This Viral "Old Man Test" Says a Lot About Your Balance and Strength
Forget throwing cold water over your head or striking ridiculous dance poses. The latest trend to take TikTok by storm is the so-called old man test, which may actually give important insights into your fitness level — regardless of if you’re 25 or 105. Whether you’re among the strongest men or a fitness newbie, everyone has something to glean from this Internet-sweeping physical endeavor.
Essentially, the old man test boils down to standing on one foot, barefoot, and putting on your sock and shoe and tying it before you put down your other foot. Then, you balance on your other foot while repeating the same process.
This balance test with distraction and multitasking built into the mix evaluates your single leg balance (clearly), stability, mobility, and concentration, says Hardikkumar “HD” Unjia, a physical therapist in Woodbridge, New Jersey, with SportsMed Physical Therapy. It particularly challenges lower extremities and core.
“Standing on one leg without the support of the other foot or hands is a challenge on its own. Adding the requirement of picking up items and putting them on the other foot adds a level of complexity, targeting mobility and concentration,” Unjia says.
If you fail the test, this could mean that you have poor balance and stability in your lower extremities and a weak core and glutes. This is an issue because it can make it difficult to do things that are a part of daily life: climb up and down stairs, maintain proper posture, and get out of bed, to name a few.
One way to build those skills is by breaking down the challenge step by step until you reach a sequence you can perform successfully. Then practice it until you improve enough to be able to pass the old man test in its entirety.
For example, Unjia says to skip trying to put on the sock and shoe while balancing on one foot; instead try to balance on one foot, then bend over and pick up the sock, then the shoe. “If that’s still too challenging, omit the sock and shoe completely and simply try to stand on one foot without additional support,” he says.
If you can’t balance on one foot, tap the other foot lightly on the ground like a kickstand, or place your hand gently on a wall. “For each step, build up to maintaining for 30 to 45 seconds before progressing to the next level. In order to get an understanding of how to do the exercise correctly, start with your stronger side first (if you can identify one).”
Another good place to start? Building up some glute stability. Dan Bonett, a functional fitness coach to CrossFit athletes from beginners up to elite competitive athletes, recommends incorporating glute bridges into your fitness routine. “Start with three to four sets of 15 reps with a two-second hold at the top whilst squeezing the glutes,” he says. Once this becomes easier, progress the movement to single leg glute bridges by hitting three to four sets of 10 reps per leg with a one- or two-second pause at the top.
You can also work to weave balance and stability poses into your daily life as much as possible. Physical therapist John Reddon, clinic director of Teton Therapy in Riverton, Wyoming, is a fan of balancing on one leg while brushing your teeth in the morning or night (or be an overachiever and do it at both times). “If this is easy, add something soft or squishy under your foot to add more instability, such as a rolled up towel, pillow, couch cushion, piece of foam, etc.,” he says.
You can also improve your skills by working single-leg strengthening exercises into your gym routine. Reddon’s top picks include Bulgarian split squats, lunges, pistol squats, and single-leg Romanian deadlifts. (Godspeed to your glutes if you do these all in one workout session.)
While this TikTok sensation may seem silly, what the “old man test” evaluates are actually important skills for mobility in everyday life. “Most of the time when we bend down to pick up something from the floor or reach out for something outside our immediate space, we don’t necessarily have a ‘perfect’ stance. We might be trying to navigate a floor covered with kids’ toys or rushing on our way out the door,” Unjia says. “Even walking outside on sidewalks or uneven surfaces, it’s essential to have good single-leg stability and coordination,” he says, emphasizing that as we age, fall prevention becomes a concern, and these skills help support that.
You might be 35, but if you’re hobbling and wobbling on this simple balance test, it’s probably time to get to work on the gym floor.