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Testing the Building Blocks of Physical Performance

Welcome to the second article in our series on assessing fitness and performance. In the previous article, we discussed the major adaptations in fitness and highlighted the importance of evaluating each one individually. In this article, we will delve into the specific tests associated with each adaptation (Testing the Building Blocks of Physical Performance) By understanding these tests and their corresponding performance ranges, you can gain valuable insights into your strengths and weaknesses. Armed with this knowledge, you'll be able to tailor your training and make informed decisions to optimize your fitness journey.

While there isn't a single global test that can comprehensively assess an individual's level in all aspects of fitness, there are numerous tests available to evaluate each major adaptation we discussed earlier. In the following sections, we will explore each adaptation in detail and discuss the specific tests associated with them. By understanding these tests and their corresponding performance ranges, you can gain insights into your strengths and weaknesses. Identifying areas where you may be lacking will guide you toward the appropriate protocols and strategies to improve in those specific adaptations. Through this comprehensive approach, we can systematically evaluate our fitness and develop a roadmap for progress. So, let's dive into each adaptation, explore the relevant tests, and understand how to assess and interpret the results. This knowledge will empower you to make informed decisions about your training and optimize your fitness journey.

The first aspect we will explore is the importance of skill or technique in fitness. Skill can be divided into two categories: specific skills related to a particular sport or activity, and the skill of exercising safely and effectively to avoid injuries. Mastering proper technique is essential for optimal performance and injury prevention.

When it comes to sport-specific skills, such as basketball shooting or tennis serves, seeking guidance from a qualified coach or instructor is highly recommended. They can provide expert guidance, assess your technique, and offer personalized feedback for improvement.

However, if you want to assess your own skill level or technique, there are a few things you can do. When evaluating the major joints of the body, such as the shoulder, elbow, low back, hip, knee, and ankle, there are four key aspects to consider: symmetry, stability, awareness, and range of motion. You can assess these aspects using four fundamental exercises: upper body press, upper body pull, lower body press, and lower body pull. Here's an example of exercises you can perform:

  1. Push-Up: This exercise targets the upper body pressing movement. Start in a plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart. Lower your body by bending your elbows, keeping them close to your body, and then push back up to the starting position.

  2. Pull-Up or Bent Row: For the upper body pulling movement, you can choose either a pull-up (using a bar) or a bent row (using dumbbells or a barbell). With pull-ups, hang from the bar with an overhand grip and pull your body upward until your chin reaches or goes above the bar. Bent rows involve bending at the hips while holding the weight and pulling it towards your chest.

  3. Squat: The squat is a lower body pressing movement. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and lower your body by bending your hips and knees while keeping your chest up and your weight on your heels. Return to the starting position by pushing through your heels.

  4. Deadlift: The deadlift targets the lower body pulling movement. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, squat down to grip the barbell or dumbbells, and then lift the weight by extending your hips and knees while keeping your back straight. Lower the weight back down to the starting position.

To evaluate these exercises, record yourself performing them from a frontal and side view. Pay attention to the following aspects for each major joint:

  1. Symmetry: Observe if there is any noticeable imbalance between the left and right sides of your body, as well as the front and back. Look for any differences in form or movement patterns between limbs.

  2. Stability: Assess whether you can perform the exercises with stability and control. Watch for excessive shaking or loss of balance during the movements. Can you execute the exercises slowly and maintain control throughout? Try pausing for a second or two at various points to test your stability.

  3. Awareness: Check if you have a good sense of body awareness during the exercises. Are you able to maintain proper form and alignment? Can you engage the correct muscles and feel the targeted areas working?

  4. Range of Motion: Evaluate your range of motion in each joint. Look for any limitations or restrictions in movement. Can you achieve the full range of motion required for each exercise?

By observing and analyzing these four aspects for each major joint, you can gain valuable insights into your body's performance and identify areas that may require improvement. Remember to focus on proper form, listen to your body, and consult with a fitness professional if you have any concerns or questions. The second adaptation we'll discuss is speed, which primarily applies to athletes or individuals involved in sports that require quick bursts of movement. Unlike other adaptations, most people don't need to specifically test their speed unless they are involved in competitive sports or have specific speed-related goals. In many cases, speed can be inferred from power tests, as power combines both speed and force. Power tests, such as vertical jump height or sprint times over a specified distance, can provide a good indication of an individual's speed capabilities. For the general population focused on overall health and fitness, incorporating exercises that enhance power, such as explosive movements or interval training, can contribute to improvements in speed-related qualities.

The third adaptation we'll discuss is power, which refers to the combination of speed and force in a movement. Power is important for activities that require explosive movements, such as jumping, throwing, or sprinting. Testing power can be done through a simple and accessible exercise like the broad jump. Stand in place and jump as far as you possibly can, measuring the distance covered. While a basic number to consider is your height, it's important to note that this estimation is not very accurate but can give a general idea of your power level. Additionally, it's worth mentioning that women tend to have about 15% less power compared to men. For a more precise measurement, you can perform a classic vertical jump test. Stand with both hands overlapped and middle fingers touching overhead. Mark your hand with a marker and touch the wall at the highest point of your jump. Measure the height and aim for a value greater than 24 inches for an indication of good power output.

