NSCA CPT Chapter 11 – Fitness Testing Protocols and Norms
Chapter 11 – Fitness Testing Protocols and Norms

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    Chapter Objectives:

    • Know the protocols for selected fitness testing.
    • Administer the selected fitness tests correctly.
    • Find valid and reliable measurements for the fitness level of clients and choose appropriate tests for individual clients.
    • Discuss clients’ results and their relationship with normative data.

    Vital Signs

    Heart rate and blood pressure are two of the ways to measure vital signs that are common in training. These both proves effective for determining the proper exercise intensity. 

    Heart Rate

    Most adults have an average heart rate of 60 – 80 beats per minute, with females having 7 – 10 more beats than males.

    Heart rates lower than 60 bpm classifies people as having bradycardia. 

     Heart rates over 100 bpm classify people with tachycardia.

    Equipment used:

    • Stopwatch
    • Stethoscope
    • Heart rate monitor

    Palpation procedure

    Use the index finger and middle fingertips to palpate the pulse. Avoid the use of the thumb as it has its own inherent pulse. Use one of the areas mentioned after step 3.

    Next if using a stopwatch, you start with the first beat as zero and go to either 6, 10, 15, 30, or 60 seconds.

    The last step is to make the measure you have equal to what it would be at 60 seconds. So, multiply by the appropriate number. 

    Sites for palpation:

    • Brachial artery: the anterior-medial aspect of the arm just distal to the belly of the biceps brachii muscle, 1 inch superior to the antecubital fossa.
    • Carotid artery: on the anterior surface of the neck just lateral to the larynx. Avoid applying too much pressure to this location when palpating for HR. 
    • Radial artery: on the anterior-lateral surface of the wrist, in line with the base of the thumb. 
    • Temporal artery: the lateral side of the cranium on the anterior portion of the temporal fossa, usually along the hairline at the level of the eyes. 

    Blood pressure

    This is the force of blood acting on the vessel walls.

    The sounds that are emitted are vibrations called Korotkoff sounds.

    Equipment used:

    • Mercury or Sphygmomanometer
    • Air bladder 
    • Stethoscope


    The client should not ingest caffeine within 30 minutes of testing.

    The client will sit upright in a chair with back support with left arm exposed supinated and at heart level.

    Use the appropriate cuff size for the client’s arm.

    Begin measuring BP after 5 minutes of rest in the position of step 2.

    Put the cuff on the arm with the bladder over the brachial artery.

    The client’s palm is face-up, the stethoscope is put firmly over the antecubital space.

    The sphygmomanometer dial is eye level.

    When all are in place, inflate the air bladder to 160 mmHg above the anticipated BP. When at max, decrease 2 – 3 per second.

    Record the diastolic and systolic to the nearest 2 mmHg found when hearing the first Korotkoff sound and the cessation of the sounds.

    Wait and observe for 10 – 20 more mmHg to confirm the loss of sounds.

    After 2 minutes, do the process again. If the difference is over 5 mmHg, then take a third.

    Once the BP is determined, classify the client.

    Body Composition

    Body comp measurement is of great interest for trainers and clients. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of them.


    This is the science of measurement of the human body. We typically include height, weight, and body girth measurements.

    Body Mass Index

    This is used to examine someone’s body mass related to their stature. It is an accurate indicator in some ways for the amount of body fat based on height and weight. It does not take muscle into account however and is more used for the general population, or people who don’t train regularly.

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    BMI = body weight in kg divided by height in square meters.


    Basic measurement which is also known as stature

    Equipment needed

    • Standard platform scale
    • Flat, rigid, right-angled device


    Ask the client to take off footwear.

    Get the client to stand erect and face the wall or stadiometer.

    Tell the client to align the lowest orbit of the eye with their ear opening.

    The client will take a deep breath and hold until the measure is over.

    Read the measure.

    Mark the wall or stabilize the device and record the measurement to the closest centimeter.

    Compare the values to the charts in the book.


    The mass of an object under normal acceleration from gravity.


    • Calibrated and certified scale


    This measures the subcutaneous fat tissue. They are highly correlated with body density measurements from underwater weighing.

    Equipment needed: 

    • Skinfold caliper
    • Nonelastic tape measure
    • Pen or other marking device

    Skinfold Sites

    Chest: Take a diagonal fold half the distance between the anterior axillary line and the nipple for and 1/3 of the distance from the anterior axillary line to the nipple for women. 

    Midaxilla: Take a vertical fold on the midaxillary line at the level of the xiphoid process. 

    Triceps: Take a vertical fold on the posterior midline of the upper, halfway between the acromon and olecranon processes; the elbow should be extended and relaxed.

    Subscapula: Take a fold on a diagonal line coming from the vertebral border to 1 to 2 cm from the inferior angle of the scapula.

    Abdomen: Take a vertical fold at a lateral distance of approximately 2 cm from the umbilicus. 

    Suprailium: Take a diagonal fold above the crest of the ilium at the spot where an imaginary line would come down from the anterior axillary.

    Thigh: Take a vertical fold on the anterior aspect of the thigh midway between hip and knee joint. 

    Medial calf: The client places the right leg on a bench with the knee flexed at 90 degrees. On the medial border, mark the level of the greatest calf girth. Raise a vertical skinfold on the medial side of the right calf 1 inch above the mark and measure the fold at the max girth.

    Bioelectrical impedance is a way to measure body comp using electrical impedance through the body between two electrodes. This measures the body’s cells and the response to electricity, as muscle and fat responds differently.

    Waist to hip girth ratio

    Not a true body comp, but it is a valuable tool for assessing relative fat distribution and disease risk.

    Just requires nonelastic tape measure.

