Performance tests are meant to find at what level are athletes are currently able to reach. These tests not only give us a clear picture of where we are, but also what we might need to work on to get to the next level. What are this particular athletes strengths and weaknesses? Are there any clear patterns of “inability” that we can see? Do they perform better at strength tests and lack endurance qualities? These are questions that must be answered to really have a precise understanding of what is happening with our athletes’ adaptations, or lack thereof, to training. More than anything, though, we must be sure that what we are testing for is the same as the presented outcomes.
Choosing the Tests
Strength coaches across the country conduct testing sessions each day. What are they looking to find? We discussed some of this above. Those questions need answered, but what is also important is the particular athlete being tested. What is their training age? What is their sport; their position? The answers to all of these questions factor into what performance tests a strength coach will choose.
Results and Limiting Factors
A coach will not get the same results by having a younger athlete test in the back squat compared to an older athlete. The back squat has most commonly been tested to find an athlete’s maximal or near-maximal leg strength. However, because younger athletes typically have never done the back squat or, if they have, are not as technically proficient as their older counterparts, the outcome is far from their true maximal strength. What usually happens is that there is a limiting factor involved (technique in the last example), which keeps them from displaying the actual performance characteristic that the coach was hoping would be realized.
Another limiting factor is an athlete’s strength. Because we see most, if not all, physical characteristics originating from strength, this is often a limiting factor in testing. The best example that I can think of is testing the pull-up or push-up. These tests are traditionally meant to test maximum strength-endurance. However, we often see populations that cannot do very many repetitions with their own bodyweight. The outcome? It becomes a test of maximal strength because their strength levels were too low to allow for multiple repetitions.
I’m going to contradict myself in a moment, but I want you to think about this for a moment. Yes, we want to have the outcomes match the expectations of what we’re trying to accomplish. Contradictory to this is the fact that it really doesn’t matter all that much. “What? Wait a second there, guy! Why did you write this article?” Well, it’s true; it truly does NOT matter. You can still choose to use whatever you want for your performance tests and you will still get data to help you see where your athletes are at that current moment in time. All that I am asking is that you pay close attention to what exactly occurred in each test. Did they only get 3 pull-ups? If yes, that test did not exemplify upper-body strength-endurance. What it did exemplify was upper-body maximum strength, or a lack of strength/strength-endurance.
Opposite of the last example, if you were to test a college football player in the 225lb bench test and he completed 45 repetitions, this would be a strength-endurance outcome. This would NOT be a maximum strength performance; for that he would have to add much more weight.
Well, hopefully now you will think a little more about the outcomes of your performance tests and possibly rethink some of your testing choices. Of course, as everything is individual, you may need to create a specific testing battery for each of your athletes. Anyhow, don’t be that guy “testing for his max” in the back squat and completing 15 repetitions! The only thing that will show you is what you can do for 15 repetitions!