Summer’s over. It’s Fall. On college campuses all across the country, pre-season track training has begun in earnest. And with pre-season training comes the battery of tests that most good coaches use to assess progress and program effectiveness and provide a competitive opportunity to athletes who might not otherwise compete for another 4-6 months. I personally love test week. In my setups, we generally test every 4th week during the general preparatory phase. I have as many as 10 tests that I use during any given test cycle. Within the past 2 weeks, I’ve had a couple of my athletes go through there first test cycle of the year. 1 of them is a female sprinter on the HPC Elite Team who just finished her first training cycle; another is a long jumper from the HPC Elite Team who actually did some pre-testing prior to his first training cycle. I’ve also been helping out my athletes back at Army until my replacement is hired. They just completed their first test week of the year.
Some interesting things have come up that I thought would make for an interesting blog. Here’s a couple random hints I want to pass on:
- The fundamental keys to productive testing is to make sure your tests are:
- Valid- Pick your tests wisely and have a reason for why you’re doing them. The tests should assess a quality that you actually are trying to examine. Don’t have your jumpers run a 3 mile time trial unless you’re trying to the assess the affect of speed-power training on aerobic performance degradation.
- Accurate- Just as you should pick an appropriate test, make sure your means of assessing that test is accurate to an acceptable degree. It doesn’t matter if you choose a valid test if you don’t measure it accurately. The biggest offender here is the use of hand-timing. If you’re hand-timing results, don’t put them to the 100th. Similarly, don’t hand-time anything under 50m. It’s just not worth it. For distances that short, the variability that you introduce with hand timing is greater than the margin of potential improvement / decrement and it could produce inaccurate and misleading results. It’s akin to measure molecules with a yard stick.
- Repeatable and Reliable- This means you should set things up to be able to produce the same or compatible results every time you test. Make sure the test conditions are as similar as possible each time so that you can repeat the tests and reasonably compare the test results. This includes controlling variables like the facility, temperature, testing time of day, competitive atmosphere, workout load in the days preceding, etc. Repeat the same tests either every time you test or at least in an annual cyclic manner so that you can create a database for comparison.
- It’s not too abnormal for test results to actually DROP off after a particularly hard training cycle. Do you care? I don’t. As long as you have a plan for athletic development and you go in expecting these types of things it’s best to stick to your guns.
- High intensity pre-testing should only be used sparingly and is more suitable for more experienced athletes.
- Movement screens can be useful to assess gross motor abilities and dysfunctions. They’re not the tell-all tale that many would have you believe though. I use them with new athletes and clients that I haven’t worked with before to see if there are any major issues that they may not be aware of.
- With regards to comparison and evaluation, there are many ways to look at results. I’m a test stat junkie and like to analyze the numbers quite a bit. It really can be an effective tool to help you assess the effects of your training protocols and also to see how a particular athlete responds to that training. I look at test results in the following ways:
- Individual comparisons:
- Against all time PR. This gives you some perspective about how they are fairing compared to their best ever test performance. To make this especially meaningful, it’s often nice to test once or twice during the competitive phase or immediately after it to give you some good benchmarks for what kind of results a given athlete can produce when they’re in competitive shape.
- Against same time of year longitudinally. This allows you to relate how an athlete is against themselves at a similar point in the training cycle from some time prior in their career. This is important because training is cyclic in nature and this recognizes this issue and basically allows you to compare yourself against yourself from a prior time under similar training conditions. Try comparing test results from the last week in August 2007 against those of 2008. It will give you a good idea of whether you’re ‘ahead’ or ‘behind’ last years fitness levels.
- Group / Team comparisons
- Compare top 5-8 results from year to year without regard to who the athletes are- gives good indication of strength of team / group. So for example, I like to use a scored pentathlon test for many of my speed-power athletes. I know what type of scores I need to be seeing out of my top 5 to be able to field a strong team.
- If you’re working with collegiate athletes or athletes on a quadrennial plan, it’s nice to compare test scores by class or years of the quadrenium. That way you can evaluate the strength of a class / athlete based on where they should be at a given point in their long-term athletic development. Over time you’ll be able to have benchmarks for each stage of an athlete’s career.
- Individual comparisons:
- With some tests, you’re not always looking for progress. There are times when you may just be using the test to ensure that a biomotor quality has not dropped off.
- If you use your rest week as your test week, it’s important to recognize that the manifestation of improved physical capacities often do not come to FULL fruition until the week after the rest week. Decide whether you care about this or not. Personally, I don’t; but there are reasons to think it’s important. If you do care about it, you can also take this in to account by trying to lighten the load slightly during the last hard training week or by planning your tests at the end of the rest week. There are pluses and minuses to all these options so figure out what works for you.
- Don’t be afraid if an athlete tests “too well” early on. If the training plan has been set up appropriately this is a blessing and a sign of good things to come and not that they have “peaked too early.” The same actually applies for strong competitive performances early on in the competitive cycle…if the training has been set up appropriately, there’s no need to fear for an early peak.