Testing Ideas for Athletes: Find Your Why
By Adrian Guyer
July 10, 2019
For most private sector training facilities the summer months mean the return of college and pro athletes. High school athletes hopefully get an off-season and take time to train outside of their sport with knowledgeable performance coaches and parents of middle school athletes are looking for every opportunity possible to get their young athletes moving and out of the house. This time period is a great opportunity for athletes to schedule intentful and purposeful training to help them move and perform better in their sport(s). For the strength coach this time frame should not be taken for granted, as we are just a few short months away from the schedule volatility and ambiguity of in-season training and competition returning with all of the headaches that come with it. Any high-school or college strength coach understands full well the struggle I speak of here. It’s imperative that we make the most of this valuable and potentially uninterrupted block of training time in the summer and help our athletes see measured results that will transfer to their ability to perform in their sport. This article will give some insight into testing variations we implement that allow us to monitor both acute and chronic performance improvements with our athletes and also provide insight into their long term development when looking at these results over time.
Monitor and measure where you want to see change
When trying to determine what tests to use it’s important to first ask where it is that you want to see change or where you or your athletes want to improve the most. Pick tests that will tell you something of value before just arbitrarily throwing tests at them. Remember the summer months are very short so don’t waste time testing variables that are of no value to the athlete or the coach. It’s also important that you spend time speaking with your athletes, parents and coaches prior to training and ask them where they want to improve and where their strengths and weaknesses might be. I’ve been a strength coach some time now and I can tell you with confidence that when an athlete tells you “coach I need to move quicker on the court” or “I need be able to flip my hips and accelerate quicker on defense” or “I feel like I don’t have the endurance to keep the pace later in the race” that this is feedback you need to listen to. They know their bodies better than anyone and if you can let them drive the bus with some of their training objectives their trust in you and the program will grow immensely.
It’s also important to choose tests that will correlate well with energy demands of their sport and with available data on other athletes results in these tests. For example; we know that Vo2 max correlates well with increased performance in endurance sports such as Nordic skiing or rowing. Or the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test is a great test for athletes looking to improve their ability to perform repeated high intensity aerobic work such soccer players. Higher scores on this same test also correlate with increased scoring opportunities for soccer players which provides more value to the test and allows monitoring of a training variable that correlates directly to performance objectives in their sport. You don’t have do what everyone else is doing when it comes to testing but you had better have a why behind your tests and when it’s all said and done have objective data that will tell you something of value about your athletes performance.
The following tests we use here at our facility and with the schools we work with. Some of the tests are historically quite popular in the world of performance training while others we came up with in-house in order to provide us with objective feedback on more specific performance variables with our athletes.
This test will provide feedback on an athlete’s ability to accelerate from a dead stop through 10 yards. This is more a test of power and explosive ability than top-end speed which will happen at longer distances. A large majority of the athletes we work with play intermittent sports where repeat change of directions occur such as American football, soccer, basketball, hockey, lacrosse or tennis. These repeat changes of direction require that athletes can both decelerate and re-accelerate explosively in order to be successful and thus it’s a staple in our testing for these athletes. It’s also great for track and field athletes who must accelerate quickly out of the blocks in order to be successful in their respective events. Simply speaking the test allows us to look at an athlete’s ability to apply force to the ground in a more horizontal fashion (with forward lean) as they accelerate their center of mass over a short distance. We allow for varied start positions dependent on sport and position, it’s just important to be consistent with the starting position over time.
10-Yard Change of Direction
This test takes the 10 yard acceleration a step further and challenges an athlete’s ability to accelerate, decelerate and then re-accelerate effectively. Athletes who lack reactive strength capabilities and the ability to decelerate eccentric forces from momentum will struggle to change direction quickly and get back across the start line. This test can be administered from varying starts such as a prone start as shown in the video.
10-Yard Repeat Change of Direction Test
The 10 yard Repeat Change of Direction test incorporates multiple accelerations and decelerations while also challenging and athletes hand-eye capabilities and accuracy in their deceleration. This is a staple for our middle school athletes but one that can be brought in for any level of athlete. In this test the athlete must sprint 10 yards and grab a ball off the top of a cone and sprint back to the start where they touch a cone with one hand and then sprint back to grab another ball and sprint back across the finish. The test involves 3 changes of direction and 4 accelerations while also challenging their vision and hand-eye coordination. We are able to see how well athletes can decelerate and change direction and whether or not their bodies can perform the coiling and uncoiling needed to do this well. It also asks for some hand eye and accuracy with the ball grabs which is also very helpful for our data collection especially at the middle school and youth level.
