Tag Archives: exercise

10 Tests for Measuring Athletic and Functional Performance

“If you ain’t assessin’, you’re just guessin’!”  Tweet:
I cannot remember who I first heard this from, but I find it absolutely true. I’ve discovered that I’m a “fixer” by nature. Sometimes so much to a fault (just ask my wife!), I’m always re-evaluating things I come across daily to find ways to make them better. It could be my effectiveness and approach in dealing with a difficult challenge, my performance-training approach, my meatloaf recipe (and I make a MEAN meatloaf), or my dance moves in preparation for the next wedding I attend. Just as in life,  in athletic and functional performance if we aren’t checking to see where we currently are as compared to where we’ve been, how clear is our path to get to where we want to be. Yes, as performance coaches or rehab professionals we could just put everyone through a cookie-cutter program. How effective is that approach towards promoting client accountability, getting positive outcomes, and justifying the quality of service we provide? On the flip-side, if you are someone who is going through a fitness program, it’s important to reinforce your hard work and dedication by noting changes over time. Assess, then progress (or regress) as indicated.

Over the years I’ve learned through mentorship , self-development, and trial/error quite a few assessment and evaluation techniques for a multitude of measurable variables. In this blog, I’m going to share 10 easily-reproducible functional evaluation and/or athletic performance performance testing order, O-PA Performance Academy tests that I’m very fond of, all of which are highly justified both in research and in real-life observable outcomes. It is not the purpose of this blog to discuss how to address the findings of each test – that’s for a future blog! It’s also important to note that not all 10 of these tests need to conducted in one session, and that the sequence of conducting the tests is crucial to ensuring accurate results (see recommended testing sequence, per the National Strength and Conditioning Association). We must limit the chances of a negative residual effect on a subsequent test due to physical or energy system fatigue from the previous test. Keeping that in mind, here are your 10 functional /athletic performance assessment tools to try:

  1. Subjective/Objective Self-Assessment (Questionnaire, Body Measurements): Some sort of non-complex questionnaire is very helpful here. As a coach, the better your rapport is with your clients the more accurate and honest their responses will most likely be. Questions should include topics such as self-ratings on current mindset, satisfaction with current/previous program,  attainment of personal goals, and expression of both valued components of their program as well as areas they feel need to be enhanced. To compliment this questionnaire, a simple height, weight, body fat %, and body measurements assessment is great for monitoring progress as well.
  2. Posture Assessment: Make note of certain objective observations pertaining to posture. How does normal standing and sitting position look (neck, upper back, and lower back position/curves)? Is there  near-symmetry right vs left? Does one or both shoulder blades wing up when raising arms overhead or when pushing off of a wall? What is the observed foot and knee position in standing?  A quick scan from head to toe can tell you a whole lot.
  3. Functional Movement Screen/Biomechanical Analysis:  The Functional Movement Screen (FMS), developed by Gray Cook and his team of athletic training/physical therapy gurus, is a “screening tool used to identify limitations or asymmetries in seven fundamental movement patterns that are key to functional movement quality in individuals with no current pain complaint or known musculo-skeletal injury (www.functionalmovement.com).”  The purpose of this screen is to identify weak links, notable asymmetries, and faulty biomechanics – all of which can lead to increased risk of injury, decreased functional efficiency, and potentially decreased performance. This helps to direct corrective exercise prescription. The great thing about the FMS is that it is easily reproducible and demonstrates very high validity in consistency between the testers. To delve into movement analysis even deeper, there are some awesome video analysis tools out there which allow coaches to video-record and analyze sport-specific movements, running/jumping technique, and functional patterns in slow motion. This gives the opportunity to not only address inefficiencies noted in the movement, but also to provide visual sensory feedback to the person on the video (since we can neurocognitively process feedback we see much faster, with better retention, than when we only hear it). Pretty awesome stuff!

