Tag Archives: power

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,



Resistance Training Guidelines & Exercise Progression in Injury Rehabilitation

Adjusting resistance level of inverted rows (No, that’s not me – notice no bald spot!)

As rehab and fitness professionals, it is crucial that we know why we do what we do. Always be able to answer if someone asks “why?”. One of the awesome things about our profession is that, in rehabilitation and strength training, there are many successful approaches to obtaining great outcomes. Throughout my career I have seen a wide variety of rehabilitative approaches used by the physical therapists and athletic trainers I’ve worked with and known. It is very true that there is no “one way” to obtain positive results with your patients. The art of successful injury rehabilitation is not only “what” you know, but more importantly how you apply what you know (i.e you bridge the gap between knowledge and application). I also believe that, out of fear of increasing pain and setting back the healing process, many times rehab clients may not “pushed” and stressed as much as they could be in terms of developing strength and power (safely, of course, without increasing pain or dysfunction). This concern can be solved by reviewing evidence-based basic resistance training guidelines. I’m going to review an evidence-based approach that I used successfully, specifically in regards to rehabilitating athletes and persons looking to return to the healthy lifestyle they had prior to the injury. Bear in mind, however, that most of these principles are not just appropriate for “athlete” rehab. The four components I wish to discuss are:

  1. Preparing the body for reconditioning (the “dynamic warm up”)
  2. Sequence of Exercise Modes
  3. Work:Rest Ratios
  4. Resistance Training Load Prescription

Preparing the body for reconditioning (the “dynamic warm up”)

Dynamic warm up (DWU) for movement/exercise preparation actively readies the body tissues for the demands about to be placed upon them. In other words, it provides a “wake up” and “rehearsal” for the body. In doing so, you stimulate both a neuromuscular and cardiovascular response. Proper DWU raises core body temperature, increases muscle elasticity, decreases inhibition of antagonist muscles, and stimulates the nervous system. Additionally, especially in the case of athletes, there is an emotional and psychological stimulus for increased levels of activity. There is plenty of research demonstrating the use of a proper DWU:


  • Improves flexibility, coordination, balance, proprioception, and movement speed
  • Decreases chance of injury during training/competition
  • It serves as an excellent tool for concentrating on teaching movement/skill technique (i.e. this is where your “corrective exercises” come in)
  • On the contrary, static stretching has been shown to decrease muscle strength/force production at both slow and fast velocities, anywhere from 10 mins-24 hrs later, as well as plyometric abilities

Gradual progression example in a rehab setting*^:
Low intensity non-impact general warm up (i.e. bike/UBE) → Core/Neuromuscular activation → Joint mobility/dynamic flexibility → Dynamic movement prep → “Build Up” Agilities/Plyometrics (i.e. General linear prep → General multidirectional prep).

*Gradual progression within this from low intensity → high intensity
^ When warranted, modalities and manual therapies are performed prior to starting (as well as when isolated concerns arise during training, i.e. ankle dorsiflexion mobilizations to improve a squat pattern dysfunction)

Sequence of Exercise Modes

In order to obtain the most benefit from utilizing various modes of exercises in rehabilitation, it is important to have an idea of the recommended proper sequence based on research and rationale. If client has 1 or 2 areas (of the distinct areas listed below) of impairment or disability, it is recommended to focus on these areas first, and then supplement “accessory areas” afterwards. If taking a more global approach, a more specific progressive approach as I’ll outline has been shown to be effective in maximizing the cumulative benefits gained through each method of exercise towards the overall goal(s) of your rehabilitation. In other words, you are less likely for one preceeding exercise to have a detrimental or “limiting” affect on a following exercise. Example: you don’t run a long distance workout before performing a plyometric power workout if your goal is to improve power– your power “output” will suck.

Progression guidelines*

*NOTE:  These are after/not including the DWU.  Not all of these areas need to be addressed in every rehabilitation session. This provides a logical sequence to administer therapeutic exercises as appropriate in the event that all were performed in one session.

1) Dynamic Mobility/Warm-up (as outlined above).  For specific example, see here.

