Wednesday, June 1, 2016

4 Easy, Reliable, and Valid Fitness Tests to Measure Progress

Guest Post by Jen Sinkler

“What gets measured gets improved.” It may be clichéd to quote leadership expert Robin Sharma in yet another fitness post, but you know why clichés are a thing? Because they’re based in reality. And this quote nails it.

We’re flush in an age where tracking your fitness is fashionable. From Garmins to Fitbits to Apple Watches, collecting and measuring data has never been easier. But is there something they’re missing? 

When clients and gym members ask how to measure progress, it usually turns into a discussion revisiting what exactly they’d like to achieve. If their method of tracking isn't measuring what they actually want to improve, I’m wasting their precious time.

At The Movement Minneapolis, the gym I co-own with my husband, David Dellanave, we use custom-built tracking software to measure every workout. In the context of strength, we make it easy for members to see if they’ve loaded more on the bar or if they’ve become able to perform a few more reps week by week. They periodically test their strength in the way of five-, three-, or (for some clients) one-rep max attempts, keeping the intensity appropriate for their lifting experience.

As I mentioned earlier, for a test to be valid, it needs to measure what you’d like to improve. Another key piece of the puzzle is finding a reliable test. Meaning, you’re able to reproduce it so that you can compare each data point objectively and learn if you’re headed in the right direction or not. As we say at the gym, “better questions lead to better answers.”

Measuring strength is pretty simple — achieving the same range of motion, can you lift more than the previous week or max attempt? Cardiovascular endurance is also straightforward — assuming you’re running the same distance each time, are your times increasing or decreasing?

But how do we effectively measure athletic qualities? The plot thickens, and I’m so glad you asked. (Or that I pretended that you did, rather.)

Enter the Broad Jump, 10- and 40-Yard Dash and Pro Agility tests. I like these tests for several reasons:
  • They measure qualities that are applicable to training goals involving speed, agility, and explosive power.
  • Their simplicity allows for reliable results, allowing me to know for certain if I’m moving the needle in the direction I want to go, or if I need to make adjustments in my training.
  • They’re easy to do with minimal equipment. You need only a little space, a tape measure, and a stopwatch.

If you’re interested in measuring your current athleticism in this manner, try the tests below.

After performing a full-body dynamic warm-up, complete the following tests with adequate rest between each one. Repeat them every three to four weeks so you can compare your progress (and perhaps brag a little about your gains in speed and power).

Broad Jump

One of the best and easiest tests to measure lower body power is the broad jump test. You need only a line and a measuring tape to perform this test. Complete a single rep, jumping as far as possible. Have a partner measure the distance from the starting line to where your heels land. (If one heel lands behind the other, that’s the one you have to measure from.)

You can also lengthen the tape measure across the floor and straddle the tape to make measuring easier. Repeat the test three times with adequate rest in between each attempt.

10- and 40-Yard Dash

The 10-yard dash helps measure explosive strength, while the 40-yard tests your maximum speed.

Set a starting line and place cones or other obvious markers (such as a water bottle) at 10 yards and 40 yards from the start. Be sure you have enough room to decelerate safely at the end of each attempt.

It will be easiest to have a training partner or coach time your attempts, instead of trying to do this yourself. As with the broad jump test, you can take three attempts. Be sure to recover completely between each rep.

Pro Agility Test

This test has long been the standard for agility that strength coaches rely on, and it’s regularly used at most pro combines to test change of direction, quickness, and body control over short distances, as most sports call for.

To perform the test, you’ll need three cones and a stopwatch, plus someone to time you. Measure out the cones in a straight line, 5 yards apart. Start at the center cone with your hand touching the ground or standing in an athletic stance facing perpendicular to the direction you will sprint first.

The stopwatch starts on your first movement. You’ll turn and sprint 5 yards to one of the cones, touch the ground, then race 10 yards to the other, again touching the ground next to the cone, then sprint 5 yards back through the center cone. That’s when your timer should hit the button to end the test.

You can choose to move to your left or right first, but perform two repetitions each side for a total of four attempts for this test, recovering fully between each rep.

Record your times for all four attempts. And, to get even more feedback, videotape each attempt so you can compare your movement mechanics from rep to rep.

Are you ready to improve your strength, power, speed and agility? Lightning & Thunder will help you become a force of nature.

Lightning & Thunder is a brand new strength, speed, and agility program written by Tim Moyer, MS, CPT, and Angie Brambley-Moyer, MS, MSCC, with me (Jen Sinkler), personal trainer, fitness writer, and former U.S. national team rugby player.

Moyer, Brambley-Moyer, and I have teamed up to get you stronger, faster, and more agile. You don't have to have any experience playing sports, and you don't have to play any in the future, either, if you don't have the inclination. You only need to be interested in training like an athlete, in moving like one and looking like one.

Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or you’ve never played a sport, the program gives you everything you need to hit the ground running (pun intended, of course) and will include:

  • A comprehensive training manual that lays the groundwork for this philosophy of training for both the strength and the speed and agility (SAQ) programs.
  • Both beginner and intermediate 12-week SAQ programs.
  • Both beginner and intermediate 12-week strength programs, with an explanation and calendar on how to combine the strength work with the speed work.
  • A complete exercise glossary with written coaching cues and images for every single strength and SAQ movement. This detailed description of 180 moves is a resource in and of itself!
  • A streamable video library of more than 25 speed and agility demonstration videos. In the videos, Tim and Angie coach the athlete through the fundamentals of their SAQ patterns and drills, allowing them to know what they need work on whether they are watching from home or watching it as they hit the gym.

Here’s the best part. To celebrate its release, Lightning & Thunder is on sale for HALF OFF now through midnight Friday, June 3rd. For more information click here.

About Jen Sinkler

Jen Sinkler is a longtime fitness writer and personal trainer who talks about all things strength related at her website, The former editorial director of fitness for Experience Life magazine, she writes regularly for a variety of national health magazines. She's a certified RKC 2 kettlebell instructor and a powerlifting coach through USA Powerlifting. She also holds coaching certs through Ground Force Method, Progressive Calisthenics, Onnit Academy, and DVRT (Ultimate Sandbag).

A lifelong competitive athlete, Jen played rugby for 13 years, many of those on the U.S. women’s national 7s and 15s teams. She co-owns The Movement Minneapolis with her husband, David Dellanave.

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