Raised Foot Split Squat Test (RFSS)
The RFSS test was something I came up with to allow us to observe an athlete’s lower body relative strength, or strength in relation to their own body mass, in a uni-lateral environment (on one leg). The test is designed to look at an athlete’s reactive strength or their ability to move from the eccentric portion of the movement as they drop down to the concentric portion of the movement as they rise back to the top. We then ask them to do this repeatedly over a 15sec time frame which challenges their ability to repeatedly decelerate and reaccelerate the load over time. This force acceptance (deceleration) and force production (acceleration) done repeatedly and with an intent on speed is the real money in the test results. Athletes who lack good eccentric force production capabilities (eccentric strength deficit) will not score well on the test and will arguably be slower in change of direction tasks in sport with an increased risk of soft tissue injury in similar movements. Intermittent sports involving repeat changes of direction will inevitably challenge and athlete’s reactive strength, while the accumulated fatigue will then challenge their strength reserves later in the match and their ability to move dynamically in the presence of this fatigue. The RFSS test was designed to observe these characteristics while also placing an emphasis on an area where we truly want to see change.
We scale the test based on training age and also proficiency in the movement, younger athletes who have never split squat before will not do this test at the start of their training or even in their first year of training with any load. We also scale the intensity of the test by adjusting the % of bodyweight in external load being held in their hands. With more experienced athletes we use 50% of BW split between two hands and less experienced athletes begin with 30% of BW. Considering the amount of eccentric stress being placed on the athlete’s lower body it’s important to take note of this in your testing plan as there will be considerable DOMS in the days after the test which will compromise coordination and leave tissue in a compromised state for speed or agility type testing. You could also complete the test with no external load with younger athletes or athletes recovering from lower body injuries in the later stages of reconditioning which will allow the coach to gain valuable insight on their reactive strength capabilities.
We use a simple scoring system of: 1 = 10/11 reps, 2 = 12/13 reps, and 3 = 14/15 reps. There is a 1.5 min rest between legs. The test also allows us to see if there are large discrepancies between the right and left legs. We have strong correlations with higher RFSS scores and Vertical Jump (Push Band), Broad Jump, 10-yd Acceleration, 10-yd Change of Direction, and RSI 10-5 testing (Push Band).
Example of RFSS Test: https://www.instagram.com/p/BsrFYIrAXpF/
Estimated 1RM Strength Tests with Push Bands
We use our Push Bands to test athletes Estimated One Rep Max for Back Squat and Bench Press without actually lifting to failure. The feature comes standard on Push Bands and utilizes velocity metrics to create a load-velocity profile over 5 sets of 3 reps of submaximal loads (up to 80%), and from that extrapolate an estimated one rep max. I am personally not a fan of 1RM testing with our athletes, largely due to safety, and this test has allowed us to safely and accurately look at an athletes Squat and Bench numbers without putting maximal loads on the bar. We typically use this for athletes who will be returning to percentage based training (PBT) systems at their respective colleges or high schools and need to know where their numbers are upon returning. I have also used the bench press test for our adult populations to satisfy their curiosity in knowing this number without loading up the bar to at or near maximal loads.
