4-Must-Do’s When Administering Fitness Testing
Fitness testing is crucial to assess an athlete’s performance capabilities
- Ensure everything is valid and reliable
- Always check equipment and the environment
- Be clear with your test selection and sequence
- Choose your words carefully
- About the Author
Fitness testing is an inherent component of every level of sport from youths, recreational exercisers to senior athletes. Fitness testing provides data that helps shape the decision-making process of individual athlete training goals. For coaches, fitness testing is paramount as it gives a baseline or starting point of an athlete’s physical journey, with the end destination being fulfilling their maximum athletic potential (Haff & Triplett 2015). Fitness testing can help identify talent by finding athletes whose capabilities best match what is needed for success in the chosen sport (Haff & Triplett 2015). Fitness testing highlights weakness or injury risk factors for an athlete that needs to be improved (Haff & Triplett 2015). This blog will outline 4 must do’s to ensure fitness testing is administered efficiently and effectively.
1. Ensure EVERYTHING is valid and reliable
Validity is defined as how accurate a test or a piece of equipment is in its measurement (Golafshani 2003). It is crucial coaches ensure the test they choose is accurate in measuring the fitness component they desire to measure, and equipment is accurate in the data it releases. Coaches must dedicate time to read about the validity of tests and equipment beforehand. This can be done by researching scientific studies for the reliability and validity of tests and testing devices. For example, timing gates and GPS can both measure sprint speed, but timing gates should be selected as they have greater reliability when measuring sprint speed (Waldron et al. 2011).
Reliability is defined as the consistency of a test (Golafshani 2003). If a test is reliable an athlete should receive the same, or almost identical score on separate within-day trials or between-day occasions if no physiological change has occurred (Hopkins 2000). Testers have to be consistent in their own scoring (interrater reliability) and must be consistent with other testers who are conducting the same test (interrater reliability) (Haff & Triplett 2015). Spending time familiarising coaches to record and score tests correctly is an important part of the testing process, which should be done prior to administering fitness testing. Finally, athletes should always give maximum effort on every test to ensure intrasubject variability does not occur, due to changes in effort, but not the true performance capabilities of that athlete (Haff & Triplett 2015).
2. ALWAYS check equipment and the environment
It is crucial to dedicate time prior to testing, to check any equipment needed for testing is safe-to-use and working. Any electrical devices should be checked for batteries and should be fully charged. It is advised to keep a record of battery changes and the condition of the equipment. Spending time doing this might seem tedious however, turning up to a fitness test without essential equipment or having a computer run out of battery may result in data not being collected and shows a lack of professionalism.
All testing documents should be finalized and printed beforehand or oppositely, all sheets should be shared and available via an electronic device to input data. Where possible, have the names of athletes and any other pre-attainable information (e.g. date of birth, position) recorded beforehand to save yourself and the athlete’s time. If the subjects are under 18 years of age consent forms must be signed by parents or guardians (Mahar & Rowe 2008).
Coaches should know their environment before they arrive to conduct testing batteries. If any testing is taking place outdoors, it is important that weather updates are monitored. Aerobic tests can be influenced by high temperatures and humidity (Sparks et al. 2005). Likewise, performing agility tests on a wet surface will negatively influence the result and increase the risk of injury (Biener 2007). If testing is indoors, coaches should know how much space is available beforehand and assign appropriate space for testing stations accordingly.
Safety procedures should be discussed beforehand, and first aid equipment must always be present during testing as maximal runs or one repetition maximum testing can expose underlying heart problems. In addition, athletes will be at maximal exertion during testing, potentially increasing the risk for musculoskeletal injuries (Pescatello et al. 2014)., As such, it is important to never overlook any complaints from athletes during testing.
3. Be clever with your test selection and sequence
To gain the greatest insight into an athlete’s maximum performance capabilities in relation to their sport, tests must emulate the physiological systems and biomechanical movements used (Haff & Triplett 2015).
For example, aerobic capacity is an essential fitness component in soccer (Bangsbo, 1994). One potential test may measure a soccer player’s endurance by recording the time taken to run a certain distance (e.g. 5-mile run). Although this may measure a soccer player’s aerobic capacity, soccer is also an intermittent sport. A test such as the Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test would be a better option for measuring the aerobic capacity of a soccer player as it imitates short intensive, intermittent runs followed by short recovery periods (Haff & Triplett 2015).
When conducting numerous different tests during a testing session, the test sequence must be carefully organized. Tests should be sequenced correctly so a test will not affect performance on a subsequent test in the test battery (Matuszak et al. 2003).