The fourth adaptation we'll explore is strength, which is the ability of muscles to generate force. Starting with grip strength, there are a couple of ways to measure it. One option is to use a grip meter, aiming for a minimum result of 40 kilograms, with an ideal range of around 60 kilograms, and maintaining a 10% variation between both hands. Another method, although less accurate, is the hanging test. Find something you can fully grip with your hand and hang for a minimum of 30 to 50 seconds. It's worth noting that women tend to perform better in grip strength tests. However, it's important to keep in mind that these tests may not be suitable for individuals who are overweight.

Moving on to upper body strength, the max bench press is a common test. The goal is to determine the maximum weight you can lift for one repetition. Similarly, for lower body strength, the leg extension test can be performed. For a normal individual, the goal is to be able to perform the leg extension with their body weight as the minimum requirement.

Another approach to assess strength is the rep max. This involves choosing a weight that you can comfortably lift for no more than 5 repetitions. Enter the number of reps and weight lifted into a rep max calculator to estimate your one-rep max.

Additionally, the front or goblet squat hold test can determine core and lower back strength. Holding approximately half of your body weight for 45 seconds is considered challenging and more accurate. As an introduction to the test, you can aim to hold one-third of your body weight for 30 seconds. It's important to perform these tests after a proper warm-up protocol to ensure safe and accurate results. The fifth adaptation we'll discuss is muscular hypertrophy, which refers to an increase in muscle size. It's important to note that the desired level of hypertrophy can vary for each individual, depending on their specific goals and genetic factors. However, there are general standards that can be used as a reference. One way to assess muscular hypertrophy is through body composition scans, such as DEXA or bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), which provide measurements of body fat mass and fat-free mass. One indicator commonly used is the Fat-Free Mass Index (FFMI), which takes into account your fat-free mass in relation to your height. While FFMI can be a useful tool to track muscular hypertrophy, it may not be as accurate for individuals who are obese. Keep in mind that hypertrophy is a gradual process that requires consistent resistance training and proper nutrition to stimulate muscle growth.

The sixth adaptation we'll explore is muscular endurance, which refers to the ability of muscles to sustain repeated contractions over an extended period. There are several tests you can perform to assess muscular endurance. One common test is the standard plank, where you aim to hold a front plank for more than 60 seconds and a side plank for more than 45 seconds. Another test is the full-range push-up test, where you aim to perform a minimum of 10-25 push-ups without any rest or pause. The ideal numbers for push-ups vary, but it's generally recommended to aim for more than 25 push-ups for men and more than 15 for women. If you struggle to perform even one push-up, it may be an indication of a strength issue rather than a muscular endurance problem. Another way to effectively measure muscle endurance, you can try a useful trick: perform the same exercise you used in the strength test but load it to approximately 75% of your maximum capacity and see how many repetitions you can complete. This method provides a more accurate assessment of your muscle endurance capabilities. Remember, building muscle endurance requires consistent training and gradually increasing the intensity and duration of your exercises. The seventh adaptation we'll explore is anaerobic capacity, which refers to the body's ability to perform high-intensity, explosive movements or activities that rely on anaerobic energy systems. While the most accurate way to test anaerobic capacity is through a laboratory setting with specialized equipment, there are alternative methods you can use. One option is performing maximal effort sprints, such as sprinting, using an air bike, or rowing, where you exert maximal effort for a short duration. These exercises allow you to push yourself to the limit without having to worry about specific techniques like kettlebell swings. Another test you can try is the Bosco protocol, which involves performing as many vertical jumps as you can in 60 seconds, focusing on speed and explosiveness. By the 45-second mark, you will likely feel significant fatigue. When assessing anaerobic capacity, the goal is to approach your maximum heart rate and observe how you feel during and after the activity. Measuring heart rate recovery is a valuable metric, where you aim to have a significant decrease in beats per minute after a set time, such as 30 beats per minute less than your maximum heart rate after 1 minute or 60 beats per minute less after 2 minutes. These indicators provide insights into your anaerobic capacity and how well your body recovers from high-intensity efforts.

The eighth adaptation we'll discuss is aerobic capacity, which relates to the body's ability to efficiently use oxygen during prolonged exercise. The most accurate way to assess aerobic capacity is through laboratory testing, such as measuring maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max). However, if you don't have access to a lab, there are alternative tests you can perform. One option is the 12-minute Cooper test, where you aim to cover as much distance as possible by running or jogging for 12 minutes. Another option is the one-mile walk test, where you record the time it takes you to walk one mile and measure your heart rate during the test. By entering these values into a VO2 max calculator, you can estimate your aerobic capacity. While these methods may not provide the same level of accuracy as lab testing, they can still give you a general idea of your aerobic fitness level. Improving your aerobic capacity can have numerous health benefits, including better endurance, increased cardiovascular efficiency, and improved overall fitness.