Goblet Squat Test (1 min)
The goblet squat 1 minute test we use across all levels as a way of obtaining lower body strength relative to an athlete’s bodyweight (BW). We have found that 30% of BW is a good baseline load for all novice athletes, youth through adult. For athletes who will need to progress to a BB Back Squat in future programs we will require 30 reps at 30% of BW as a clearance for back squatting with a bar. This is number that we came up with over years of testing all of our athletes in a loaded goblet squat movement. For some bigger and more novice athletes this will provide a very challenging load sometimes being too much for them to maintain proper form and complete the test. It just goes to show that bigger doesn’t always mean stronger and when it comes to loading the spine with a bar on the back we want to be absolutely sure that athletes have developed the prerequisite foundational strength first so we can “do no harm” in the gym. The 30 rep baseline equates to 1 rep every 2 seconds which typically means that athletes are moving the load at a steady clip rep-to-rep with individual reps at approximately 0.8m/s and higher. Having the ability to create force relative to one’s body weight at this speed over time is extremely important to us in our training programs. Nobody cares how much you lift if it takes you 4 seconds to lift it as that is not the speed of sport. This test will also show you upper body strength and stability through arms, shoulders and back and core musculature as they work to isometrically hold the DB in place. If posture deteriorates (e.g. rounded back, DB slipping, excessive knee valgus, or putting down the DB) the test is ended immediately and lighter loads are used to scale the test. Athletes with adequate relative strength will have no problem achieving scores at over 40 reps in the 60 sec time cap.
Jump Testing with Push Bands
Our jump testing battery tells us a lot about our athlete’s ability to create and apply force quickly in varying positions and vectors. Knowing how well an athlete can bounce is extremely helpful to us in designing programs that will provide both acute and chronic performance enhancement in their sport(s).
RSI Pogo Jump Test (10-5)
In my opinion the RSI 10-5 test is the most valuable performance test we administer with our athletes. Quite simply it will tell me if an athlete can bounce or not while painting a picture of the relative stiffness at the foot/ankle and the compliancy of the calf-achilles muscle-tendon complex. When it comes to acceleration and repeat changes of direction as found in the sports of many of the athletes’ we train this is quite valuable information for the coach and the athlete. The RSI 10-5 test is an indicator of an athlete’s fast SSC abilities or their ability to apply force quickly in a repeat pogo jump movement where 10 reps are completed with the best five used to extrapolate their score given in m/s. Movements such as cutting to avoid a defender, sprinting down the track, reacting to an opponent in basketball or dribbling a soccer ball around defenders all require an athlete to apply force quickly the surface of play and thus their RSI score is a very valuable and objective piece of data for us to monitor and measure. From an injury prevention standpoint a higher RSI score typically equates to athletes applying force quickly upon ground contact and thus decreasing risk of injury to ligamentous structures in during these movements. With our “return to play” testing with lower body injuries such as ACL tears for example we want to see women at 1.0 m/s as a baseline for return to change of direction tasks at game speed. Men will have stiffer less compliant tissues (especially calf-achilles complex) and higher RSI scores and thus we look for a score of 1.3 m/s for males. These numbers are of course impacted greatly by factors such as the testing surface, movement proficiency, accelerometer placement, presence of pain during movement, prior fatigue and intent just to name a few. We have administered well over a thousand RSI tests with our athletes and have come to these numbers based on our own experience and data collection.
RSI Lateral Pogo Jump Test (10-5)
This test was designed to look at athlete’s RSI in the presence of both frontal plane movement and inversion/eversion at the foot and ankle. Typically change of direction tasks will involve some form of foot and ankle eversion and inversion as the feet are placed outside of the athlete’s center of mass in order to propel them in the opposite direction. For that reason, I began implementing the same RSI (10-5) test with Push Bands but asked athletes to bounce back and forth over a dowel approximately 1” high. Scores tend to be an average of .2-.4 m/s lower when adding this component to the test and paint a more diverse picture of each athletes abilities when encountering these types of movements. As an example of where this might be helpful: if a female tests at 1.1m/s in vertical RSI Pogo test but only .8m/s in a lateral pogo then we might need to improve other qualities of their foot and ankle structures both elastic and non-elastic before moving into high speed changes of direction in the reconditioning process. In my time as a high school strength coach and administering this test to all teams throughout the seasons it also helps me develop trends across the student athlete population as to where we may or may not need to spend our training time during our in-season training programs. Generally speaking it is my opinion that athletes are not as plyometrically developed as they should be at that level for the types of movements they see in sport and the speeds at which they will encounter them. Over the last decade I have seen a general decline in these numbers not just with RSI testing but with fast SSC capabilities as a whole. Although it’s outside the scope of this article I would argue that this trend is in large part due to youth athletes not spending as much time involved in free play and the drastic decrease in recess and physical education time at schools.
