How do you track your fitness goals
? Whether it’s before-and-after selfies or reps at the gym, you might want to consider more precise ways to measure strength. Knowing the right metrics to quantify strength
can elevate your fitness goals and help you build muscle.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week for the average American adult. They also recommend strength-resistance training a minimum of two days per week, which boosts muscular endurance, bone density
, core balance
, power and functional mobility
If you want to take fitness beyond the basic guidelines by incorporating strength training into your routine
even more, learn how muscle strength is tested, which factors to consider when evaluating yourself and what practical steps you can take to become stronger in daily life.
In order to calculate the amount of strength you have, the muscle output you’re testing must be maximum and voluntary, the BioMed Research International Journal points
out. This means the results are based on the maximum repetition load you can achieve in a voluntary muscular contraction.
Muscle output is the total of muscle activations all over the body, rather than in an isolated muscle group, explains the research authors. If you want to measure strength in the shoulders, for example, you wouldn’t just focus on the deltoids, scapula and upper back, but also muscles in the torso which are distantly connected to the shoulders.
Some external variables must be accounted for too. If you want to measure strength in the hamstrings, body stance will make a difference. You can stand with the hip bones flexed to stretch out the hamstring muscles, or you can extend the hip bones to shorten the hamstrings.
Hip flexion increases the maximum repetition load which will lead to stronger muscle output. For the most accurate and consistent strength results, focus on keeping the variables consistent every time.
How to test strength
There are several predictors of muscle strength according to the same research cited above. This includes:
- Force (sometimes called torque)
Muscle size can also factor in, but it’s not always the most reliable strength marker. Enlarged size can indicate hypertrophy, an inflammation of the muscle fibers, tissues and cells, explains the PeerJ Life and Environment Journal
—rather than overall strength.
One simple way to test your strength is Manual Muscle Testing. This method uses a five-point scale to test for strength and works for a variety of exercises. The scale is broken down as follows:
- 0/5: You are unable to achieve any noticeable muscle contraction when you attempt to perform a certain exercise.
- 1/5: You can achieve a muscle contraction, but you are unable to lift the specific body part against the force of gravity.
- 2/5: You can achieve muscle contraction, but you are unable to complete a full range-of-motion without a decrease in gravity or shift in body position.
- 3/5: You can achieve a muscle contraction and move in a full range-of-motion against the force of gravity, but you are unable to maintain the contraction when more resistance is applied.
- 4/5: You can achieve a muscle contraction and move in a full range-of-motion against the force of gravity with some resistance, but you are unable to maintain the contraction when the maximum resistance is exerted.
- 5/5: You can achieve a muscle contraction and move in a full range-of-motion against the force of gravity when the maximum resistance is applied.
should you use when testing? The BioMed Research International study
recommends using any of these basic movements:
- Neck flexion
- Shoulder abduction
- Elbow flexion and extension
- Wrist extension
- Third finger flexion
- Fifth finger abduction
- Hip flexion, abduction and extension
- Knee extension
- Large toe extension
- Ankle dorsiflexion and plantarflexion
Genetics, age and gender influences
While a consistent exercise regimen with a focus on resistance training will help you become stronger, certain biological factors can influence your natural strength as well. Genetic variations play a role in how efficient the nervous system is at recruiting cells to build, repair and strengthen muscle fibers, according to the Scientific Reports Journal
Another biomarker that impacts your strength is neurodevelopment, the research continues, because the brain regulates muscle contraction. In addition, if you have a genetic predisposition to cardiometabolic risk factors (including hypertension, diabetes or abnormal lipid count), this can also decrease your overall strength.
Age-related physical changes
can also affect overall strength since the body loses muscle mass, bone density, range-of-motion and neuromuscular control as you become older, reports the Osteoporosis International Journal
. This age decline is not necessarily inevitable, as you can work to maintain optimal fitness and musculoskeletal mobility even as the body changes in each season of life. Without continual efforts to train and exercise, however, muscle strength, power and mass can suffer over time.
Finally, strength can differ between men and women too. Studies show that women
have a lower initial threshold of muscle strength than their male counterparts, according to research in Physiological Reports
That’s because the muscle fat to water ratio is lower in women than in men. Because water is denser than fat, this difference in body composition allows men to develop more muscle torque and sustain higher levels of resistance. This does not mean women aren’t strong—or can’t be as strong as their male counterparts—just that male and female bodies are not built the same.
Ways to increase strength
Use your strength testing as a baseline for your health and fitness goals. If you want to be stronger, the obvious solution is to include more resistance training in your current workout regimen, but there are other practical measures you can take as well.
is an important place to start, so evaluate the type of foods
you consume on a regular basis and make adjustments if necessary. Both men and women who eat a high concentration of nitrate-rich fruits and vegetables perform 11 percent better on muscle strength tests and 4 percent better on muscle function and mobility tests, according to a recent study in The Journal of Nutrition
. Some healthy sources of nitrate
also plays a critical role in muscle strength. In fact, a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night stimulates the body’s growth hormone secretion, states the Journal of Musculoskeletal and Neural Interactions
. Adequate sleep cycles repair muscle tissues and increase muscle mass, whereas not enough sleep can result in muscle loss.
In order to build strength, it’s crucial to prioritize all areas of your health—not just your time spent in the gym.
Measure strength and get stronger
Getting a measure of your strength is a great way to start truly testing how successful your workouts are. Once you have your measurement, don’t forget to consider all the factors that attribute to your overall strength, including nutrition and sleep. With everything dialed in, you can test regularly and get an accurate depiction of just how strong you are.