The Golden Rule of being a strength and conditioning coach is simple: Do No Harm.
Coaches have a responsibility to take athletes where they cannot take themselves through the application of training tools to prepare mentally and physically targeted for athlete’s specific goals. It is inexcusable for an athlete to get injured during training, especially on testing days.
Testing day not only pushes athletes to their edge, it also challenges coaches to adhere to the Golden Rule if the poor test selections are made or if a group is too large to ensure prudent testing. To solve these potential problems, this article will provide a series of tests to apply to teams that will do no harm and accurately accomplish the purpose of testing.
Before You Begin: Define The Purpose Of The Tests
Before you close this article for the lack of bench press below, we need to establish a purpose to testing in training. I’m going to pose a very important question that you need to answer whether you’re a strength or sport coach:
What training tests do you apply to your high school athletes, and more importantly WHY do you use these?
There should be many reasons for your test selection, foremost probably as an assessment to measure progress. When an athlete lifts more weight, jumps higher, or runs faster, this is quantifiable and can be used to compare athletes to one another.
The problem here is these numbers are not a window for how an athlete will apply the tested performance trait on the field, especially with high school athletes.
There are a few requirements for an accurate single repetition max:
- Healthy Hormone Profile: High schooler’s hormones are all over the place. On testing day they may be one athlete and then a different athlete in training all due to different hormone levels. Building a whole program off of an inaccurate test sets the athlete up for failure short term and long term.
- Myofibrillar Density: We’re not going to geek out on the science, but actin and myosin are the two protein filaments that attach to each other in order to contract a muscle fiber. The more actin and myosin, the denser the muscle and the more contractile strength the muscle can produce. High schoolers training for the first time are lacking in density. Common sense, but these muscles must be built before they’re tested.
- Reps!: Weight lifting takes practice. To gain proficiency in the movement patterns like the squat takes consistency and a lot of reps at challenging loads. Testing 1’s with a novice athlete is like handing the keys to a Ferrari to a 16 year-old. Sure they’ll drive it, maybe, but they won’t be able to take the stallion anywhere near its capabilities.
We need to stress to progress, not test to stress. This is where a structured training program like Bedrock provides consistent opportunity to move heavy loads to establish a Base Level of Strength that can then be tested for accurate 1 RM’s.
The next most likely purpose that popped up for you was Accountability. You test to see which athletes actually hit their training during the off-season. I get it, but this is just dangerous. Maxing out an athlete that didn’t put in work could lead to some serious injury and set them back further than they were.
Stay connected with the athlete throughout the off-season checking in on their training through coaching software like CoachHeroic. This is the beauty of technology, staying connected with athletes and holding them accountable for actions and training.
These are two solid purposes that justify testing athletes. Rather than pushing testing for traditional 1RM’s like the squat, bench, and Power Clean, we’re going to maintain the purpose and pivot to more prudent tests. The tests are what we refer to as Performance Based Tests that are measureable and can be accomplished in a large group setting safely and efficiently.
Performance Based Tests
Performance Based Tests are movements that a coach can use as a window to see an athlete’s training experience, limiting factors, and efficiency of movement through space. Accountability is tested because an athlete cannot hide. The movement’s execution and ability are improved, or the work wasn’t done.
There is no room for interpretation of depth or “just the pinkies” when athletes are testing each other.
Primal Isometric Holds
Goblet Squat & Lunge Hold
The first test athletes hit will assess their mobility, stability, and proficiency in both a bi-lateral hip hinge and a uni-lateral lunge position. These are separate tests; the first is a Goblet Squat isometric hold, in the toes forward Universal Athletic Position, and second, a static lunge position hold.
Assess the ankles, knees, ability to stabilize using the posterior chain, and trunk strength, taking a full look at the athlete. You can enhance the level of difficulty by adding more time or load. A good starting point is :60 holds with ⅓ body weight. Increase the challenge from there, but the standard is posture and position, looking for non-contact injury mechanisms, not just hitting a time or load.
With jumps, we begin to test our athlete’s ability to move through space which is a key to athleticism. The broad jump a perfect testing tool if you know what to look for. The jump itself requires very little instruction. If you’re hitting deadlifts and squats Power Athlete style, you’re looking for kinetic alignment and posterior chain to propel them through space. Nearly anyone can perform it with some practice and is a good reflection of power output and the landing will show any potential non-contact injury mechanisms to address in in the training program.
Although the vertical jump is more technical and can even be considered a skill, it is still a really valuable tool to determine if an athlete can create maximal force on the ground. This movement also can reveal any strength deficits present in the athlete and reveal if an athlete is more predominantly slow or fast twitch. Height will measure the athlete’s ability to vertically displace their spine and identify many limiting factors to build into training.
Reverse Ball Toss
This movement is similar but much less technical than the Power Clean, and you can trust a whole team to hit this safely. The athlete is still testing the same purpose as the Olympic Lift, but the limiting factor of technique can be saved to training and athletes can attack this test as they should. Record the distance but test an athlete’s ability to hit that triple extension efficiently unleash on an external object. These factors improve, so will the distances. This simple, safe tool test has immediate transfer to olympic lifts, sprints, and the sporting arena.
The transverse plane seems to be forgotten when it comes to testing. The scoop toss tests an athlete’s ability to separate their shoulders from their hips, generate and reverse force with their whole body through the transverse plane, and identifies asymmetries. Just by testing this, you will be more inclined to include rotational work in how far an athlete is able to toss will be the measure.
The 5-10-5 sprint drill is an excellent test of speed, coordinative abilities, and change of direction positioning. While we are keeping time for the test, we’re actually testing for proper positioning of the feet, hips, and trunk as the athlete changes orientation through space. Improvements in positioning will have a direct carry over to improved speed. This test can be pushed out to 10 - 20 - 10, if athletes need more room to get into proper positions. The time is just to gauge improvement, not a label, we’re always looking for more.
Timed Sprint (Distances will vary)
This is intentionally vague as you may want to choose distances in line with training goals and the positions of your athletes. In the world of sport, speed is KING. Set up realistic top end speed distances athletes will potentially call upon in their arena.
Empower Your Performance: You Get What You Emphasize
At Power Athlete, we believe the true test of training lies on the field. While numbers and benchmarks in training can be motivating for an individual, we do not let our athletes fall victim to the numbers game. When an athlete’s focus is on a weight room benchmark, their training becomes unconsciously skewed to reach the mark, often neglecting proper execution.
Applying the above tests allows a coach to safely measure performances of Primals, planes of motion, and performance demands athletes will use in competition. If these markers do not improve, do expect the activity in the weight room to carry over to the sporting arena.
Execution is absolutely everything when it comes to transfer of training, enhancing athleticism and empowering athletes to use what they’ve worked so hard to develop where it counts the most: Game Day.