RSI Single Leg Test (10-5)
The third and final RSI test we administer is the same Pogo (10-5) but done on one leg at a time. We have only completed two full testing sessions with a population of approximately 30 athletes at this time. Our data shows that athletes will typically present with approximately 0.05 - 0.1m/s discrepancy between R and L legs. For most their “drive” leg, typically opposite of the foot they kick with, will be the higher of the two due to greater demands placed on the leg over time during throwing, jumping and kicking type movements where the drive leg is required to accept and transfer forces from and to the surface of play. Sport is basically just a bunch of coordinated single leg movements so we wanted to see how they could bounce on one leg at a time. For track and field athletes it can be a helpful number to know when looking at gait patterns, stride length or arm swing characteristics. Highest scores thus far are falling in the 0.7 - 0.8m/s range with averages in the 0.4 - 0.6m/s range. Those with scores under 0.3m/s need to take this into account in their training programs with an emphasis on single leg fast SSC capabilities.
Broad Jump Test
I don’t think I need to go in depth here as this test has been utilized by athletes for many years now. I feel it’s a great test for looking at horizontal power production and helpful in looking at each athlete’s testing profile. I have also seen some athletes who cannot broad jump all that well but can vertical jump through the roof and can explode like a rocket out of split stance acceleration start. As with all these tests we must not get too locked in on fixing everything but instead take it as a breadcrumb in the trail to athletic success. Typically, athletes with a good broad jump will also have good RFSS scores, acceleration and change of direction times and vertical jumps, but not always. I feel that this test is simple to administer and there is a ton of data on scores at every level that athletes can compare to. In my opinion this makes it a worthy performance test to have in your quiver.
Airdyne 30sec Anaerobic Test, ½ Mile and 1 Mile Test
The final tests that we utilize in our performance testing with our athletes is on an Schwinn Airdyne Pro fan bike. Depending on the energy system demands of each athlete’s sport will dictate which tests we use with them, and there are times where we will utilize more than one. As we train a vast majority of athletes playing intermittent sports we use the 30 sec Anaerobic Test frequently as it provides us with a good idea of where current baselines might lie in their anaerobic capacity and how much time to spend on this in their training. To administer the test we have athletes sprint for 30 sec at max effort and then take the total number of calories ridden from that timeframe. We then divide the number of calories by their body weight which will give us a calories/pound result. As there is no way to adjust the resistance on these bikes this is how we determine relative output from each athlete. Average scores are 0.15 - 0.17 cal/lb with highest scores at 0.19 and higher. Our highest score to date is 0.22 cal/lb from a 130# athlete (HS soccer player) who put up 29 calories in the 30sec time cap. For longer duration tests on the Airdyne we use the ½ mile and 1 mile test and have found male/female top scores as such; :48sec/:57sec and 1:51/2:03min. Again bodyweight plays a role here and should be considered as a factor in each athletes scores. Understanding the energy demands of each athletes sport will help you determine which tests to use.
It is my hope that this article will provide coaches and athletes with helpful insights into performance testing for athletes. As I said at the start we must have a “why” for each of our tests and be fully prepared to monitor and measure where it is we want to see change with our training. Key performance indicators can be found in many different forms when observing athletic movement and monitoring progress in our training. Don’t become consumed with making athletes too perfect for their tests as sport will never be perfect and will always ask for something of the athlete that a test or a training program could never prepare us for…This is what makes it so exciting. Instead be consumed with preparing athletes for the inconsistent and wildly dynamic nature of athletic movement which will not happen inside a gym. All of these test results are just breadcrumbs to help us find strategies for creating athletes who can move better and be more prepared for sport.
BIO: Adrian Guyer
Coach Adrian Guyer is the Owner/Founder and Head of Athlete Development at Xtra Innings Performance in Vermont. He also serves as the Head of Strength and Conditioning at Lyndon Institute, a private high school in Lyndonville VT. He is passionate about developing and implementing training strategies that will help to create more durable and dynamic athletes for their sport. He has extensive knowledge in the areas of speed and agility and developing reactive strength qualities with athletes as well as team training strategies and working with larger groups. XIP is also well known for their successful reconditioning and return to play programs for athletes of all levels recovering from injuries and surgical procedures. Coach Guyer can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org