How fit are you? That simple question quickly gets complex. Fit for what? How fit is fit enough? How does one evaluate their fitness? You could develop fitness with sport-focused workouts, and test your fitness through competitive sports. It’s rewarding to be good at a competitive sport. But most sport-focused workouts are specialized enough to leave weaknesses you may not be aware of. Unexposed weaknesses can lead to performance plateaus and injuries. You could test yourself in combat, but this has some obvious disadvantages as a fitness test.
We use a set of standards that encompass all components of physical fitness that we refer to as the Athletic Skill Levels. It is a versatile yet simple tool to fill this role. The ten generally recognized components of physical fitness are: cardio respiratory endurance, strength, stamina, flexibility, coordination, agility, balance, accuracy, power and speed. A varied workout program like CrossFit develops all of these components. To maximize vertical growth (development of new strengths and skills), it helps to set goals, measure progress, and aim for balance among the skills. The Athletic Skill Levels make goal-setting more efficient and allow you to evaluate your progress through four levels of fitness.
Using the Athletic Skill Levels Developing expertise in any area requires determined, consistent effort. It takes “grit.” But grit will not help you if you are only reinforcing existing strengths (horizontal growth) instead of developing weak areas into strength (vertical growth). The Levels are designed to provide a general fitness perspective, to help set appropriate goals, and to allow focus work on weak areas that result in the rewarding mastery of activities you couldn’t do before. The levels are:
Level I – Healthy beginner. This level is the minimum standard for health. Lacking these basic levels of strength, flexibility and work capacity makes daily life unnecessarily limited. The complete Level I should be attainable within three to 12 months for those with no significant limitations. At this level, proper basic movements, such as hip flexion and active shoulder use, are developed, while healed injuries and structural problems are resolved.
Level II – Intermediate athlete. All healthy adults can aspire to this level of fitness and should perceive these skills as normal. Basic movements are perfected and advanced skills are introduced. The complete Level II may take from six months to several years to reach after achieving Level I. Along the way, you develop significant levels of strength, stamina, work capacity and speed, building on the Level I foundation already attained.
Level III – Advanced athlete. Few people posses this level of general fitness, although any healthy person can achieve it. The strength, work capacity, power and skill required to meet these goals can prepare you to tackle any kind of physical performance with competence and confidence. Expect to invest another three to five years of consistent effort. This is an appropriate level of general fitness for those who depend on their fitness: competitive athletes, military, law enforcement and firefighters. Engaging in combat or highly competitive sports without possessing the abilities of Level III is inviting injury or failure. Any additional requirements of your sport need to be added to this list.
Level IV – Elite athlete. This level of achievement requires long-term dedication and a passion for fitness. The skills required of Level IV are very advanced and, taken as a whole, represent a highly skilled and well-rounded athlete.
Each skill level contains its own progression of multi-joint movements of increasing skill, making it easy to expose weak areas, set goals, and gauge your progress. At the same time, you experience the rewards of increased general fitness. You develop strength, stamina and flexibility with measurable drills such as running, rowing and a selection of named CrossFit workouts. Increasingly complex movements bring improvement in coordination, balance and power output. Finally, the Athletic Skill
Levels are intended to be a gauge and a guide, not a standardized test you are obliged to “pass.” Do not beat yourself up for not being “elite.” Use the Levels to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and to make smart choices about your training time. This guide is not a definitive guide to CrossFit, an exercise prescription, nor a complete guide to developing the skills. The skills are intended to be broadly representative of general fitness.