The 3 Minute Fitness Test



by Chris Shugart T-Nation


If You Can’t Do This You’re Out of Shape

Here’s what you need to know…

  • Every fit person should be strong in reality-based movements and not gas out while doing them.
  • This test, performed against the clock, involves two different weighted carries, quick runs, and strongman-style lifts.
  • If your fitness is well-rounded, you should be able to complete this test in about three minutes.
  • Build your own challenge-based training session by using different equipment, heavier or lighter weights, or varying lengths for the carries and runs.


Life Slaps You in the Face
Life gives you reality checks. And sometimes they sting.


In athleticism and fitness, it’s those moments when you think, “Well, I thought I was I pretty damn fit, but apparently I suck!”


We need these slaps in the face. Otherwise we’d become that 40 year-old guy with the beer belly who still thinks he’s in shape because he played high school football 23 years ago.


Maybe you got suckered into helping a buddy move his couch up a flight of stairs.




Maybe you were talked into doing a charity “fun run.” You know, as if those two things can co-exist.




Or maybe someone took a photo of you and when you saw it on Facebook your first thought was, “Who’s that chubby dude? Hold on a second… oh crap.”


Slap! Slap! That one always hurts twice as much.


It’s time to hit back.


What is Fitness?
What does it mean to be fit, strong, and athletic? Many have sought to define these terms, but let’s keep it simple.


Most of us don’t want to be very “fit” in only one capacity. We don’t want to be marathon runners who look like meth addicts when they put on their street clothes.


But we also don’t want to be one of those wheezing lifters who can bench press a Buick but can’t be on top during sex lest they suffocate their partners with armpit flab.


Those folks specialize in one aspect of athleticism while other aspects suffer greatly.


So, what is “fitness” to those us who want to be well-rounded and also look good naked?


Well, you, as a fit human being and not a garden slug, should be able to do a lot of physical work without expelling a lung.


You should be able to easily lift things that couch potatoes consider heavy. And you should be able to do both of these things at the same time.


Heavy Plates
And that’s the missing element these days: the ability to perform in a state of metabolic distress. Work capacity and workout density – the ability to perform a lot of quality work in less time – has been replaced by dicking with your phone for five minutes between sets.


We’ve forgotten how to dig deep. And it’s not just a mental thing. Christian Thibaudeau notes:


“Being in that kind of distressed state activates a powerful survival mechanism. You create a potent growth stimulus that cannot be achieved any other way.”


In addition to work capacity and density, you should be able to use your body athletically in a number of ways, not just one or two. This means you, bench press specialist. It also means you, scrawny guy who does tons of pull-ups but can’t deadlift bodyweight.


Being able to accomplish all these things has a great side effect as well – those who can do it tend to build healthy, great looking bodies.


Challenge-Based Training
We’re calling this a “test” but it could also be called a quick workout, or more accurately, a challenge-based training session.


Not only does it test where you’re at, taking the test itself can be an effective training session when you’re short on time, a finisher, a fast warm-up, or a bonus workout.


Challenge-based training has a huge advantage over how most gym goers work out. It’s hyper-focused, there’s a specific goal, and there’s internal and external pressure to try harder when your mind starts providing plausible – but ultimately bullshit – reasons to slack off.


You know you’re doing challenge-based training when you have no desire (or time) to send a text, take a selfie, or watch one the many TV’s your lame gym has hung from the ceiling.


Now, let’s get to the test.



The 3 Minute Fitness Test

Set-up: Get four 100 or 45-pound weight plates, based on your strength and fitness level. These need to start on a rack or machine, like a leg press, preferably about chest height.


You’ll need about 30 yards of free space to walk and run.

  • Start a timer.
  • Grab a weight plate off the rack or machine. Hold it to your chest and quickly move it 30 yards. Set it down.
  • Run back to the remaining 3 plates and repeat the above step until you have moved 4 total plates, one by one, across the gym.
  • Now it’s time to take the plates back. Pick up two plates and farmer-walk them back. Set them on the floor near the rack or machine.
  • Run back and grab the last two plates and repeat.
  • Now rack all four plates and stop the timer.
  • Did you do it in 3 minutes or less? That’s pretty solid.


Now do it twice per week, on an “off day” or as a finisher to your normal workout. Seek to beat your previous time.


The Breakdown

In these 3 minutes or so, you’ll have completed four weighted carries of one style, two weighted carries in another style, four fast runs, and four strongman-style lifts (re-racking the weights from floor to chest-height rack.)


You’ll also be sucking air, dumping body fat, and having epiphanies about the meaning of life. And possibly hallucinating, which is fun.


You’ll have effectively used every muscle in your body in a “functional” or real-world manner, and you’ll have taxed multiple energy systems.


Create Your Own Test
Too hard? Too easy? Can’t do this exact test in your gym? Try these ideas:

  • Switch implements. Use kettlebells, sandbags, dumbbells, little people who’ve signed a waiver, etc.
  • Shorten the test and go faster. Start with only two plates or implements. Establish your base time the first time you try it and then try to beat that time.
  • Lengthen the test. Use 6 plates. (Note: This often leads to excessive swearing, but it’ll give you balls/ovaries of steel.)
  • Add or decrease yardage of the plate carry and the sprint.
  • Go outside and do the test as written, but on a hill.
  • Add a weighted vest because, apparently, you are a machine made of galvanized awesome.
  • Play around of descending or ascending loads. In other words, use two 100’s and two 45’s. Start heavy and finish light or vice versa.
  • When you have greatly improved your time and are no longer able to shave off seconds after several attempts, call it a win.


Now design a new test using roughly the same guidelines and repeat until bad-assery ensues.


Challenge yourself. Test yourself. And when life slaps you in the face just say, “Is that all you’ve got?”





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