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Testing and Evaluation Within Your Strength Program

Testing, it should be an important part of your program.  Testing your athletes gives you the chance to sit back and evaluate how successful your program has been achieving your outlined goals.  It is necessary to be in a constant state of evaluation with your program.  While it is essential to have a plan, you need to be evaluating how successful that plan is, what is working and what is not, and what can you be doing better.

This is where testing comes into play.  It is all in the numbers.  If you are performing better on your chosen tests, then you have improved and the plan has been successful.  If the results show stagnation or even regression of ability, then the plan must be re-considered. However, I would like to make the case for some different kinds of testing in your program.

In my opinion, a strength and condition program at any level should not be all about the “big lifts”.   Those sports already exist, they are called powerlifting and Olympic lifting , and most likely your athletes are training for sports other than these.  While testing your squat/bench/clean can certainly give you feedback on your program, and even help build an atmosphere of working through challenges and achieving goals, we can’t really correlate athletic success with an increase in your max bench.  When my athletes increase their squat numbers, all I really know is that they are better squatters.  They are probably more powerful, their vertical may have gone up, but all I really know is that they have improved performance with a bar on their back, not on the athletic field.  Instead, I think it is important to incorporate some non-barbell related tests in your program.

For the most part, the sports we play involve body weight resistance, we must overcome our own bodyweight in order to make plays.  Football and wrestling are two notable exceptions; however, mastery of body weight explosive work is certainly correlated with success in these sports.  I am not saying don’t train with weights, I am saying find the time to test and train body weight explosive drills in your program with your other movement training and strength training.

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My preferred battery of tests includes:

  • Vertical Jump
  • Broad Jump
  • 10 and 20 Yard Sprint
  • Fitness – 200 or 300 yard shuttle (2 reps, Work to Rest 1:2)

Here is what we know with body weight explosive testing.  If I am running faster, jumping higher, or jumping further than when previously tested, I am more powerful.  I am putting more force into the floor, and I am in better positions to be powerful.  I have improved, whether by chance or by design through programming.  If I have not improved, I need to re-evaluate the methods utilized to improve these skills in my program.   If my fitness level has gone up, I am able to handle higher intensities/volumes of work and am able to recover faster.  Every one of these abilities can be correlated to success on the athletic field.

Let’s look at this from a research point of view.  When collecting data, a study/sample is only useful if it meets some specific criteria.

  • Validity – does this test measure what is supposed to measure.  In our case, yes, it measures explosive ability relative to body weigh when in athletic body positions.
  • Reliability – Can we expect that the results of our test to be consistent, that the body will repeat this performance again under normal circumstances.  Can an outside observer, or other coach get the same results as you.  I would answer yes to all of these questions, if you follow standard protocols, we are much more likely to get reliable date with our body weight tests than with our lifts where technique standards fluctuate.
  • Objectivity – Are the results free from my emotions as a coach, did I have any influence on the outcome of this test.  With body weight testing, our results can be assumed to be reasonably objective.  Meaning, the numbers can’t really lie to us if you are competent with your testing tools (stopwatch, vertec, jump mats, or any other tools).  Whereas when testing our core lifts, acceptable technique is subjective to whomever is administering the test.

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Implementing Testing in your Program

Implementing body weight power testing in your program is simple, minimal equipment is needed, a minimal time commitment is required.  I know a lot of coaches who build up to big “testing weeks” for their lifts, and my thought is, if I want to honestly evaluate my program, I need more consistent and accurate measures of my physical abilities.  it doesn’t need to be that complicated.  Instead, every week find 10-15 minutes and test one body weight explosive drill.  Record the numbers and track progress.  If you cycle through 4 or 5 body weight tests, then every month you are getting a new vertical/broad jump/20 yard.  Every month you get a chance to evaluate what was effective and what wasn’t.

Posting numbers.    This is popular with a lot of programs and I think this is a great way to create a competitive and goal oriented atmosphere.  However, I shudder every time I am in a high school weight room and I see 400+ squats and 275+ cleans posted on the wall.  I am not being cynical, I am being a realist, very few high school athletes are capable of reaching these numbers with good technique, and by doing these tests with poor technique our risk for injury sky rockets.  Can the environment not be just as intense and competitive by posting 30 inch verticals, 2.50 second 20’s, and 10 foot broad jumps on the wall?   I think so.  I think publically recognizing these attributes will foster an appreciation for improving athleticism not lifting.

My only plea to you coaches out there testing 1 rep max lifts.   Technique.  Be strict about it.  You can’t be on the floor yelling and coaching day in and day out preaching technique, only to disregard it all on testing day.  You simply must get your athletes to respect the lifts.  Never chase numbers.

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Other Considerations

I want to make just a few more statements on testing in your strength program.  Regardless of the tests you do chose to perform, safety of the testing protocol must be a primary concern.  Your athletes are undoubtedly at a much greater risk for injury when testing with heavy loads when compared to testing with body weight.  Proper warm up, equipment, load selection, spotting, lifting technique, and direction from the coach are necessary for safe testing.  This goes for bodyweight testing as well.  If you don’t have the proper equipment to execute the test properly, don’t.

Equipment.  There are certainly some nice tools out there that can assist in the testing process.  Things like Just Jump mats are accurate, easy, and fast ways to do a variety of power testing.  They can be a little expensive, over $500, so that may not be worth it to you.  It certainly isn’t necessary, but it does allow for routine vertical testing without a huge time commitment.  Testing each athlete takes about 15-20 seconds and can be performed immediately after the warm up.

For barbell testing, I have also used accelerometers, such as Tendo units, with good success.  The Tendo unit is fastened to the bar and measures the acceleration of the bar on every rep.  This is obviously only for advanced and experienced athletes, but it is a great tool for giving your athletes visual feedback on their lifting performance.  It also can be used for measurement and evaluation by recording power outputs with different loads.  One of the best ways I have seen accelerometers used is by using bar speeds to create a competitive atmosphere between groups of athletes.  Tools like the Tendo unit are expensive, and not necessary by any means for large groups or for youth or novice athletes.  But hey, if you have access to it, experiment with it and see how you might be able to use it to better your program.

Finally, but equally important, please test your pull-ups/chin-ups.  Whether you test for weight or for reps, just do it.  Get your kids to do great, flawless chin-ups, at least one.  I like to test to weight and reps, every couple weeks we will get a set in of max weight or reps or reps with different weights.  There are a thousand ways to do this, just make sure you are doing it.  Post pull up numbers on the wall, both men and women, watch your athletes come in and try to challenge it regularly……….profit.

There you have it.  My plea to you to hold your program accountable and help make your athletes better prepared for sport.  Be honest with your testing.  Evaluate progress.  The numbers are what they are, don’t hide from it, embrace the fact you know have check points on your map and can better chart your course.

One Response to Testing and Evaluation Within Your Strength Program

  1. Brian Noel October 19, 2015 at 4:10 pm #

    Hey Adam,should I have athletes do pull-ups few times a week to get stronger at them and maybe just do testing the next week,then keep repeating.
    What you think?

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