Fitness testing: bane or boon?

Testing athletes and tracking those test results over time is fundamental to effecting a successful strength-and-conditioning programme that is valid for your sport and skill.

Testing should start with non-fatiguing tests such as anthropometric measurements followed by power, speed, strength, muscle endurance and finishing with aerobic activities.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

Fitness testing is simply a way of taking measurements of the body and its responses to exercise stimuli. This helps in identifying what component of fitness needs to improve, or whether the current level of the body’s response to a challenging scenario can be time- or distance-bound depending on the sport and skill.

Different sports need different components of testing and some crossover happens in testing for the same component of the energy system. For example, a 40m sprint or pro-agility testing or countermovement jumps or even an explosive power test. These tests are done in various sports cutting across different skill sets, too.

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Why testing?

  • Fitness testing is an intrinsic factor in every level of sports from youth, recreational exercisers to professional athletes.
  • Data collection for decision-making processes and setting up new goals.
  • Each athlete’s baseline measurements from the starting point in his or her career and the current level of fitness.
  • It helps coaches make decisions to include or exclude elements from the plan for the team depending on the current status and also long-term potential.
  • Talent identification for long-term athletic development (LTAD) in any sport.
  • Huge data collection for varied ethnic groups, skills, genetic make-up and lifestyle differences. It can help derive a proper long-term solution for the performance increment domain.
  • Injury prevention and cure is an important factor through fitness testing.
  • Movement mechanics analysis and posture control of each individual can be inferred according to each sport’s requirements.
  • Specific components of fitness to generic competence can be analysed through specialised testing protocols.
  • Prediction of likely injuries due to improper physiological mechanics can be determined.
  • How training variables can be tweaked to get the best desired results in the future.
  • It’s an evaluation process for strength-and-conditioning coaches on whether their periodised plan is working or not.
  • Finally, to know where each athlete’s current level of overall fitness matches the individual’s or team’s success.

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Dos for conducting fitness testing

  1. Prepare the athletes with proper warm-up and hydration before the tests are conducted.
  2. Reliability and repeatability of designated tests are of great importance for proper reading and data collection.
  3. It is totally imperative that the chosen tests, equipment used, coaches administering them and the athlete being tested are all prepared and follow specific guidelines to ensure the validity and reliability of the data collected.
  4. Testing should start with non-fatiguing tests such as anthropometric measurements followed by power, speed, strength, muscle endurance and finishing with aerobic activities.
  5. All testing equipment should be correctly calibrated and the current environment should be checked thoroughly, thus enabling the testing battery to run without any hitch.
  6. All tests should be done with proper communication well ahead with the athletes and the selection and sequencing of the tests explained depending on the physiological and biomechanical demands for each sport or skill.
  7. Retesting should be done on the same protocols as done previously for correct result and data collection. Small errors can make huge differences in the readings and results.
  8. Athletes need to be given the proper information and time frame for preparation of the tests. Adherence to proper scientific protocols is critical for results and performance.
  9. Standardise the testing for each sport or a skill and repeat it in same sequence. Different age groups would have different standards and choice of testing components.
  10. All the test results should be made available to the athletes, coaching staff and management to help them in decision-making.
  11. Provide proper instructions to all the athletes ahead of testing so they can clearly understand what is required of them to execute a test and to be motivated to perform with maximum effort.
  12. Safety procedure and precautions should be in place in case the athlete is injured during testing.
  13. Adequate rest and time should be given for recovery during trials and tests to get the best desired results.
  14. Pre-test medical screening is of paramount importance to prevent any emergency issues or complications.

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Don’ts in testing procedures

  • Not validating the results acquired to the athlete or coaches or management.
  • Testing at different times and different surfaces will lead to varied results and not the right data collection.
  • Improper procedures followed during testing and measurements.
  • Favouritism showed to a particular athlete or a group in collecting and manipulating test results.
  • Not doing the right sequencing of tests.
  • Inconsistent in testing, poorly done, at the wrong time or in the wrong way can give wrong results and message to the whole group or athlete.
  • The testing coach should be transparent in sharing the results with the concerned group or athletes or management.
  • Choosing the wrong test for a skill is showing an appetite for destruction.
  • Wrong comparative studies with the results of other non-related groups.
  • Demotivating the athletes prior to the testing through harsh words or not giving a proper explanation regarding the testing and the results.
  • Making an athlete uncomfortable prior to the testing by embarrassing them at various stages in front of fellow athletes with cues or words. It is highly demotivating for the athlete.
  • Highly unethical processes of modifying or altering or inaccurately scoring test results to suit their professional needs or to stay in the post.
  • Strength-and-conditioning coaches failing to identify the athlete is not giving 100 percent in each testing can affect the reliability of the test.
  • Finally, undermining an athlete’s effort and motive can be counterproductive to he or she giving their best and taking the test in the future.

The bottom line

Testing the athletes and tracking those test results over time is fundamental to effecting a successful strength-and-conditioning programme that is valid for your sport and skill.

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