    Lateral Step Down Test

    (via www.fit-pro.com)

  4. Single-leg squat: While the FMS lets you screen squat and lunge patterns, one thing left out is strength and control in a single leg squat pattern. I’ve found that many times people can have a very good 2-legged squat, yet when you put them on 1 leg and have them try to squat, breakdowns occur in the kinetic chain. Problems such as knee valgus (buckling/rotating inward ) and heel rise/foot shift can indicate high risk of knee and ankle injury. I also see direct correlation between poor eccentric control of this motion and less than ideal deceleration quality in agilities.  This shows you any asymmetries between sides which may need to be addressed. I usually have the person perform 3-5 reps on a 12″ high step.
  5. Vertical Jump Tests – Double Vertical Jump (DVJ) for technique, Vertical Jump (VJ) for height: There are multiple purposes for using the DVJ or VJ tests. In addition to measuring lower extremity explosive power (how high you can jump), you can also objectively note the quality of take off, landing, and reversal rate of power.  Vertical jump height can be tested with a jump tower, using a force mat (such as the Just-Jump System that we have at O-PA! Performance Academy), or simply touching as high as you can on a wall. I love the VJ test – my scores weren’t too shabby back in the day. Maybe my goal should be to get back that 37″ vertical jump – I just need 6″ more!

    Unfortunately I can no-longer dunk.  But I can get it back one day!

    Unfortunately I can no-longer dunk. But I can get it back one day!

  6. Med Ball Chest Pass:  Using a weighted ball, it’s easy to assess upper body power, measuring how far the ball can be pushed away from you like a basketball pass.  A simple, reproducible test, I recommend performing seated or kneeling to eliminate compensation coming from the legs. The actual weight of the ball should be such that the test taker can move it at least somewhat fast. It probably goes without saying, but make sure to use the same weight consistently every time you re-test for accurate results.
  7. Acceleration and Agility testing: 10-Yard Sprint, Spider Test, & 5-10-5 Pro Agility:  The purpose of these tests is to demonstrate an athlete’s acceleration, quickness, and ability to change direction efficiently. With any agility or quickness test, the total time to complete should be very short, aiming for no longer than 5-15″ (go longer than 30″ at most and you are no longer testing the phosphogen energy system – or the “burst”). The 10 yard acceleration test is pretty self-explanatory – time it takes to run 10 yards straight ahead. The Spider Agility test as described by the NSCA involves running a timed star pattern (returning to the center after going to each point). I like to use 3 to 5 yard distances between cones with 8 cones, and have also toyed with versions involving drop steps and shuffles (the person has to face forward the entire test) to demonstrate actual game-like quickness over a variety of functional skills (like when playing defense). The 5-10-5 Pro Agility is the same test used by the NFL at their draft combine. It too is a very reliable tool to assess quickness, acceleration, change of direction quality, and lateral stability.

    5-10-5 pro agility

    5-10-5 Pro Agility Test

  8. Push-up/Pull-up Challenge:  It is what it sounds like. How many quality push- ups and/or pull-ups can you do in a certain amount of time. Note that if someone cannot perform a full pull-up unassisted, this test can be performed using assisted pull-ups with a superband or tubing. It’s all relative when comparing pre- to post-test numbers, as long as testing means is consistent. Typically the allotted time is 3 minutes or less. This is a great way to measure overall muscular endurance.
  9. Core Endurance testing (plank, side plank R & L, prone double leg raise):  Ah yes, that dreaded “PLANK”. Everyone loves to perform these tests with me – said no one ever. Well, OK, some people enjoy them. The tests are simple: hold a static neutral core position as long as you can until goal is reached, failure, or loss of proper form (I use >1 coaching correction needed). Four positions are used: plank on forearms, side plank on forearm on each side, and a prone double leg raise to horizontal off of a table/bench. These tests are based off of the thorough research of Dr. Stuart McGill, one of the world’s leading researchers on core stability and issues concerning the back. Based on his research, a healthy individual should be able to hold these for a minimum of 60″, ideally 90″. Measurements such as this correspond with significantly lower likelihood of back pain. He also noted that there should be within 5% symmetry when comparing all 4 sides. Note:  make sure to allow for recovery between each test.  I use a 1:1 work:rest ratio between tests, with the minimum rest being 1 minute. That’s even between side-plank sides.
  10. Sprint Endurance Testing: With sprint endurance testing, we are measuring both speed and the ability to maintain that speed for between 30 and 90 seconds (dependent on the level of athlete). Good examples of this would be a timed 300 meter run or a shuttle run with a minimum distance of 15 to 20 yards between reversals. Because of the added time it takes to complete, sprint endurance testing (or anaerobic endurance testing) assesses a different energy system within the body compared to short sprints and agility tests. Yes, even adults should work on improving their sprinting when possible. It’s an amazing total body calorie roaster and a powerful neuromuscular stimulus. Keep in mind, you need to progress your sprint training wisely to avoid injury.