The ninth adaptation we'll discuss is steady-state or endurance exercise, also known as cardio. This type of exercise involves maintaining a continuous, moderate-intensity effort for a prolonged duration, typically for a minimum of 20 minutes and preferably over 30 minutes. The goal is to sustain the activity without stopping or taking breaks. During steady-state exercise, it is beneficial to focus on nasal breathing, meaning breathing through the nose rather than the mouth. Nasal breathing helps to optimize oxygen uptake and carbon dioxide removal, enhancing endurance and improving respiratory efficiency. It's important to note that walking alone may not be considered a sufficient form of steady-state exercise unless you are starting from a low fitness level. To maximize the benefits of steady-state exercise, gradually increase the duration and intensity over time, challenging yourself to improve your cardiovascular endurance and stamina. Regular participation in steady-state cardio activities can enhance your heart and lung function, improve aerobic capacity, and contribute to overall cardiovascular health.

The tenth adaptation we'll discuss is the mobility and range of motion test, there are several safe and effective tests you can perform. These tests will help you identify any areas that may require improvement. Here are some examples:

  1. Neck Rotation Test: Sit or stand with your head facing forward. Slowly rotate your head to the right and left, aiming to see how far you can comfortably turn your head in each direction without any pain or discomfort. This test evaluates neck mobility and flexibility.

  2. Shoulder Reach Test: Stand with your arms hanging by your sides. Reach one arm across your chest and try to touch the opposite shoulder blade with your fingertips. Repeat with the other arm. This test assesses shoulder flexibility and mobility.

  3. Spinal Flexion Test: Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Slowly bend forward, reaching your hands toward your toes. Measure the distance between your fingertips and your toes. This test evaluates the flexibility of your spine and hamstrings.

  4. Hip Rotation Test: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Let your knees fall to one side, trying to touch the floor with them while keeping your shoulders on the ground. Repeat on the other side. This test assesses hip mobility and flexibility.

  5. Standing Forward Bend Test: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Slowly bend forward from the hips, aiming to touch your fingertips to the floor while keeping your legs straight. Measure the distance between your fingertips and the floor. This test evaluates hamstring and lower back flexibility.

  6. Ankle Mobility Test: Stand facing a wall with one foot placed slightly behind the other. Keeping your back heel on the ground, bend your front knee and try to touch the wall with your knee while maintaining contact between your heel and the ground. This test assesses ankle mobility.

Remember to perform these tests within a comfortable range of motion, and if you experience any pain or discomfort, stop immediately. To ensure accurate and consistent results, it's recommended to conduct a series of tests over the course of three days to a week, preferably done annually. The sequence of tests can be strategically planned to minimize the impact of fatigue on the results. Starting with a body composition assessment is ideal as it doesn't require physical exertion that could influence subsequent tests. Next, focus on skill and technique tests to evaluate movement patterns and form.

Following the skill tests, it's beneficial to perform power tests in the morning, such as the broad jump and vertical jump, as they require explosive strength. In the evening, shift the focus to lower body strength tests like leg extension or muscle endurance tests like the squat hold or plank.

On a separate day, dedicate time to anaerobic capacity testing, which can be performed after a longer duration test to serve as a warm-up. This can involve sprinting, rowing, or any activity that allows you to exert maximal effort. The goal is to determine your maximum heart rate and assess how your body recovers post-exercise.

Reserve another day for testing aerobic capacity, such as the VO2 max test. This test is typically performed in a laboratory setting, but alternatives like the 12-minute Cooper test or one-mile walk test can provide an estimation of lab access is limited.

Throughout the testing period, don't forget to incorporate a range of motion (ROM) and mobility assessments. These can be done on separate days or integrated into the testing sequence. Assessing joint mobility, flexibility, and functional movements will provide valuable insights into overall physical capabilities.

By following this comprehensive testing plan, you can gather a holistic understanding of your fitness level, identify areas for improvement, and track progress over time. Remember to prioritize safety, maintain proper form during testing, and consult with a fitness professional or healthcare provider for guidance and interpretation of the results. In this article, we explored the tests associated with various fitness adaptations, including skill, speed, power, strength, hypertrophy, muscular endurance, anaerobic capacity, aerobic capacity, steady-state exercise, and mobility. By performing these tests and analyzing the results, you can gain a comprehensive understanding of your fitness level and identify areas for improvement. In the next article, we will focus specifically on hypertrophy and discuss the differences between hypertrophy and the adaptations we've covered so far: strength, power, and speed. Understanding these distinctions will allow you to tailor your training even further and achieve your specific fitness goals. Stay tuned for our next installment!

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