By Adam Scott, MS, CSCS
In our opinion, every training program needs to include assessments. They provide coaches and athletes with quantifiable data that can be used to measure training and scale workouts to fit the ever-changing needs of an athlete.
Last week we published an article describing our new burpee assessment, the Burpee Beep Ladder. And while this test was a new addition to our programming the idea behind it was anything but new.
The truth is that there are over 300 fitness test out there. They range from a simple one repetition max (1RM) to very technical physiological tests. The key to effective assessments is selecting (or, in some cases, redesigning) the best one for your needs.
Here are a few rules to remember when selecting Assessments for athletes:
1) Know what you need to know. It sounds simple but coaches need to understand exactly what they need to know about their athletes and their programs, and how to best test for it. Are we looking at strength, speed, endurance, mental fitness, or maybe trying to identify an unknown factor?
2) Understand the assessment. An assessment is a tool. If a coach or athlete is going to get the most from an assessment they have to know how to use it. This means understanding how to test, what they are testing for, what the results mean and what to do after you have the results.
3) Be consistent. Consistency is the key to reliable, valid results. If you administer multiple assessments you have to make sure that each test is as similar as possible – this means standardizing recovery, locations, equipment, and protocols whenever possible.
4) Be practical. Every coach would love to have access to a full exercise physiology laboratory, but the truth is most of us don’t, so learning to work with what you have is key. Also, some assessments come with risks. It is vital that coaches be pragmatic and understand the limitations of their athletes, facilities, and the risks they might be taking.
5) Simple is usually better. Assessments take time and typically that means time away from training. Simpler tests are easier to conduct and repeat. This means more data and less time away from training….just don’t sacrifice quality.
What to do when you can’t find the right assessment:
This is a problem we run into often. Our athletes are mostly hybrid athletes who perform in complex environments – military operations, mountain terrains, law enforcement scenarios, and fire rescue situations.
When we stumble upon a situation where we just can’t find the right assessment we don’t reinvent the wheel we repurpose one. Like I said before, there are over 300 fitness assessments out there.
When we need to assess a unique aspect of our program or a unique attribute of one of our athletes we don’t have to start from scratch we can work with what is already available. We just apply the five rules mentioned above, the underlying aspects of a current fitness assessment and develop a new assessment to fit our needs.
Here are two examples where we repurposed/redesigned an Assessment:
1) The Burpee Beep Ladder. We knew we wanted a protocol which could match the metabolic and muscular demands of the burpee. We also wanted a protocol which would show separation between our fitter and less fit athletes. We like the burpee for its complexity and multi-planar aspects, but we couldn’t find any assessments which effectively measured what we needed.
Luckily for us, we were familiar with a series of field-sport assessments which might be applicable. These assessments are called many things (Beep Test, Bleep Test, Multi-Stage Test, Yo-Yo Test, FIT Interval Tests, Drop-Out Test, etc.) but their basic protocols are the same. An athlete is required to run or swim a given distance (20m, 40m, 50m or 100m) in a given time. After a certain number of successful repetitions the time to complete each repetition is decreased (speed increased). The athlete is scored based on the number of levels and repetitions they can complete.
Here is the basic protocol for a 20m Shuttle Beep Test. The athlete begins at level 1 and must complete 7x 20m shuttles at 8.0km/hr. After the seventh shuttle, the athlete immediately moves to level 2 and the speed increased to 9.0km/hr for 8 shuttles, then 9.5km/hr for 8 shuttles…and so on. The highest score ever recorded was a rugby player from Fiji at level 17 plus one shuttle. NBA player Steven Nash made it to level 17.
We briefly tried to mirror our burpee assessment on a traditional Beep Test but found that changing the time component was too complicated. We love the traditional Beep Test as an assessment. It tests exactly what we wanted to assess (Rules #1 and #2). But we needed something simple and practical for our athletes (Rules #4 and #5). So, instead of having a fixed measure (i.e. distance or repetitions) and adjusting times we decided to fix the times and adjust the measure (i.e. the number of burpees). This is what gave us a consistent measure for our athletes (Rule #5) – The Burpee Beep Ladder
2) The USMC Combat Fitness Test. A few years ago the US Marine Corps implemented the Combat Fitness Test as another way to test Marine’s fitness. The test includes a half mile run, an ammo can lift and a complicated obstacle course event called Maneuver Under Fire (MANUF).
To complete the MANUF you need 100 yards of open space, 10+ cones, ammo cans, field lining material, a training dummy (or partner), a dummy grenade, and a throwing area. The MANUF is a great event, but the set up is far from simple or practical.
So, when we designed our training plan for the USMC CFT we had to repurpose the MANUF and design a simplified version of the assessment. We called it The Devil Dog Assessment. We took all the major aspects of the MANUF (strength, agility, coordination, and aerobic capacity) and designed a simplified version of the test that can be done on a 225-yard course with only 2 cones, 2 dumbbells and a sandbag.
As you can see we followed the five rules here too: We knew what the assessment needed to test (Rule #1). We understood the format and foundation of the original assessment (Rule #2). We developed a simple and practical protocol (Rules #4 and #5) and created an assessment that could be consistently replicated (Rule #3).
If you are interested in more information on current fitness assessments here are two excellent online resources:
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