Want a recipe for a laugh?
- Put a group of five football coaches with stopwatches on the 40-yard line.
- Place the football team’s star receiver on the goal line.
- Instruct the coaches to start timing on the player’s first movement and to stop as he crosses the 40-yard line.
- Run the 40-yard sprint.
- Collect the watches and throw them in the trash.
You’re likely to have five different times .3 to .4 seconds – or more – apart. Each football coach will swear his time is right – although one might admit his 40-yard sprint time could be a little off because he blinked – and at least one is going to vow he got the time to the one-hundredth of a second. That’s too much variation.
Eliminate Random Variables from Strength Testing Programs
While the largest variable in strength testing is your athletes’ performances, the second largest inconsistency is likely the design of the strength testing procedure and the biological interfaces – the coaches – who administer strength tests.
The human aspect of strength testing inherently is imperfect, whether it’s reaction time to start or stop timing, inattentiveness, or built in bias for – or against – certain athletes.
And, if a test like the 40-yard dash is flawed, chances are good that the rest of your strength testing will be unreliable as well.
Once again: Validity of strength testing results are crucial to the integrity of a strength training program. And that’s true whether the weight lifting program is one administered an individual sport’s coaches, or by a dedicated strength coaching staff.
The problem is, that your athletes know it, too, so they don’t care as much about strength testing as they should, are under-motivated and likely to provide sub-maximal efforts.
Done correctly, strength testing gives you you the opportunity to see your athletes at or near their best. When conducted in a team setting and in an arena the athlete is familiar with, it creates a sense of competition that brings out maximal efforts. Suborn that experience with a bias, and you’ll lose that edge.
Juice Your Strength Testing to Measure Your Strength Training Program Better
Add some snap to your strength testing by designing a testing matrix that’s as specific to your needs as possible. Most of us have some lifts we feel assess strength well. Challenging those assumptions. Do the lifts really mirror the needs of your sports? Does, for example, a golfer need to be tested on the bench press for a one-rep max? Is a deadlift sport specific to anything?
While testing 40-yard sprint times and Pro Agility times are probably the most popular for high school football teams, it’s interesting to note that the 3-cone drill actually is a better predictor of draft rank at the NFL combine. The 40 just gets the most press.
Do whatever you can to eliminate human error … start by dumping stopwatches. The prices for electronic testing equipment – like jump mats for vertical jump testing (under $500), and the various speed traps that are available for sprint and agility testing – have dropped and, generally, are within the budget of a high school football program, for example. They’re durable, very portable and deliver accurate results. They also can be shared by multiple sports and add a sense of professionalism to your testing.
On your testing lifts, make sure all coaches know what a good lift is. Will you use power cleans or hang cleans? Power cleans are ideal for strength testing football players, but hang cleans may be better for volleyball teams. PRE-determine what constitutes a successful lift, and make sure all tests are measured by the same standard.
You can make strength testing more competitive by eliminating the bias toward big or small athletes. You might report the weight of a squat, for example, but also award points based on bodyweight percentage. The sliding scale allows athletes to compete on a pound-for-pound basis, but reporting the raw weights lifted also allows athletes a little extra room to brag, and that’s not a bad thing.
Report Your Strength Testing Scores to Everyone and Test Often
We’ve had great success in stimulating competition in our Iron Pirates Strength & Conditioning program by posting scores for all athletes tested, regardless of the sport they participate in, or their gender. And we require everyone using the weight room, even cheerleaders, participate in some form of strength testing.
Consider testing more than once a year, and allow for some testing to occur “off the calendar,” for instance when an athlete “just feels strong” or is having a great day in the weight room. After all, strength testing should measure the best an athlete has to give.
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