Fitness Testing: Four simple ways to keep a check on your overall fitness levels
Four simple ways to keep a check on your overall fitness. Whether you are a ball player, a cricketer, an endurance runner, a triathlete or a serious practitioner of some other sport, it is important for you to improve your fitness steadily over the course of your training year or competitive season, because fitness upgrades should improve your ability to perform well in your sport. Trouble can come, however, when you try to assess your current state of fitness. Competitions can be poor arenas for fitness assessment because of variations in environmental conditions, playing surfaces and the quality of opponents. It makes sense to carry out standardised tests of your fitness which, when repeated later, can give you a valid estimate of your progress. Such tests can be invaluable: if you find your fitness is not improving, you can make key adjustments to your training to enhance your speed and/or endurance in time for the most important competition of the year. On the other hand, if your fitness is improving progressively you gain confidence from knowing that you are on the right track with your training. To help you with this process, I have formulated some standard fitness tests which work well for a variety of different sports, but you should bear in mind that it is extremely important to carry them out under relatively uniform conditions. You would not want to perform the six-minute run (our first test), for example, on a cool, dry day which is perfect for running and then repeat it six weeks later when the weather has turned hot and humid. Similarly, you would not want to compare the results of a test carried out when you were feeling tired and overtrained with those of a test performed on a day when you felt great. At least one day of rest or very easy training should precede each fitness test, and you should always feel fresh and ready to perform at a high level on a fitness-testing day.
Here are four simple ways to assess your fitness:
1. The six-minute test
Warm up thoroughly, run as far as you can in six minutes, then carefully measure the exact distance you have covered in the allotted time (this test works well on a track). If you are doing the right things in your training, the distance covered in six minutes should steadily advance over the course of your season. The average speed you employ in this test will be very close to your vVO2max – your running velocity at your maximal aerobic capacity – which is known to be one of the very best predictors of endurance performance. Not an endurance athlete? vVO2max will still predict your fatigue-resistance on the football pitch pitch, cricket pitch or basketball court, so it is a worthwhile variable to monitor for a variety of athletes. Non-runners can use the test, too: cyclists can cycle as far as they can in six minutes, swimmers can go all-out for six, rowers can heave-ho on the oars for six minutes, and so on; for each sport, the six-minute test will provide a good estimate of vVO2max. Incidentally, if you find that your vVO2max is not improving over the course of your season, one of the best ways to enhance it is to complete three-minute intervals at your current vVO2max (the one you established in your most-recent six-minute test).
2. The hopping test
Most athletes who run in their sports don’t realise that one of their legs is almost always stronger than the other, in the sense that it produces a longer stride than the other and is more injury-resistant. Fortunately, this can be corrected fairly easily, with pleasing results: as the weaker leg comes up to par with the stronger, you should become faster and less injury-prone. First, though, you must identify the weaker leg, and our hopping test is great for this purpose. Simply find a hill with an inclination of about 4-6% and a length from bottom to top of at least 40 metres. Starting from the bottom (after a thorough warm-up) begin hopping up the hill very quickly on one foot only. Take 100 hops – or, failing that, as many as you can manage, and mark your progress; jog down to the bottom of the hill, then when you feel sufficiently rested, repeat the exercise on the other foot (with the same number of hops as the first leg if you didn’t make it to 100), again marking your progress. Anecdotally, over 90% of athletes find a consistently significant difference in the distances covered by their legs, a finding which should not be considered depressing since it actually represents good news: performances can be improved simply by shoring up the poorly-performing limb. To do so, complete the hopping test a couple of times a week, performing extra reps on the ‘bad’ leg. Cyclists can perform a similar test on a cycle ergometer by cycling as fast as possible for one minute, using one leg at a time; the poorer-performing leg can then be put through extra one-leg exertions.
3. The gut check
Proper strength in the ‘core’ of the body – or, more specifically, the abdominal and low-back areas – is incredibly important in almost every sport, because core strength maintains stability of the upper body during movement. If core strength is poor, the torso tends to move unnecessarily during motion, wasting energy; if core strength is good, an athlete can move with high efficiency. You can test your core strength as follows:
- Assume the prone ‘Chinese-push-up’ position, with full body weight supported only by your forearms and toes. Your body should be absolutely linear as you do this and your pelvis tucked (for proper tucking, tighten your butt muscles so that the bottom of your pelvic girdle moves forward or – in this case – towards the ground);
- Hold the basic position (weight on forearms and toes) for 60 seconds, then lift your right arm off the ground for 15 seconds, supporting your full body weight on your left arm and the toes of both feet (keeping your body linear and your pelvis tucked);
- Return your right arm to the ground and raise your left arm for 15 seconds, again keeping your body in the proper alignment;
- Return your left arm to the ground and raise your right leg for 15 seconds, then return it to the ground and repeat on the other leg;
- Finally, elevate your right arm and left leg simultaneously for 15 seconds, then your left arm and right leg simultaneously for 15 seconds more (don’t try lifting both legs or both arms at the same time!);
- Return to the basic position, and hold for 30 seconds to finish your core test.
If you don’t pass, work on the routine four or five times a week until you do – and then monitor yourself on a regular basis. Once you can gut-check with aplomb, you will notice something very nice: your movements will be much more coordinated and stable, and you should be able to run faster.
4. The flying 50
Speed is important in nearly every sport, and this test is all about speed. It’s also a very simple check-up: all you need to do is warm up properly and then – after a running start of about 20 metres – cover 50m as fast as you possibly can (it will be helpful to have a friend or training partner time you with a stop watch). Over the course of your season, your 50m time should gradually improve. If it doesn’t, you will need to add high-speed running drills to your overall programme, along with running-specific strengthening routines and plyometrics.
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