Fitness begins in the middle of your body. That’s also where it ends, if your core isn’t strong and stable. Not only do the muscles in your torso defend your spine against unwanted movements—the twists and jolts that produce injuries—but they also enable the movements you do want. They’re the linchpins that allow coordinated actions of your upper- and lower-body muscles.
So we’ll start with the plank, a fundamental test of core stability and endurance. The average guy should be able to hold a basic plank for 60 seconds, says strength coach Nick Tumminello. If you aspire to be Men's HealthFit, you should be able to do a more challenging version for the same amount of time.
[pic]You’ll need something long, solid, light, and straight, like a broom handle or dowel. Assume a basic plank position, with your weight resting on your forearms and toes. Your body should form a straight line from neck to ankles. You want your feet hip-width apart and your elbows directly below your shoulders.
Have a friend set the dowel along your back. It should make contact at three points: the back of your head, between your shoulder blades, and your tailbone. Hold that position. Stop if your body loses contact with the dowel at one of these three points.
If you can hold your position for 60 seconds, stop and rest for two minutes. Then do the plank with your feet on a bench. (You won’t be able to use the dowel, because it will slide off.)
Nailed it? Rest two minutes and try this version: With your feet back on the floor, move your arms forward so your elbows are beneath your eyes instead of your shoulders. If you can hold this one for 60 seconds, congratulations: You’re Men's Health Fit.
Planks are a big part of the 2012 Spartacus Workout, which readers are calling their favorite workout ever. The best part is its simplicity—all you need are dumbbells, a stopwatch, and some serious grit. Are you tough enough to try it?
Below average: You can’t hold a basic plank 60 seconds
Average: You go 60 seconds
Above average: You can hold a plank 60 seconds with your feet elevated on a bench
Men's Health Fit: You can hold a plank with your arms extended for 60 seconds
How to push past a fitness plateau.
Fitness Test #2: Pushups
The bench press is the best size- and strength-building exercise for your chest. And yet the lowly ground-based pushup actually works more muscles, even if it doesn’t allow you to hit certain ones with maximum intensity.
[pic]Like the bench press, the pushup works your chest, shoulders, and triceps to exhaustion. It’s also a core exercise, forcing muscles in your abdomen, hips, and lower back to work hard to keep your spine in a safe position. But the biggest benefit of the pushup may be the way it forces the web of muscles surrounding your shoulder blades to man up and support your shoulder joints, which can become dysfunctional on a steady diet of bench presses.
This test, courtesy of Martin Rooney, one of the world's top strength and conditioning coaches, may be humbling for you, particularly if you’re at your best with your back on a bench and a barbell in your hands. Assume a pushup position with your hands directly below your shoulders, your feet