Food for your mind: 10 tests for measuring athletic and/or functional performance, in both the athlete and those who would not consider themselves athletes. Because improvements can sometimes occur very quickly when guided by the correct coaching, these assessments do not always have to take place during an official testing session. Great performance coaches have a keen eye for assessing these tests and patterns on the fly during training sessions as well. In athletes, these are the findings that show you how far you’ve come and what you need to work on to get to the next level. In the latter, they are great tools for determining injury risk, proper progression of your fitness routine, and for reinforcing a sense of personal accomplishment! *Insert High Five!*

“If you ain’t assessin’, you’re just guessin’!”  Tweet:

Dominate those tests,



Lean Approach to Removing Waste To Improve Your Process

process mappingDo you pursue mastery of the services you provide? As sports medicine and physical performance professionals, we are always told to “continue our learning” of practical knowledge. Our continuing education classes are typically geared toward learning or reviewing new exercises, treatment approaches, and assessment/evaluation skills. Ask yourself this: “When is the last time I reviewed the process by which I perform my day-to-day professional tasks?” What about those processes that help our application of the above knowledge be efficiently and successfully transferred to our clientele? It may be time to start thinking differently  It may be time to to consider some Lean process improvement.

Recently I attended a small introduction to Lean (Lean 101 you could call it), and it definitely got me thinking. I learned some new ways to analyze parts of the processes I am involved with, and it was also rewarding to learn that the thought approach for reassessing processes I currently use falls in many ways under the Lean approach (*self high-five* – Hey, give yourself one too if you’re already doing this stuff!). “Lean is a customer-centered methodology used to continuously improve any process through the elimination of waste in everything ones does.  The concept is based on the ideas of “continuous Incremental Improvement” and “respect for people.”” – (Lean for Dummies). Lean philosophy dictates anything that does not add value to a process or product, or that the customer is unwilling to pay for, is waste and should be eliminated. Each step of a process in the production of a good or service either adds value or waste to the end product. Ultimately, the elimination of waste increases an organization’s productivity and profit.

So how Lean are you?  

Let’s take a look at some current data on waste. According to Lean data, 95% of the time a problem occurs in an organization it is due to the processes in place. Many times we incorrectly place blame on a single person, yet only 5% of the time it is truly the fault of an individual. Studies also show that during our work day anywhere from 75-95% of our time is spent doing things that can increase costs (waste). We are highly inefficient most of the time! Therefore, our goal should be to decrease waste. Before waste is removed, processes are often scattered, which can negatively affect your customers in the end. By decreasing waste, work cycles go down, delivery becomes more efficient, production and capacity increases, and quality improves. After waste is removed, processes are more streamlined, resulting in more satisfied customers. You’ll save your organization time and money!

8 most common types of waste in the process  

This post’s goal is to share the 8 most common types of waste, so that we can give these areas of our work some deep reflection and start developing some process-improving solutions. Here are a couple wording notes before we start. When I say “customer”, that can refer to an injured athlete, a rehab patient, training client, or anyone else who we are providing a service to. When I say “product”, I am referring to the end result of what our process is trying to produce (examples – a successful training program and increased business revenue).

To remember the 8 common types of waste, think “D.O.W.N.T.I.M.E.”…

8 most common areas of waste according to Lean

8 most common areas of waste according to Lean Six Sigma

DefectWork that contains errors, incorrect information being shared, or lacks something necessary. This is the waste category that I believe most encompasses our traditional continuing education approaches. Being open-minded, we should always be willing to address defects in our clinical skill set through continuing education. Are we performing a treatment or using an exercise approach that is outdated and has been shown to be ineffective or incorrect. Are you still giving Coca-Cola to your athletes during “water breaks” á la Penn State Football practices in the early 80’s? Yes, that was actually happening. By improving our practical skill set, we are looking to decrease defects in our end product (end product being positive results and successful outcomes). Additionally, defects include products or services that are out of specification that require additional resources to correct, such as missing necessary equipment, data entry errors, and utilizing incomplete documents as resources. 

