Should Performance Testing Differ Between Age Groups?

   

As strength coaches, we are all number chasers to a point.

Most of us take a great deal of pride when we see big numbers going up on the TrainHeroic Leaderboards during testing. As we test and see those big numbers going up, it means our program is working and our athletes are getting stronger and faster.

When it comes to testing in my program, we test on the following movements if you are an upperclassmen: Power Clean, Back Squat, and Bench Press. All of our athletes test in the pro agility, 10- and 40-yard dash, and vertical jump.

So with that being said, here is the $64,000 question—Why do you not test your underclassmen?

The Underclassmen Slow Cook Method

For my staff and me, this answer is simple. We see our underclassmen as a work-in-progress. And it's a work we do not want to rush. We want to slow cook them.

We believe that hurried results gives you just that - hurried results.

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At Baylor, we get kids from all walks of life who come to us wanting to carry on their families' sports history or wanting to make some sports history of their own. Once they arrive, we do not know what their lifting history is. And so we feel in order to get the biggest bang out of their buck and to help us in the long run, it is best not to test our incoming freshman or sophomore boarding students.

Within our culture of lifting, it is really cool to watch how our upperclassmen bring our younger athletes up to speed on exactly what it is we are looking for in our strength and conditioning program. Yes, they know what we want. Which in turn helps us with our rising freshmen and sophomores when they start getting frustrated with the process of being slow cooked.

I like seeing our upperclassmen go to the underclassmen and let them know it will all be ok once they demonstrate they know our terminology and show proper form and technique on the program's lifts.

Underclassmen generally have a very low training age and so pretty much any stress we can put their muscles under is going to gain results: they get stronger. For us, it is all about form and technique.

  • We like to see all of our athletes catch the weight low when performing the Olympic movements, unless we are power cleaning or power snatching
  • We love seeing deep squats front and back
  • We love to see great form when testing in our 10s, 40s, and pro agility
  • We absolutely HATE injuries

So, why not train an athlete to get as near to perfection as we can before letting them try to catch heavy loads? This way, they're physically ready.

In our underclassmen program, we have them on set movements that allow us to teach the proper form and technique in the Olympic movements. At the same time, we attempt to grow a base for their foundation to build muscle that will help us in the long run. It gets the bar moving much faster on the Olympic lifts and the strength to catch the Olympic lifts deep.

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We challenge the underclassmen to try to add a minimum of 5 pounds on their upper body movements and 10 pounds on their lower body movements each week ONLY if they are comfortable doing so. We can also monitor this on our Train Heroic app and make sure that they are at the very least challenging themselves to get stronger each and every week.

I understand that we will have that one kid who is an absolute freak in the weight room. I have one now! I know people will not believe this, but as a rising freshman this kid did a trap bar dead lift of 605 pounds, squatted 535 pounds, and bench pressed 305 pounds. He is a fire hydrant and built for pulling. Yes, he is on our “Raider Ways” program. Everything with him is modified, and we still get to challenge him by changing sets and reps. It is great he is strong, but he cannot clean. It is a 200 pound reverse curl, but he can't perform a snatch? I know, I am confused too.

I do realize that we will have some kids that will never make it to the second level of Raider Ways - much less the third or fourth. Generally these are the kids who are going to contribute to your program and help you win some games... but you have to realize they are the same kids that want to be a part of something much bigger than themselves. You have to applaud those kids.

When It's Time To Test The Upperclassmen...

When it comes to testing our upperclassmen, the same rules apply to them as to the underclassmen. They must show they are competent and able to show proper form and technique in everything we test on.

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The biggest difference with testing upperclassmen vs. underclassmen is generally our upperclassmen are also getting looked at to continue their careers at the next level.

As a former college strength coach, I know it is imperative that I have these athletes ready when they go and meet the next bigger challenge of their lives. When I left the college ranks to go to the high school level, I made it my mission to have all of our kids coached up on proper form and technique so that the only thing their college strength coach would have to teach them is their terminology.

When our upperclassmen move into the upper levels of our strength program, it is really fun for me to go back and pull up their previous year’s numbers showing where they started and where they are now. It is also fun seeing how they physically change too. What makes my job exciting is seeing when an athlete finds out they are strong and the hard work they have put in as underclassmen has truly paid off.

An interesting note on testing our upperclassmen, since 2009 we can pretty much predict how our season will go based off our power clean and back squat numbers. If we have over 20 athletes power cleaning 1.5 to 2.1 times their body weight, we are going to have a really great season and go far into the playoffs.

One example of this would be our 2010 and 2011 football teams. In 2010 and 2011 we were in back-to-back State Championship games. We had over 25 players power cleaning 240 pounds or more, and 25 players squatting 400 pounds or more. When we drop under those numbers, we are usually in the semifinals of the playoffs. Lower than that and it is usually the first round or two of the playoffs.

Putting It All Together

When we have our strength and speed testing week - also known as “SPEED WEEK” - it is a very serious time in our weight room for all our athletes. As I stated earlier, our underclassmen only test in the vertical jump, pro agility, and 10- and 40-yard dash events.

Everyone else is hitting the weight room full bore and trying to top what they did during the last testing.

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Once the running is over, our underclassmen are recording maxes and being around the competition and atmosphere in general, watching the athletes who have moved on to the upper levels of our program.

For my staff and me, testing is really an afterthought now when it comes to our underclassmen, and it is a right-of-passage for our upperclassmen who have gone through our program with us from start to finish. The thing I really like about using the slow cooking method for our underclassmen is building that proper foundation based in form and technique and watching them grow into strong, explosive, and fast young men and women who can compete at the highest levels of their sport of choice.

It is also rewarding when a college coach comes into our school to recruit an athlete and they ask what they are like in the weight room/what kind of program we run, and we can give them the low down. We can literally walk a coach through their training history and show them where they started and where they are in relation to the recruiting process.

The other thing is when college coaches arrive to recruit our athletes with our program's reputation, they know our athletes started as rising freshman and ended their journey to becoming a college athlete in a program that builds them from the ground up with no fudging on numbers.

Final Suggestions For Testing Underclassmen and Upperclassmen:

Underclassmen suggestions:

  1. Underclassmen should be a work in progress.
  2. Slow cook them and take your time with them, teaching them something new every day.
  3. Challenge them weekly to get better at the Olympic movements.
  4. Challenge them to get stronger and faster at everything.
  5. Explosiveness and agility as well as overall speed is the goal.

Upperclassmen Suggestions:

  1. Make sure they are complete lifters when they finish your program and are heading on to further their career.
  2. Allow them to take a little ownership in the program by being mentors to the underclassmen.
  3. Never fudge their numbers!
  4. Have them ready for their college strength coach so that they do not have to teach them anything but terminology.
  5. Always have them around to be a positive reflection of the program and to let other athletes see what your coaching and training can do for them!

About The Author

Dave Reynolds is a 20-year coaching veteran and Head Strength Coach @ The Baylor School in Tennessee.

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