Keep Testing Simple

November 16, 2013


Testing can gather an enormous amount of data on today’s athletes.  It’s unclear though how relevant this is to most athletes.  When it comes to testing, I look at several different types of tests:

  • Benchmark tests
  • Prescriptive tests
  • Sport-specific tests
  • Everything else


Benchmark tests are those that tell the coach whether the strength and conditioning program is an effective one.  These tests let us know if the athlete is progressing the way that they should as a result of their training.  There are several that I like to use and depending upon the sport/position I may use them all or I may pick and choose.  These include the standing long jump, the vertical jump, the behind medicine ball toss, and a speed test that is sport-related.  The first three tests are excellent tests because they test an athlete’s ability to generate force quickly.   With the speed test, it’s important to get this right in terms of having it relate to the sport – otherwise the information is useless.  For example, we don’t care how quickly a right tackle in football can run a mile in, but we are concerned with his ability to run ten yards.  Benchmark tests are done year round at carefully designed intervals (every 2-4 months is appropriate).  Note that I’m not including any lifting exercises in the benchmark category.  This is because lifting strength is relative to the lift that is being trained.  I like to vary the lifts that are being trained routinely.   This means that the athlete may be becoming stronger, but it may not be on a specific lift.  For example, if we’ve been doing split cleans for 8-12 weeks, our split clean 1-RM will increase but that may not translate to an increased power clean 1-RM since they are different exercises.


Prescriptive tests are used to help drive the nuts and bolts of training.  For example, strength testing on the bench press, squat, power clean, power snatch, and other lifts help us put together workout programs designed to increase performance on those lifts.  It allows us to develop very specific volume and intensity recommendations.  This type of testing also works very well with aerobic exercise.  For example, a maximal oxygen consumption test on a treadmill can help us determine how fast, how long, and at what incline an athlete should train at to improve their aerobic capacity.  These tests do not work well for activities that should be high-intensity in nature.  For example, we’ll never train an athlete at a percentage of their maximum velocity – we’ll always want them to sprint as fast as they can in training.  The same holds true for jumping or throwing.


Sport-specific tests tend to focus on the skill parts of the sport.  These tests require the athlete to integrate the strength and conditioning with the sports skills.  These help to determine if an athlete is ready to compete, at what level, and also help to determine whether the athlete will start, redshirt, etc.  To my mind, this is also where the agility tests need to go.  The reality is that many agility drills and tests just aren’t very good representatives of what goes on in sports.


Then there is everything else.   The truth of the matter is that you can bury yourself in data, but it’s not as relevant or useful as it appears.  Yes, an athlete’s heart rate variability might indicate whether it is an optimal time to train – but the truth of the matter is that the game will happen when it’s scheduled, not when it’s optimal for the athlete.  This means that using data like this, while interesting, trains the athlete for conditions that don’t exist in sport.  Likewise, many tests provide information that won’t ultimately change the training program.  For example, an athlete with a sit-and-reach of zero, compared to a sit-and-reach of six inches, still needs to work on their hamstring flexibility.  We can chart velocities and heart rates during games, but we cannot duplicate those demands in training so its usefulness is questionable for everyone but the most elite athletes.


At the end of the day, testing is most valuable for telling us if the strength and conditioning program is effective, if the athlete is able to translate the program to the sport, and to aid us in prescribing exercises.


It is common to take a week off from training in order to test athletes.  Personally I don’t like to use that week, as a result I prefer to integrate the testing into the training session.  Below is an example of how this could be done.


Day One Day Two Day Three Day Four Day Five
Strength Training Back squat, 1-RMRomanian deadlifts, 3×6-10Bench press, 1-RM

Bent over rows, 3×6-10

Military press, 3×6-10

Power clean, 1-RMClean pulls, 3x6x70%Push jerk, 1-RM N/A Dumbbell bench press, 3×12-15Pull-ups, 3x-Max3-in-1 shoulders, 3×10 each

Biceps/triceps, 3×12-15 each

Front squats, 1-RMLunges, 3×12-15 each legGood mornings, 3×6-10

Reverse hyperextensions, 3×12-15

Calves, 3×15-20


Speed Training Mobility/technique drills, 10-15 minutesStick drills, 3×5 yardsTest: 10 yard sprints N/A Mobility/technique drills, 10-15 minutesConditioning workout, 15-20 minutes N/A Mobility/technique drills, 10-15 minutesStride length drills, 3×40 yardsTest: 40 yard sprints
Plyos Bounding, 3×20 yards Test: Standing long jumpHurdle hops, 3×10 yards N/A Test: MB throw, behindMB chest passes, 10x Test: Vertical jumpBox jumps, 10x


For our example above, the benchmark tests are the standing long jump, MB throw behind, vertical jump, and the sprints.  The prescriptive tests are the bench press, squats, power clean, and push jerk.  You can see how they are integrated into a week of training.  This gives the coach the best of both worlds, testing data combined with training stimulus.  In addition, the testing is done under the kind of conditions that training and competition are done under, so it more accurately reflects where the athlete is in “real world” situations.