Developing a Strength and Conditioning Program: Testing

Developing a Strength and Conditioning Program: Testing

In today's post, we are going to discuss testing completed as part of the process of Strength and Conditioning. I will again use the setup of my training plan as an example. Several factors that have identified as being "deterministic" of performance,  these and their performance standard are summarised in the table below; if you missed our earlier article on benchmarking you can access it here.

Rowing Testing SpreadSheet

While some metrics such as height cannot be modified even with unlimited training, effort or determination, it is essential to recognise that while not all variables can be modified observing their presence remains helpful. It is unlikely if you have been born with a 5-foot statue that you will have success in elite basketball. Equally, if you are 7-foot, aspirations as a jockey may be impossible to attain.

Practical Considerations

+ Testing VO2 Max

Undertaking VO2 max testing is a perfect example of the need for consideration of how testing is completed. Testing requires expensive equipment (several thousand dollars) or needs to be completed at a testing centre. The cost of this is approximately $200. While not a massive sum if this testing needs to be completed regularly it can become expensive. This leaves some alternatives. One is not to complete testing. However, as VO2 underpins many key performance determinants this option is far from optimal. The second alternative is to use a test to act as a surrogate of VO2 max. A number of studies reported estimate VO2 max based on a regression equation. The accuracy of these tests varies, however, as a general rule the better ones have good validity and reliability. Validity and reliability are important, but boring concepts, that will be covered in a later posting.

 The incremental ergo step test is an example of a surrogate. It has readily available data to compare with and can assess a number of the deterministic attributes. Completed this with simultaneous blood lactate sampling produces large amounts of data. Amongst this is identifying the point of increased lactic accumulation, or lactic threshold. This is just one instance in which having a wife who is a nurse is helpful. Hopefully, this is the only scenario in which she will be bleeding me for science.

+ Testing Cardiovascular Capacity

As such the plan is to complete a paid VO2 max test and a step test in quick succession so that I can see how closely these tests align. Then at a few key points over the year, I will complete paid testing again to determine the degree of change, so that I can track progress towards my target levels. Between the paid tests, I will use the incremental step tests to ensure that I am on track. Having completed the first two tests in quick succession, I will be able to draw some conclusions about how well the step test can act as a proxy for the VO2 max test. This process is essentially experimentally determining the Standard Measurement Error.

I should make a note here that as an athlete and a coach, I usually test more often than most to both reduce performance anxiety, promote familiarity and so that aberrant performances can be identified as such. The argument against this is that testing can be highly fatiguing and even damaging in instances where it replaces other training. These are both valid points. However, both can be managed by carefully choosing what testing is completed and when.

+ Testing Strength and Power

It all sounds so easy, doesn't it? While technically it is relatively easy to complete, have ergo, add athlete, inflict pain, there are some problems. One is that I have a deep and abiding hatred of ergos; however, fear that this may be a problem I have to grin and bear. Beyond ergo testing, strength and power measures are known to be significantly associated with performance. Squat, deadlift, bench pull, clean, and press movements are all strongly deterministic.

I am lucky enough to have access to equipment at home and within the clinic to train and test each of these elements. I have an injury history that makes me less than keen to complete regular 1RM strength testing. As such, I will use this only at the end of specific training blocks but will build in periodic 5RM tests to allow me to monitor progress, manage fatigue, and not break my somewhat rusty body. – I am anticipating doing this as a single set to failure, for each lift every 3 weeks and then using this to estimate 1RM.  The final component is the tracking of weight, lean mass, fat mass, and hydration. I have for various reasons, always encouraged my athletes to track this routinely, and in my case, I already monitor this daily using a set of smart scales.

Strength and Conditioning Recap

To recap what we have covered so far in this series, we have established a big picture goal, broken this down into progressively smaller sub-goals until we have simple, clear actionable items. We have reviewed race results to understand the required level of performance, and the sports science literature to find the determinants of performance in rowing and establish benchmarks. Finally, in this post, we have built a plan for what, when and how we will test.  

In the next posting, we will look at the process of pulling all of this information together into the annual training plan.  

Until then happy training.