Assessing athletic development can be done in an assortment of ways. Typically, such assessment is done by testing maximal strength in a movement, dynamic strength in a movement, and possibly some other type of “sport specific” movement. There is nothing wrong with this type of testing, but it can leave the coach asking some questions.
One of the issues with this style of testing is that it may not give enough “insight” to the development of the athlete. Every movement has many variables that influence its performance and it is hard to discern whether or not those variables are influencing the outcomes of the tests. Typically, such variables arise most often in a “dynamic” style of testing.
It is important to understand why testing is done. Testing is done to help guide a training program, which means the more accurate the testing is, the better of an idea the coach will have at pinpointing areas of improvement. Granted, any form of barbell/weight room testing is relatively non-specific, it can still provide insights into possible “general” physiological and neurological qualities that influence performance.
The Complexity of Testing
Before assessing any quality, you need to actually know what the test you are using is assessing. For example, on might initially think that testing a traditional vertical jump (one that is seen in a football combine), would be testing raw lower extremity power. However there are several layers and possible influencing variables to this test. Firstly, the force vectors play an important role because they will tell you what muscles are predominantly being testing. For example, your hamstrings might not play a large role in vertical jumping, so the general statement of “lower extremity power” is misleading. Instead, this movement is much more quad dominant (knee extension).
How the movement is done can also change what you are looking at. For example, performing a counter movement jump with arms is considered to be much more “skill” based than without arms. This is because using arms can actually aid in the jumping process and someone who is very skilled with their arm movement and timing of their arm movement will actually cloud the influence of the lower body muscles. So, now that we have removed the arms, we still have other physiologically variables influencing the results.
When we perform the jump in one continuous motion we are utilizing the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). However, if we pause the movement, we eliminate the SSC and put greater emphasis on the “contractile” properties of the muscles. Such differences between a pause vertical jump and continuous vertical jump can give some insights into the athletes ability to use the SSC and whether or not more “contractile” elements needs to be emphasized (starting to make the testing process more specific). Again, proceed with caution. Such test are not direct tests, which means we are still somewhat guessing as to what we are actually measuring. One might think that such uncertainty makes this kind of testing useless and from a direct correlation to sports performance it might be. However, the weight room is about improving potential and its hard to deny that improving specific physiological qualities used in sport will not raise the potential of play.
Below are some videos detailing how one can make testing a little more specific. None of these tests will be perfect, but they might help give better insights into the specific needs of an athlete.
Testing Speed Strength and Strength Speed Qualities
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