You want to get ift, but before anything, you must make certain that your condition is such that you can undertake a fitness program without endangering your health.

If you've developed any of the following symptoms after hurrying up a flight of stairs or carrying a bag down an airport ramp or engaging in mild exercise such as gardening, you should see your doctor immediately - and you should definitely not undertake a program until you do: pains in the chest, dizziness or faintness, gastrointestinal upset, difficulty in breathing, flulike symptoms.

I'm not trying to scare you. I simply want you to be prudent. If you're severely deconditioned, there are certain combinations you have to avoid that are formulas for physiological disaster.

If you're an overeater who stuffs himself until he feels uncomfortable, you're primed for trouble. If you overdrink and overeat at the same time (as is usually the case), one further increment could kill you. It could be a hot bath. It could be a strained bowel movement. Or it could be a bout of exercise.

It goes without saying that if you're about to have a heart attack, you shouldn't exercise.

One further injunction against an exercise program at this time is if more than 30 per cent of your body is fat. That's the medical definition of obesity. You don't need a laboratory test to tell you if you're obsese; you can see the fat hanging from your body in pendulous folds. If that's your condition, you should lose weight under medical supervision before you start any intensive exercise.

Even if you've seen your doctor recently, and he's cleared you for exercise, there's an additional test to be made before you begin your program.

You administer this test yourself, by counting your pulse in various conditions of rest and mild exercise. Physical exercise should feel good; there should absolutely be no feeling of discomfort; this test is to make certain there won't be.

The test will be no harder than climbing stairs. It consits of taking your pulse while you sit, then stand and finally set up and down for three one-minute periods.

For the test, you'll need a watch or clock with a sweep second hand. You'll also need a ruler to measure the height of the step.

First, find the best place to feel your pulse. Be active for a minute or so in any manner you wish - take a brisk walk or climb a flight of stairs - to amplify your pulse. Now explore the following:

The radial artery in your wrist, just inside yourwrist bone at the base of the thumb joint.

A carotid artery on one side of your throat, either just above your collarbone or below your jaw. Remember, don't close off the second carotid artery on the other side while you're doing this or you may shut down the blood supply to your brain.

A temporal artery at the side of your forehead (temple) just in front of your ear. Again, press on one side only.

You're now going to determine your pulse rate by counting the number of pulses in six seconds and adding a zero to get the per-minute rate. Catch the rhythm of pulsations for a while. When your pulse coincides with an easy time interval (at one of the five-second marks) start counting. Begin with "zero" as the second hand crosses over the five-second mark. If you don't say "zero" you'll miscalculate. Then count the number of pulses in six seconds.

The test has six grades.

Grade one is to record and interpret your pulse at rest.

In a relaxed, quiet state, your pulse rate should be less than 700 beats per minute. If it's 100 or over, try relaxation to see if you can bring it down. If your pulse remains at 100 or more, you may have a fever or an infection.

But if you don't have a fever and can't explain why your pulse is higher than 100, then it's prudent to check with your doctor to be sure that the rapid pulse is normal for you and that there is no reason why you shouldn't go ahead with activity.

If your pulse rate is less than 100 - 10 beats in six seconds - proceed to grade two.

Stand quietly for one minute, in an easy resting position, nor rigidly at attention. Shift your weight or wiggle your toes if you wish, but don't move around. At the end of a minute, count your pulse. The difference between your sitting pulse rate and your standing pulse rate is another key indicator of your present level of fitness. If your standing pulse rate is 20 beats or more higher than your sitting pulse rate, that's probably higher than it should be, as ask your doctor if it means anything that would contraindicate increased physical exertion.

Your pulse rate should go up some, 10 beats a minute is okay. In our system, if your sitting rate was 7 and your standing rate was 8, you're fit to proceed to grade three. Any chance of one count in six seconds is okay - provided you don't hit 11.

Grade three is the first of three one-minute exercise on a step. You'll want to measure the height of the step with a ruler, and consult the accompanying table. Find your body weight and move laterally across the table to where it intersects with the vertical column for your height step.

The test is simple: Step up with your left foot, then your right foot. Step down with your left foot, then your right foot. Repeat the lifts as many times as indicated on the table. Try to finish in one minute, no faster or no slower. Stop the test exercise at the first sign of poor tolerance.

There are several possible symptoms of poor tolerance. The first would be your attitude: you felt like quitting, you wanted to slow down, you ran out of gas, you began to feel worn out. Physical indications would be profuse sweating, cramps, achy legs, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, a pounding heart that hurts. Any of these symptoms in a minute of mild exercise is a signal to stop your test and seek medical advice. If you stop, sit down. Don't ever stand quietly after exercise.

The moment you finish, sit down and count your pulse. If you felt some distress, or your count is 12 or more, your test is over and you have ascertained that you have a low tolerance to exercise.

If you experience none of the symptoms of poor tolerance and you count in six seconds is below 12, proceed to Grade four. Repeat the one-minute test exercise immediately. Then sit and count your pulse. If it's 12 or more in six seconds, stop. If it's under 12, proceed to grade five. Once again, repeat immediately. Take your pulse. The standards are identical to grades three and four. So are the admonitions.

Grade six tests your recovery rate.

As soon as you complete grade five, sit down, take your pulse, rest for a minute and take your pulse again. The differnce between your pulse rate at the end of the exercise and one minute later should be no less than 10 beats. The rate should be no more than 110 beats a minute.

If you have gone thru all six grades and your heart rate hasn't passed 120 and you recover rapidly at the end of the test, you've demonstrated a comfortable rate of fitness and you can begin a maintenance program.

If you've had to stop at any time before theend, then you need a development program to bring you to the maintenance level. You haven't flunked the test. You've simply established an important data point - your present level of exercise tolerance.

Either way, you're ready for a program geared to your specific needs.