Overproduction: production that is before it is needed or more than is needed. Producing information or materials sooner, later, or in greater quantities than the customer is demanding? Examples of overproduction include creating reports no one reads/needs (“Yeeeeah, I’m going to get you another copy of that TPS report cover sheet memo, mmkay?”) and making extra copies of flyers and forms that are not yet (or will ever be) needed. Overproduction is not only physical, but can also be verbal. Consider verbal cueing of exercise technique and programming – are we providing more information than needed to the client. Sometimes providing too much information can lead to confusion and overthinking – assess exactly how much info your client needs. As managers, are we providing so much information through excess guidance to our staff that we are stifling creative flow and intrinsic motivation?

Waiting: wasted time waiting for the next step in the process. Are there clients, staff, equipment, facilities, or systems sitting idle – waiting for a work cycle to be completed when they could be used during that time productively? Idle time is created when materials, information, people or equipment are not ready. Late-starting training and rehab sessions, delayed meetings, and poor scheduling can lead to lots of wasted time waiting. Equipment that is either broken of insufficient in number based on client/staff volume can cause waiting waste. Not only when they start late/run late, ineffective use of meetings can also be a waste in this category. Are projects getting “backed up” because some parts of the process are efficient yet others are not? Are tasks awaiting signatures/approvals from seniors and information/materials not ready when needed?

Non-utilized talent: not using or under-utilizing staff’s talents, skills, and knowledge. Not effectively engaging employees during the process can lead to high absenteeism, high turnover, and inadequate performance. This could be due to insufficient training (either on-the-job or in professional education), employing people in the wrong position or poor hiring decisions, or missing out on process improvements by failing to listen to employees. Maybe there is an employee with a strong skill-set in one area but for whatever reason those skills are not being embraced. Try to promote autonomy with your employees when possible and appropriate, as long as it does not lead to excess waste in other areas. Humans by nature are autonomous, and in that mode we are more actively engaged and creative in our production. The key is to have autonomous team members who work well interdependently!

Transportation: unnecessary (non-value-added) movement of parts, materials, or information between processes. Not to be confused with Motion (see below – having to do with people), transportation waste has to do with unnecessary movements of products and materials that does not add value. Examples of this include delivering unneeded documents and materials or moving a piece of equipment around from different workstations rather than keeping it in one centralized location. If performing rehab or performance training off-site, would it make more sense to have equipment that stays there rather than having to transport everything you need back and forth?  (Is it also an Inventory issue?)

Inventory – Do you have any raw materials, work-in-progress (WIP), or finished goods that are not having value added to them? Are there excess products and materials on hand that the customers or employees do not need right now? Examples of inventory waste include purchasing excessive office, medical, or training supplies, searching for computer files in poorly managed databases, obsolete files or office equipment, more finished products than demand needs, extra materials taking up work space, and broken machines sitting around.

Motion: movement of people that does not add value, i.e. unnecessary movements. Consider how often do we move materials, people, equipment, and goods within a processing step? Excess motion can be due to people making unnecessary movements caused by inefficient facility layout, ergonomic issues, and searching for misplaced items. Examples of motion waste include searching for client files that are not in order, reaching for equipment that is poorly placed, sifting through an unorganized inventory to find what is needed, walking to get a piece of equipment multiple times instead of keeping it with you, and repetitive movements that could overwork/injure an employee.

Extra processing: how much extra work is performed beyond the standard required by the customer? It is easy to want to go above and beyond to “wow” your customer – but is it always necessary? In other words, are certain aspects that are above and beyond what is needed actually going to provide value to the end result, or are they “just for show”? This includes performing any activity that is not necessary to produce a functioning product or service (i.e. that do not provide value from the customer’s perspective). Examples: developing programs that are never utilized, not having pre-developed home exercise sheets for your clients (and instead having to write/draw up every time), making more copies of a document than will be needed, saving multiple copies of the same file in multiple locations, using a more high-tech machine than needed (who needs the adductor machine when you have the thighmaster?! I kid, but you get the point), and taking extra steps to correct avoidable mistakes.

8 areas to evaluate for waste. There may be time to put back into your busy day and money to put back into your business. Make it a team effort to map your processes, looking for ideas from all perspectives to find any inefficiencies in these 8 areas. I’m personally looking forward to learning a lot more about Lean process improvement, and I will certainly look to pass that knowledge on! Pursue mastery.