Regardless of what we are training for, we need know whether or not our training is working. How do we do that? We test, then re-test. The test needs to be simple, reliable, easily replicated and relatable to the sport (1). Examples of tests would be a 40 yard dash in football, a vertical jump for volleyball or basketball, 1 rep max efforts in contested power and Olympic Lifts or a “Helen” time for CrossFit.
Generally, tests are conducted at the beginning of, sometime during, and at the end of a training cycle. The logic for testing before and after is pretty simple to follow: if the after is better than before, it worked. But we don’t want to waste a whole 4-12 weeks of training on something that may or may not work if we can avoid it. This is why it’s important to have some testing throughout the cycle to see if adjustments need to be made. Sometimes we get things wrong and if we just blindly throw ourselves at something for a few months we could end up wasting our time and effort for little to no progress. For some folks, this may happen as a result of ignorance. For others, it may be a result of ego; the refusal to accept that what you are doing is not working and unwillingness or inability to make needed adjustments.
As a simple example of testing within a cycle, one of our general physical preparedness (GPP) tests was a one mile run. The first part of our cycle has included 200-400 meter run repeats to push anaerobic threshold, compound lower body lifts with high volume and short rest to increase muscular size and endurance and unilateral lower body lifts to promote joint stability. In a couple weeks, we will end up performing two half mile runs back to back to see people’s progress. If we notice folks moving faster at first, but gassing out in their second run, we may adjust some of the programming to favor more aerobic pathways. If our athletes are consistent across the runs but are struggling to moving faster, we may adjust the program to favor exercises that increase ground force production.
As a coach and/or a programmer it’s important to be attentive of and responsive to mid-cycle test results. Some athletes are just not consistent with attendance; in their cases we can for the most part hold them accountable for their lack of consistency. But consistent athletes’ progress needs to be monitored. If they are struggling with intensity/volume prescriptions that you expected to be moderate or conversely, are hitting those prescriptions easier than expected, adjustments need to be made. Ego is perhaps the biggest factor for a lot of coaches and programmers. In many instances, I’ve seen athletes approach their coaches saying they need to get pushed more, and the coach will get butt hurt and respond by programming something that is unreasonably out of reach in difficulty, while others may pat themselves on the back when their athletes are consistently struggling with their workouts.
1) Baechle, Thomas R., Earle, Roger W. Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, 3rd Edition. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics, 2008. Print.