Sunday, 21 Jul 2024

Fitness Testing for the Obese & Overweight

Many fitness tests are designed for testing athletes or those wishing to improve their fitness. In health screening, we may also want to test those who are unfit, overweight, or obese. However, some tests may not be suitable for these populations and may need to be modified before implementation.

Pre-Testing Considerations

Overweight or obese individuals are usually not accustomed to exercising and will need more detailed instruction, longer warm-ups and cool-downs, and closer monitoring to ensure the tests are performed safely. It is important to make sure that a medical clearance has been given, especially for anyone who is overweight or has a history of high blood pressure and heart disease. Consulting a physician before undertaking any vigorous testing is highly recommended. During testing, it is crucial to have medical assistance and first aid supplies close at hand, as well as adequate resuscitation equipment nearby.

Fitness Tests

Many common fitness tests may not be suitable for testing obese patients. Therefore, it may be necessary to decrease the running distances, times, or weight used, or modify the equipment.

Body Composition

The primary reason for fitness testing obese or overweight participants is usually their desire to undertake a fitness training program to reduce excess body fat. While monitoring changes in body weight may be adequate in many cases, it may also be beneficial to record waist girth or even skinfold measures to monitor specific body composition changes. However, it can often be challenging to measure skinfold thickness on obese individuals due to difficulties in finding landmarks and sampling the correct layers of skin and underlying fat. Additionally, some calipers may not be suitable for measuring large numbers. For those who are extremely obese and unable to stand, recumbent height measurement may be appropriate.

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Maximal endurance tests may not be suitable for obese populations due to the health risk of excessive stress on the heart. As an alternative, there are several sub-maximal endurance tests that can be used. Instead of a running test, a walking test such as the Rockport Walk test can be employed. Another low-impact option is the 2-minute step-in-place test. If walking is not possible or difficult, a cycle test like the Astrand Cycle Test or the PWC170 test can be utilized. In the absence of similar tests, even creating an assessment like the time to water walk across the pool can be effective.


Measuring flexibility in obese patients can be more challenging as the fat mass can limit the range of movement, rather than muscle or joint flexibility. Therefore, any measurements of flexibility should take this into consideration.

Strength and Power

Tests that require jumping (vertical jump), lifting body weight (chin-ups, push-ups), complex movements (sit-ups), or rapid changes in direction (agility tests) would not be suitable for obese or very overweight participants. To measure leg strength, a 1RM seated leg press can be performed, and for upper body strength, a wall push-up test or repetition max bench press may be suitable.

Other Tests

Conducting a range of health tests may be beneficial to monitor the improvements in health, as these are often the long-term goals of most fitness training programs for obese individuals.


Comparing the test results to normative values is important in interpreting the assessment. However, it is essential to ensure that the norms used are for the same test protocol, which may not be the case if the test has been modified. While comparing results to others can help motivate the subject, the most crucial aspect is to see improvement over time, which can be observed in the test results. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the test procedures used are consistent each time and that the results are reliably collected.

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Q: Are there any specific tests that are suitable for obese individuals when assessing their fitness?

A: Yes, there are various tests that can be modified or selected to suit the needs of obese individuals. These include the Rockport Walk test for endurance, the 1RM seated leg press for leg strength, and the wall push-up test for upper body strength.

Q: How can flexibility be measured accurately in obese patients?

A: Measuring flexibility in obese patients can be challenging due to the limitations imposed by excess fat mass. Therefore, it is important to consider this factor when taking flexibility measurements.

Q: How can I ensure consistent and reliable results when testing obese individuals?

A: To ensure consistent and reliable results, it is crucial to follow the same test procedures each time. This helps to maintain consistency and allows for accurate comparison of results over time.


Fitness testing for the obese and overweight requires careful consideration and modifications to ensure safety and accuracy. By tailoring tests to suit the needs of these populations, fitness professionals can help individuals achieve their fitness goals and improve their overall health. Remember to consult with a physician and provide proper medical assistance during testing. For more information on fitness testing and training programs, visit Auralpressure.