Testing your strength periodically, starting at the beginning of a new training phase, is an essential element in any holistic training programme.
It’s a practice followed by elite sportsmen as a means to, first and foremost, benchmark strength levels at the start of a new season and to identify any possible weaknesses or imbalances.
The outcomes of these tests are then used to precisely programme the exact weight that should be lifted at each subsequent training session to meet sport-specific performance metrics.
Continued testing throughout pre- and in-season phases of competition then track the athlete’s progress towards specified goals, and also enables conditioning coaches to make ad hoc adjustments to training loads or volumes.
However, you don’t need access to a sports science institute to implement this approach in your own training programme. There are numerous tests that you can do yourself – at home or in the gym – to benchmark your current strength levels and continue to measure important performance metrics that can inform your training with precision, to ensure continued progression.
Here are three basic fitness metrics that you can test or measure yourself to provide all the information you need to effectively track your progress and ensure you continue making gains.
Note: Any form of performance or fitness test, be it maximal or sub-maximal, should be preceded by an adequate warm up that includes light aerobic activity, stretching and mobility drills. Testing protocols should be adhered to to ensure that the test is not influenced by the warm up by potentially pre-fatiguing the athlete.
One-rep max strength test
A one-rep max (1RM) test is the ultimate measure of maximal strength. Strength is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to exert force over a period of time.
As the name implies, it is the maximum amount of weight someone can lift for a single repetition. However, this type of test should only be done in the gym under the supervision of a spotter.
To determine your current strength level, you can perform a 1RM test on a variety of exercises, from common compound lifts such as the bench press, squat or deadlift, to more complex lifts such as snatches and power cleans, and even single-joint movements such as leg extensions.
To determine your relative strength, take your 1RM and divide it by your body weight – how much weight an individual can lift per kilogram of body weight (kg lifted per kg of body weight).
This can be a useful measure to benchmark and tentatively compare your strength against established norms, or to other athletes with similar characteristics in a less biased value comparison to that of maximal strength.
Beginners can still determine maximal strength, but can avoid the stress of a 1RM test by applying specific formulas to a three-rep, or five-rep estimated maximal test. For example:
5-rep weight x 1.15 = estimated 1-RM
or 3-rep weight x 1.08 = estimated 1-RM
Power is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to exert as much force as possible in as short a period of time as possible. In this way it is a different metric to strength, yet both of often used interchangeably.
To accurately measure your ability to generate power, plyometric-specific tests are the preferred protocols to use for strength-related sports. These are, however, highly specific to the sport or activity you wish to benchmark or track.
For example, an athlete like a basketball player who jumps should apply a vertical jump test to measures explosive leg power. However, a strength-based sport like sprinting requires dynamism across horizontal and vertical movement planes, so a two hop test would be a more specific measure of power.
Strength endurance tests
Strength endurance is the ability to apply a sustained level of strength over an extended period of time. Anyone outside of powerlifters or Olympic weightlifters would need to develop this ability to a greater degree.
One-minute strength endurance tests are a great way to benchmark your current strength levels and track progress periodically and can be applied to just about any form of exercise, and measures the strength endurance of that specific muscle group. The most common tests are the one-minute push-up, squat, burpee and sit up tests.