Why Test?

Fall at FHIT means two things: time to make the last push before the season starts, and performance testing. Much to my dismay, both seem to draw less popularity than they should. Sure, people are busier in the fall, but who wants to put in countless hours of hard work in the summer just to let it all go to waste by not continuing to train in the fall? Not me. Similarly, the same happens with testing.

If testing gets the short end of the stick when it comes to priorities, then strength testing gets the short end of the short stick. I imagine that strength testing gets slotted somewhere between shoe tying and ear swabbing on most people’s priority list. This needs to change, and this post is devoted to telling you why.

First off, let me start by defining strength testing. Strength testing is an all encompassing term that includes all performance tests completed in the weight room, and off the ice. At FHIT this means that strength testing includes height, weight, grip strength, long jump, vertical jump, 16-yard fly sprint, pro-agility test, bench press for reps, and pullups.

The two most common questions I hear at FHIT are “Why should I test?” and “Should I test?” to which my answer of “Yes” is quickly followed by “Why?” Well, here is your answer.

Testing is important first and foremost for you, the athlete. Testing is conducted at the beginning and end of the training season, and sometimes in the middle of the training season. At the very tip, it allows you to view your progress. By looking at your testing scores you can see evidence of yourself getting stronger or faster, or growing and gaining muscle. Sometimes the improvements come in different forms. For instance, you may not always get faster or jump higher through an off-season, but if in that same off-season you gained 20 lbs and your sprint speed did not drop, you have effectively become more powerful. You are moving at the same speed, but your mass has greatly improved. Testing is also a good indicator of your work ethic. If your mid training season testing scores show very little or no improvement, you know you have to make a change. If you were previously only training two days a week, then you can make a change and train three or four days. Or, if you were training four days a week and still saw little improvement, it’s time to reevaluate the effort you are giving in each training session. A quality training program is designed to produce results, and if those results are not being produced, more often than not the finger should be pointed at yourself, and not at the coach. There is a level of responsibility and commitment that accompanies training for a sport that can only come from within.

Testing also gives you an indication of your current strength level. On a daily basis, the question I receive most frequently is “how much weight should I use?” Most of the time I have an idea of how much weight would be good for you to use on a specific exercise, but I am going solely off of how strong you look, or what other athletes your age are using. Everyone’s strength is different, and it is very hard to tell how strong someone is just by looking at them. Testing can help solve this problem. If, through testing, you know your estimated 1 rep max bench press is 150 lbs, then you have a much better idea of how much weight you should be using for a set of 3 reps. This is important because using the appropriate weight can make a very large difference. For instance, if with an estimated bench press 1RM of 150lbs, you use 115lbs for 3 reps, you are not going to get anything out of the lift. In order to gain strength, you need to use a weight that is roughly 85%-95% of your 1 RM. On the other end, if training for power, you need to use a weight that is roughly 60% of your 1RM in order to move the bar fast enough to produce a speed training effect. The weight of 115lbs does not fall into either of these categories and can almost be considered a wasted set. Use the information provided by testing to optimize your training.

Testing is just as vital for the strength coach as it is for you. For the coach, testing is an assessment tool. Testing results tell the quality of the program. If the program is of high quality, then testing results should show improvement across the board from beginning to end. If the program was lacking in a certain dimension, the testing results will show that. Personally, every winter I go through the testing results and compare scores from the spring and fall testing sessions. I hope to see a uniform increase across the board, but that is not always the case. The results allow me to refine the program each year so that I can fix pieces that scores indicated needed more attention. Testing allows me to analyze trends in age and weight gain, or speed gains by age, or even trends in vertical jump and long jump. The data allows me to optimize the program so that each group gets the most out of their training. Take, for example, the age range of 14-15. If testing scored indicated a trend that speed increased on average by 5% in that age range, compared to only 1% in the 16-17 age range, then a high volume of speed work would be better served in the program for the 14-15 year old athletes. By analyzing the data in such a way I can provide a better program to each group of athletes.

Take this information and begin rethink your opinion on testing, and start partaking in it regularly. It is there solely as a tool to help you continually increase your performance. For those of you who wish to play hockey at the highest level, there is no room for stagnation. If you’re not improving, someone else is, and they will take your spot. Give yourself piece of mind that your training is working, and you are improving your performance. As the old saying goes, “help me help you.”

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