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Teksti Aleksi Tolppi Kuvat Jaana Kangas

Testing yourself is the key to better results

My legs can barely carry me and my heart and lungs feel like bursting. I’ve just finished the 12 minute running test known as the Cooper test and while gasping for air, I wonder, what’s the point?

For many people, the Cooper test brings up only bad memories from junior high and most are probably happy to never bother with it again.

But for those who aren’t, the student union organizes an opportunity to take the test twice a year. This October 61 people were happy to torture themselves for twelve minutes.

While popular in Finnish schools, the Cooper test is just one of many ways to measure your fitness. Considering the grueling nature of the test, one really wonders if there are better ways to test yourself and if it is actually useful for non-athletes.

“The results should not be taken too literally.”

Tero Joutsen, fitness tester at Sports Lab Jyväskylä, thinks that testing yourself is the key to better results even for non-competing trainers.

“Without testing it is impossible to do right kind of training,” he said.

Cooper test is meant to measure maximal oxygen consumption. While it is an useful tool for tracking progress and measuring maximal performance, the test doesn’t provide a lot of data to support training.

“Figuring out target heart rate zones is the most important thing. The common mistake for joggers is to go too fast when you should go slow and vice versa.”

Instead of the Cooper test, Joutsen suggests running at a steady pace on a sports field and keeping either the same heart rate or the same speed. When your endurance gets better, you can either run faster or your heart rate goes down.

“Tests are great for beginners. They are useful but also motivating when you see your test results get better in a short period of time,” Joutsen said.

 

For people who are interested in more accurate and in-depth information about their fitness level, there are quite a few tests to try. The best known is the body composition analysis which is used to measure body fat and lean body mass.

Joutsen admits that the tests don’t always give the whole picture of one’s fitness level.

For example, the results of the body composition analysis can vary based on when the person has last eaten and emptied their bladder. For women, the menstrual cycle can greatly affect the outcome.

“The results should not be taken too literally. I rarely agree for example with the ideal weight the body composition analysis gives to a person,” Joutsen told.

 

Testing and measuring oneself has become increasingly popular during the last decade. Joutsen has observed that even non-athletes are interested in finding out their maximal oxygen consumption or how much fat they have in their body.

“There has been a fitness craze going on for quite some time now. Triathlon has become a popular sport and there are many diet programs on television. That has had an effect,” Joutsen said.

For some, technology itself is a motivating feature. Heart rate monitors and activity trackers are now worn by people who are just trying to stay in shape and want to track their development.

For a jogger, a heart rate monitor tells if the pace is optimal for desired results. Activity tracker, however, offers information about the activity that happens during the rest of the day. That can help those who are trying to lose weight, for example.

Students challenged themselves during the Cooper running test on a Thursday in October. Picture: Jaana Kangas

For me personally, the Cooper test is a great way to measure progress as I spend most of my time jogging rather than lifting weights or playing sports.

Regular testing in junior high motivated me to exercise more and hitting the magical 3000 by the time I was 15 was really something.

Even if I am not too fond of testing and measuring when it comes to exercise, I do feel quite proud of my result with the Cooper test.

With 3030 meters I was able to stay roughly on the same level as I was almost 10 years ago, but when adjusting for age, I’m actually in better shape.

While I don’t think I’m buying a heart rate monitor or an activity tracker any time soon, I do see the appeal. Measuring your progress can make it more rewarding and maybe motivate to do even more.

But in the end, as long as I’m happy with the way I look and feel, that’s all the measurement I need.

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