    Cardiovascular Endurance 

    Submax endurance tests are used to attain reasonably accurate VO2 max predictions. These are used due to the high cost of equipment for VO2 testing.

    Cycle Ergometer test

    Similar to the YMCA cycle ergometer test but with a cycle and different movements obviously. So, we will describe the YMCA test procedure.

    YMCA Cycle Ergometer Test

    This test will get the client to about 85% of max HR with 3 minute stages of increasing effort.

    Equipment needed

    • Mechanical or electrical braked cycle ergometer
    • Metronome
    • Stopwatch
    • Heart Rate and BP equipment
    • Ratings of Perceived Exertion scale


    Get the client to perform at 50 rpm and maintain for the whole test.

    Put the work rate for the first stage at 150 kg/m/min

    Measure heart rate in the final 15 – 30 seconds of the second and third minute of stage 1.

    Use these based on the heart rate of the client:

    • <80 beats/min, set the work rate for the 2nd stage at 750 kg/m/min(2.5 kg at 50 rpm)       
    • 80-89 beats/min, set the work rate for the 2nd stage at 600 kg/m/min(2.0 kg at 50 rpm) 
    • 90-100 beats/min, set the work rate for the 2nd stage at 450 kg/m/min(1.5 kg at 50 rpm) 
    • >100 beats/min, set the work rate for the 2nd stage at 300 kg/m/min(1.0 kg at 50 rpm) 

    Measure heart rate again at the last 15 – 30 seconds of the second and third minute, if within 6 beats of each other, continue for another minute.

    Use the step 4 chart to set the next 2 stages and repeat the process.

    Finish the test when the client reaches 85% of their age-predicted max HR.

    Estimate VO2 like they do in the textbook on page 235.

    Astrand Rhyming Cycle Ergometer Test

    This is a 6-minute cycle test that uses a metronome, stopwatch, and a cycle. 

    YMCA step Test

    This is a basic and inexpensive test that can be done to one person or large groups. It classifies fitness levels but does not provide an estimate of VO2 max. Essentially you step up and down at a certain cadence for 3 minutes and then take your heart rate after.


    • 12 inch step bench or box
    • Metronome
    • Stopwatch

    Distance run and walk test considerations

    These test measure distance traveled over time or the time taken to travel a distance. We use this information in an equation to pretty accurately estimate someone’s VO2 max. Each test is used for different populations and should be chosen accordingly. They all require about the same stuff, which is a track or road, a stopwatch, and maybe another measure device. These can often be done in groups.

    Muscular Strength

    This is an important component of physical fitness. We need a small amount of strength to do daily tasks and as we age, it is important to retain our strength. We discuss two 1 rep max tests in this section.

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    The 1 rep max bench press

    This measure upper body strength. Here we use free weights, and this requires skill for the client being tested. 

    It requires a barbell and weight plates that allow adjustments of 5 to 90 pounds. The procedure is similar to other 1 rep max tests where you warm up the exercise light and move up in increments until you find the client’s max.

    The 1 rep max leg press

    This is used to measure lower body strength in clients. 

    This exercise just uses the universal leg press machine, thus is not free weight like most 1 RM test. 

    Procedure is similar to other 1RM protocol.

    Estimating 1 RM

    Some people may prefer not to find a true 1 RM due to danger, so it is possible to estimate a 1 RM with the use of Submax resistance. You essentially do as many reps as you can with a Submax resistance and then use the formula to find it because the amount of reps you can do with one weight-related highly to your max.

    Muscular Endurance

    This is the ability of a muscle or group of muscle to exert Submax force for a longer time. This is as important as the muscular strength was due to everyday life needing it and the importance as we age.

    YMCA bench Press Test

    This is used to measure upper body endurance.

    Equipment needed is an adjustable barbell and weight plates, and a metronome.

    Procedure is:

    • Spot the client close.
    • Set resistance to 80 pounds for males, and 35 for females.
    • Look for bench press technique.
    • Set the metronome for 60 bpm so it is equal to 30 reps per minute.
    • The client begins with arms extended and shoulder width, they lower to the chest, then without pause, they raise the bar to full arm length. It follows with the metronome,

    The test is over when the client can’t lift the barbell in the metronome’s cadence.

    Compare the score with the classifications.

    Partial Curl Up test

    This measure the abdominal muscles endurance.


    • Metronome
    • Ruler
    • Masking tape
    • Mat

    The same as the bench press endurance, but with a curl up to the marked tape. Essentially you are doing crunches to a cadence this time.

    Prone Double Straight Leg Raise Test

    This examines low back muscular endurance.

    It only requires a training or massage table.


    The client starts in prone, legs extended, hands under forehead, forearms perpendicular to the body.

    The client raises the legs where the knees leave the table.

    Monitor the test by sliding the hands under the thighs.

    Record the duration in seconds.

    End the test when their knees touch the table.

    Compare the score and classify the client.


    This is the range of motion around a joint or series of joints that a client has. 

    Sit and Reach

    This measure hip and low back flexibility.

    Requires a yardstick or a sit and reach the box, adhesive tape, and measuring tape.

    The client warms up and performs light stretching so they don’t hurt themselves. They do the test without shoes and with slow movements.

    The client has a yardstick on the floor and tap across the stick at a right angle at 15 cm. The heels touch the taped line and are 10 – 12 inches apart. Heels are against the box if it is used.

    The client slowly moves forward with both hands while in contact with the yardstick. 

    The most distant part reached is recorded and two trials are done. The knees must stay extended.

    Compare the test results.

    If you want assistance wrapping your head around this material, make sure to check out Trainer Academy for some awesome NSCA study materials. They have Practice tests, flashcards, and a fantastic study guide. They even offer an exam pass guarantee.

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