Adequate rest times must be given between trials and tests to allow the athlete to recover fully (Matuszak et al. 2003). A test that taxes the phosphagen system such as straight-line sprint over 10 meters requires 3 to 5 minutes for recovery whereas a test that taxes the anaerobic glycolytic system such as anaerobic threshold testing will require a lot more recovery time (Haff & Triplett 2015). As such, it may be appropriate to order the latter towards the end of a testing battery.
A testing battery should start with non-fatiguing tests such as anthropometric measurements followed by power, speed, strength, muscle endurance and finishing with aerobic activities (Haff & Triplett 2015). Athletes must know the testing procedure and it is important to educate them on the purpose of the testing and each test too. Therefore, running a familiarisation session beforehand or a training curriculum that includes exercises similar to each test can be of great benefit for enhancing reliability and minimizing intrasubject variability.
4. Choose your words carefully
During testing, it is imperative the athlete is given clear, concise and understandable instructions. The same instructions should be given to everyone and all coaches should also use the same terminology. Research has shown that external cues can enhance performance in popular tests such as sprinting (Porter et al. 2015) and standing long jump (Porter et al. 2010). Therefore, there is a strong argument that instruction should create an external focus of attention for the athlete during testing, so their true maximum capability is portrayed (Brady et al. 2017).
A scenario where an external cue would be appropriate, with the countermovement jump being used as an example may be “jump as high as you can towards the ceiling”. The ceiling would be the point of focus thus directing the athletes’ focus to an external factor. Testers should not use instructions that will create an internal focus of attention for the athlete as it will interfere and hinder the automatic control process of the athlete (McNevin et al. 2003). An example of an internal cue for the countermovement jump would be “jump as high as you can by extending through your ankles, knees, and hips”. The ankles, knees, and hips are the point of focus thus directing the athletes to focus internally on their own body which may negatively affect an athlete’s performance on a test.
If motivation is going to be given during testing, then it is crucial it is given for every trial and every occasion. This ensures testing always remains standardized (Haff & Triplett 2015) and that any changes in performance have are physiological changes and not due to motivational encouragement.
To conclude, there are 4 must do’s when administering fitness testing:
- It is imperative that the chosen tests, equipment used, coach administering, and athlete being tested are all prepared and follow guidelines to ensure the validity and reliability of data collected.
- All equipment and the environment should be checked thoroughly beforehand to enable the testing battery to run as smoothly as possible.
- The testing sequence and selection should be carefully selected, ensuring it strongly matches the physiological and biomechanical demands of the sport and that the athlete is familiar with and capable of giving maximum effort during every test.
- The coach providing instruction should carefully choose their external cues so the athlete can clearly understand what they are required of them to execute a test and be motivated to perform with maximum effort.
- Bangsbo, J., 1994. Energy demands in competitive soccer. Journal of sports sciences, 12(sup1), pp.S5-S12.
- Biener, E., 2007. The effect of different warm-up protocols on speed and agility (Doctoral dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).
- Brady, C., Comyns, T., Harrison, A. and Warrington, G., 2017. Focus of attention for diagnostic testing of the force-velocity curve. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 39(1), pp.57-70.
- Golafshani, N., 2003. Understanding reliability and validity in qualitative research. The qualitative report, 8(4), pp.597-606.
- Haff, G.G., and Triplett, N.T. eds., 2015. Essentials of strength training and conditioning 4th edition. Human kinetics.
- Hopkins, W.G., 2000. Measures of reliability in sports medicine and science. Sports medicine, 30(1), pp.1-15.
- Mahar, M.T. and Rowe, D.A., 2008. Practical guidelines for valid and reliable youth fitness testing. Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science, 12(3), pp.126-145.
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- McNevin, N.H., Shea, C.H. and Wulf, G., 2003. Increasing the distance of an external focus of attention enhances learning. Psychological Research, 67(1), pp.22-29.
- Pescatello, L.S., Riebe, D. and Thompson, P.D. eds., 2014. ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
- Porter, J.M., Ostrowski, E.J., Nolan, R.P. and Wu, W.F., 2010. Standing long-jump performance is enhanced when using an external focus of attention. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(7), pp.1746-1750.
- Porter, J.M., Wu, W.F., Crossley, R.M., Knopp, S.W. and Campbell, O.C., 2015. Adopting an external focus of attention improves sprinting performance in low-skilled sprinters. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(4), pp.947-953.
- Sparks, S.A., Cable, N.T., Doran, D.A. and Maclaren, D.P.M., 2005. The influence of environmental temperature on duathlon performance. Ergonomics, 48(11-14), pp.1558-1567.
- Waldron, M., Worsfold, P., Twist, C. and Lamb, K., 2011. Concurrent validity and test-retest reliability of a global positioning system (GPS) and timing gates to assess sprint performance variables. Journal of sports sciences, 29(15), pp.1613-1619.