What Can A Fitness Assessment Really Tell You?

A fitness assessment can tell you valuable information about what you need to do in order to get a breakthrough in your results. Read more on how here.

Have you ever gotten into really good shape, only to feel frustrated when you inevitably hit a plateau? 

To put it another way, have you ever trained for an event and wondered what you needed to do next in order to keep improving?

Do you need a new program? Maybe,maybe not at all.

You can find out what you need to do next in order to break through your training plateaus.

How exactly do you do that?

Using fitness assessments and testing can help tell you just that. All tests aren't built the same though.

Let's take a look what sort of information you can look to gain from a fitness assessment.

What Makes Your Fitness Assessment Trustworthy?

Our number one problem is something we just mentioned up top, not all tests are built the same.

To start, we have to assume two things about the tests that you are taking:

  1. The tests being performed are valid or, test what we think they are testing.
  2. Tests should be consistent and repeatable by other testers.

Validity can get pretty deep. There are a number of ways that a test can be valid including, looking like it is a good test. There may be a comparison of how a chosen assessment stacks up alongside other test of that same thing. Some tests are actually designed to not look like a test at all.

In order for tests to be reliable, testing conditions should be noted and kept as consistent as possible in retests. If you run a mile on a hard surface like a cement sidewalk, you'll be faster than say if you ran that same mile on loose grass. You wouldn't be able to put as much force in the ground.

What Can A Fitness Assessment Really Tell You?

The most obvious thing that an assessment can tell you is if you are good at what is being tested. If you perform a 40 yard sprint, you will find out how good you are at running 40 yards.

There are a number of things that you can test to find out.

Tests can measure things like:

  • Speed or how fast you can cover a certain distance
  • Low-Speed Strength or the heaviest weight you can move slowly
  • High-Speed Strength or the heaviest weight you can move quickly
  • Endurance, either locally, like how many bicep curls you can do in a minute or systemically like in a distance race
  • How flexible you are in a given area of your body
  • Body composition, how much body fat, bone and lean mass you carry and where

"Good" is a relative term when you're talking about how you did on a test. It seems like it's a little vague for our purposes. How can you tell if you really did well? You need to compare yourself against people like you.

This comparison data is known as normative data. Normative data is basically a snapshot of what the average person is like at a given point in time. Some of this data is made widely available. Some populations have not been studied extensively.

Here's an example of some normative data from the NSCA.

That link above covers vertical jump, pro-agility run, 10 yard dash and 40 yard dash for females.

There are ways to gain more insight from your test results beyond that and find out exactly where you need to improve.

How A Fitness Test Can Tell You What You Need to Work On

Let us take a minute to consider that 40 yard sprint I mentioned earlier. Coach Mann has a great article on elitefts.com covering why the NFL uses the 40-yard dash at the combine.

To summarize his article the 40-yard dash can be broken down into a 10,20 and 40 yard split:

  • 10-yards-short distance
    • Shown to be greatly affected by how strong you are in the squat relative to your body weight. Until you reach about twice bodyweight, if you can increase your squat, you will see improvement here.
  • 20-yards-medium distance
    • Shown to be affected by improvements in explosive strength or how fast you generate strength. The hang clean is an exercise often used for this. Sound technical improvement at the right speed will help you see improvements in your 20.
  • 40-yards
    • This is your top end speed. To reach this you have to be good at the things we've already mentioned. You must be strong enough to maintain good body position. You must also have good mechanics and technique in order for you to stay at your top end speed.
    • If you are already doing well with your 10 and 20 yard sprint, overspeed training may be utilized.

This is one example of how we can look at test information on something like the 40 yard dash and apply that to your training. You can directly see how if someone did not perform well in one aspect of the test, like the 10 yard split, we might change their training to see improvement.

This same idea can be applied to several different scenarios. There may be a test that predicts how likely you are to be good at another sport skill or general life activity. Improving your balance can be very important for someone who is likely to be hurt by falling.

Testing can provide a lot of useful insight in the right context.

Extra Credit Action Steps:

If you're extra curious on what sort of insight you can pull from testing data, I recommend that you view this NSCA talk from Bryan Mann, PhD, CSCS, RSCC*D

Coach Mann has been involved in strength and conditioning for around 20 years. He has developed a deep comprehension of how data can be used to improve performance in people of all ages and abilities. 

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