At the Humboldt State University, we use a battery of strength and power tests for our 13 intercollegiate sports. All our athletes are regularly tested and evaluated with regard to body height and weight, the vertical jump, back squat, power clean, and bench press. The measurements are straightforward and easy for the strength and conditioning staff to administer, monitor, and measure in a consistent manner. Testing is administered at the beginning and at the end of each team's off-season macrocycle. The length of these training cycles varies among the sports but is usually 10-12 weeks long. There are times in the training mesocycles that we will adjust maxes depending on performance. We never test during the in-season training routines.
The vertical jump test measures lower-body explosive power and allows the assessment of the main goal of our periodized training programs, power. All teams test with the “Vertec” measurement device, manufacturer is Senoh and Dunsen Corportation, Tokyo, Japan and use the 2-foot takeoff. Each athlete is allowed to continue jumping until he or she has failed to improve twice in a row. The volleyball and basketball programs are also evaluated with the 1-step, and approach takeoff.
The front, back, and overhead squats are the base of the strength program and are taught and administered to all the intercollegiate teams. The back squat is regularly tested, with football and track and field weight athletes using a 1 repetition maximum (RM) and 3RM test and the rest of the teams using a weight that falls within a 1RM to 5RM. Back squat scores are used to extrapolate workout percentages for the front squat (70% of back squat RM), single-leg squat (40%), lunge (30%), and overhead squatting movements (20%) in our periodized training programs.
The power clean is the one weightlifting movement that is regularly tested. Our program uses weightlifting and variations of these lifts (i.e., snatch, push jerk with barbell and dumbbell); however, only the power clean is tested. Weightlifting movements are closely monitored for technique and safety using the USA Weightlifting prescribed teaching progressions. Most teams test using a weight that falls within a 1RM to 5RM, with football and track and field weight athletes using a weight ranging from a 1RM to 3RM. The full front squat catch is used in all testing, so in true technical terms, a “power clean” becomes a “clean.” To avoid confusion among the athletes, we continue to use the term “power clean.” The scores for the power clean are used to extrapolate the workout percentages for all the weightlifting movements in the program, such as the snatch, which we take at 65% of the power clean max. This low percentage allows us to focus on the speed of the movement in a very technically demanding and potentially dangerous exercise.
The bench press is the universal measurement of upper-body strength. It is familiar to the athletes and is easy to teach and administer. For safety reasons, all teams except football use a 3RM conversion to determine their 1RM. Football uses both the 3RM and the 1RM. Several of our teams have very little bench press-type movements in their routines, and some have none at all (i.e., softball pitchers, javelin throwers). With all the weightlifting overhead movements implemented in the training programs (i.e., snatch, push jerk, overhead squat), most of the athletes, even the ones with no bench press movements in their programs, experience substantial upper-body strength gains.
Tests of speed, acceleration, and agility vary among the sports. Although the 40-yd dash is a widely used measure of linear speed, it is frowned on by many of our sport coaches because of the injury potential that it presents. Most of our teams test in the 10- and 20-yd sprints to measure acceleration. Occasionally, depending on the time of the year, the enthusiasm of the athletes, and the mood of the coaches, we extend the 10- and 20-yd distances to include a trial or two in the 40-yd distance. The 3 cone and pro-agility tests are used pretty much across the board to measure the ability to change direction.
Most of our teams, especially the anaerobic power sports, do not test to measure endurance and aerobic capacity. We as a strength and conditioning staff do not administer the tests or track the results. Some of the sport coaches, however, will perform and monitor aerobic capacity tests on their own. The volleyball, soccer, and women's basketball programs love to use the “beep” test, and both soccer teams still administer the mile-run and the “Cooper” tests.
I have seen a number of athletes who are very strong in the weight room but unsuccessful in sport, as well as what we would consider weaker athletes excel in their sport. I do not feel it is our job to produce “big” numbers, it is our job to produce better athletes, and therefore, I do not put a lot of emphasis on testing, and so, we will test 1-2 times a year at the end of off-seasons.
I think there is a need to test, so the athlete can see progress. However, I think it is more important to train than it is to max and chase a number. Therefore, when we do test, we still train, so we do not lose workout time “just to test.” If we clean on Monday, we will test clean on Monday, followed by a few auxiliary exercises. I do not want to lose an entire week of training for 3 tests. Sometimes, what we test is dependent on coach's requests. Remember we work for them.