2) Agilities
– Motor learning/technique work (i.e. functional agilities such as stops, ladder footwork)
– Linear  (Assisted/BW → Resistance)
– Multi-directional (45 deg COD → 90 deg COD → 135 deg COD → 180 deg COD)
– Assisted/BW → Resistance
– Practical agilities (i.e. real-life movement and situational drills, planned à unplanned               reactions)

3) Resistance exercises/plyometrics for power

4) Resistance exercises for strength
a) Power → Non-power exercises
b) Large muscle areas → Small muscle groups
c) Multi-joint exercises → Single-joint exercises

Muscular Endurance Exercises
a) Large muscle areas → Small muscle groups
b) Multi-joint exercises → Single-joint exercises

5) Balance/Proprioception
– Static → adjust plane of movement → adjust speed of movement → add dynamic external stimulus → change terrain

6) Static Stretches

Work:Rest Ratios

Newsflash:  3 x 10 with 30 second rests, all the time/every session does not cut it. Please read that 3 x 10 times today. Your client will not gain muscle strength and functional power with this approach, setting them up for future re-injury. We need to recondition strength and power, not just muscle hypertrophy and endurance. Proper reps, set, and rest period prescription can have a huge impact on successful outcomes. It is important to remember that rest periods differ based on your training goal (i.e. strength/power vs. muscle endurance). Typically, rest periods are inversely related to load: heavy load = longer rest period. I’ve heard the argument that “I don’t want my patient just sitting around that long between sets – I have to maximize their time in the session”. Well, I agree. That’s why we prescribe “accessory” exercises to perform using different body regions/neuromuscular systems to serve as “active rest”. Superset that . An example would be using a single-leg Romanian deadlift coupled with a plank variation, or a balance/proprioception exercise between shoulder strengthening sets. Treat the body, not just the body part

Rest Period Length Based on the Training Goal
Training Goal Rest Period Length b/t Sets*
Strength 2-5 minutes
Power 2-5 minutes
Hypertrophy 30 – 90 seconds
Muscular Endurance 30 seconds or less

* Multi-joint requires longer rest than single-joint

Training Specific Energy Systems
% of Max Power Primary Energy System Stressed Typical Exercise Time Work:Rest Ratios
90-100 Phosphogen 5-10 sec 1:12 to 1:20
75-90 Fast Glycolysis 15-30 sec 1:3 to 1:5
30-75 Fast Glycolysis and Oxidative 1-3 min 1:3 to 1:4
20-35 Oxidative > 3 min 1:1 to 1:3

In terms of day-to-day rest, here are some recovery guidelines*. When performing plyometrics, lower intensity drills can be performed 3-4x/week (minimum 24 hrs recovery time; example = technique drills or jumping rope). Moderate intensity plyometric drills can be performed 2-3x/week (36-48 hrs recovery time; example = medicine ball throws or band resisted exercises).  Higher intensity, high shock drills should be performed no more often than 2x/week (72 hours recovery time; ex: high box jumps or max effort bounding). *Disclaimer – it’d be fine to do upper extremity plyos one day and lower extremity the next day – rest times are referring to a specific muscle group/body region being stressed). With regard to resistance training, training for strength should be performed on non-consecutive days for muscle group. When training for balance, proprioception, core stability, and muscular endurance, it is typically fine to perform these on a daily basis without concern for overtraining.

Resistance Training Load Prescription

In addition to proper rest periods, variation and progression of load is also key to successful outcomes. This is especially important when the client is strength training on a regular basis.  Every day should not be a “heavy stress” day (100% of the load). In order to avoid overtraining and plateaus, it is important to mix in some “medium stress” days (90 % of the load) and “light stress” days (80% or less of the load). In terms of progression of the training load, I typically follow the “2-for-2” progression rule. Let’s use this example: goal is 3 sets of 8 reps for a dumbbell bench press. I will increase resistance load when patient demonstrates the ability to perform 10 reps on the third set for 2 consecutive instances.

There is also some debate about the use of multiple sets vs single sets. Single sets may be more appropriate for untrained individuals and when performing a muscular endurance/high rep set. Multiple sets are more appropriate for intermediate/advanced persons, showing better long-term gains. Studies have also shown that multi-set without failure tends to be more effective over time vs. single set to failure.

Load and Repetition Assignments Based on Training Goal
Training Goal Load (% 1RM) Goal Repetitions
Strength 85+ < 6
Power:        Single-effort eventMultiple effort event 80-9075-85 1-23-5
Hypertrophy 67-85 6-12
Muscular Endurance < 67 > 12

Repetition Max Continuum (Baechle & Earle, 2000)

rep max continuum

One of my most common recommendations I make to athletic trainers and physical therapists is for them to take a portion of their annual CEUs through courses geared towards fitness/performance training. I’ve personally learned a ton this way, much of which I have worked in cohesively with my sports medicine/rehab background to improve my outcomes! Challenge yourself by questioning the rationale behind your approach. This is the best way to continually improve!

P.S. I apologize for the length of time between this and my last post.  Baby #3 joined the family recently, so I’ve been both sleep deprived and busy 🙂

Thanks for reading!



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