerations for SRT are:
    – To try “easy” at the first attempt (i.e., for those < 40 years old, this means to try sitting and rising from the floor using one hand) and then, if succeed well, try to do again with no hand’s help/support
    – To perform at natural speed; please do not perform quickly – speed of execution is not being evaluated and may add some undesirable risk
    – To be using comfortable clothes that do not restrict range of motion of joints
    – To be barefoot (no socks)
    – To do not perform in slippery surfaces
    – To have a thin mat to sit on

    Please also consider to obtain previous professional health advice and/or supervision before try the SRT if:
    – You are pregnant (especially, after 10 weeks)
    – You have been submitted to a major surgery (i.e., thoracic, abdominal or orthopedic) in the last 30 days
    – You have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease or known that you have any relevant balance or neurologic abnormality/disease
    – You have had any major recent fall or accident
    – You have any hip/knee prosthesis or any major joint abnormality in lower limbs
    – You are not sure that you will be able to do it by yourself (especially common in elderly people that are not used to exercise)

    Enjoy SRT!

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