I prefer to build the workouts based on previous workout numbers and other considerations rather than percentages from a 1RM test. When we do test, we test 1 RM. I want to know exactly what the athlete can do; the athlete wants to know exactly what they can do. I do not like multiple repetition (rep) testing. I have seen too many athletes lift 200 two to three times, then get pinned under 205, or lift 130 two to three times, but when the small plates become 1 big plate, they cannot do it. With sports that do not test, I work to heavy triples or doubles in a workout to get a good idea of what they could do. However, I will not predict their max for coaches, records, media, and so on. The only way I will call it a max is if they do a 1RM. There is a time and place for predicted numbers from multiple reps, such as with young athletes, inexperienced lifters, and athletes coming off an injury. I just predict a number for workouts until they are ready to test.
We test power clean, back squat, and bench press for track, men's basketball, volleyball, and softball. We have not tested baseball because 22 of 38 are freshman. We did not test women's basketball at the coach's request. Golf and tennis are not tested; neither team performs any of the above exercises. Most coaches here handle the majority of the running tests. But we do run a 300-yd shuttle fitness test with volleyball in the fall.
There are several considerations I take into account when deciding which performance tests to use with a team or an individual athlete. Each test must demonstrate a high degree of validity and reliability. Validity requires the strength and conditioning coach to ensure that each test actually tests what it purports to test. This could be evaluating lower-body power using the vertical jump. We would not use a 40-yd dash to evaluate lower-body power. The reliability construct is the ability of the test to be consistently repeated. I will use the vertical jump example again. We use the same warm-up sequence, the same jumping surface, and the same protocol for testing the athletes reach and give the same number of attempts for each athlete for each testing session. Each test should provide a way of assessing an athlete's ability in a specific area. Although some tests can be general, sport-specific tests should be used when possible. Finally, a well-planned battery of tests should provide the athlete, team, and coach with a complete picture of their current level of physical readiness.
The strength and conditioning coach should assist sport coaches in developing a testing protocol that best assesses physical traits important to their particular sport. Other testing outcomes include identifying an athlete's or a team's strengths and weaknesses, serving as a basis for evaluating program design; highlighting individual and team progress; acting as a positive reinforcement for the training program; and providing motivation for the individual, team, and coaching staff. As the strength and conditioning coach, I must provide a systematic approach linking the training program to the testing and then using testing results to help meet each sport's objectives.
When testing for specific measures of strength, I use a 1RM effort for all trained and experienced athletes, regardless of the sport. A philosophical reason for this is that the athletes are consistently reminded that this is a maximal effort program and we expect a maximal effort from them as a team. Three RM and 5RM are grounded in submaximal efforts and may send the wrong messages to properly trained and well-coached athletes. Another reason for using the 1RM is that the athlete can either lift the weight or cannot. There is no prediction or conversion to a 1RM. I believe lifting technique is compromised more often in a multiple rep test compared with the 1 rep test. Although a 3RM, 5RM, 8RM, or 10RM is used throughout the training year for current strength levels and feedback, the 1RM should be the cornerstone of strength testing. The back squat, power clean with no straps, and bench press are 3 exercises that most well-coached collegiate athletes should be able to execute a 1RM effort when evaluating total body low- and high-speed strength levels. If you are designing proper strength training programs and coaching your athletes, 1RM tests should not present any unusual challenges.
Choosing performance tests that accurately assess power and speed should be grounded in skills fundamental to success in that specific athlete's or team's sport. These tests should have a well-documented body of results that can be drawn on to effectively and accurately evaluate where an athlete or a team stands based on their score or result. Unique, creative, or school-specific tests may have merit in motivating athletes but may offer little comparison with athletes in other programs. Standardized tests with well-documented results allow coaches to make comparisons from year to year in their program, to other recognized programs, and even to other athletes in other sports. Tests for lower-body power should include vertical and broad jumps. Athletic agility can be measured using several well-established tests, such as the I test, T test, Edgren side step, 3 cone, or various shuttles on either a court or a grass field. Linear speed can be most accurately assessed using sprints, such as the 10-, 20-, 40-, 60-, or 100-yd sprint. Depending on the sport, starting stances may vary for the sprints. Whatever tests are chosen, the strength and conditioning coach must ensure that a consistent protocol is used, regardless of the sport.