The Importance of Testing – A Guide for Athletes and Coaches
We’ve all had days where we turn up to the gym and tell ourselves “I’ve had a bit of a rough day, I might just take it easy and not push myself too hard”. It’s a natural part of life to think like that at times, but there are effective methods to pull yourself out of that mindset, and identifying and applying those methods to your training regime is the difference between getting results and being stuck in the same repetitive routine with no outcome.
Enter ‘Testing Cycles’.
Regularly testing yourself and recording your results is one of the aforementioned methods to help you achieve consistency and results with your training.
Essentially, a testing cycle is time specifically set aside for you to test yourself across a broad spectrum of exercises determined by your trainer or coach (or yourself if you are a solo trainer). Hopefully you’re training routine so far has consisted of a well balanced mix of aerobic (endurance), anaerobic (strength), gymnastics/ skills development and mobility exercises. If not, now is the perfect time to start implementing this balanced routine.
In setting this testing time aside to assess yourself across the board, you are holding yourself accountable for performing at the level that you are capable of each and every session. A simple example – If you know that you can run 1 mile in 6 minutes, then you know the pace you should be aiming to hold each time you run that mile in training, depending on the purpose of the session.
The benefits of testing yourself at regular intervals throughout the year are endless, but I’ll be briefly touching on some of the major ones and explaining how and why they have such a big impact on your physical and mental growth.
If you are new to regular exercise and have never experienced a testing style environment, this would be a great chance to see where you’re at overall and to set some specific goals to aim for before the next testing period, say in 6 months time for this particular example. You may figure out that you can perform a heavy squat, but you struggle to perform upper body movements like the Shoulder Press effectively. In this case, you would focus on spending more time improving your upper body strength whilst maintaining your squat strength.
If you have experienced a testing cycle before, then you will have recorded your previous results and hopefully adjusted your training to focus on strengthening your weaknesses. This new testing period is a chance to reap the rewards from the hard work you’ve been putting in by improving on your last testing numbers. These new and improved testing scores now become your reference for the next phase of your training.
It is important to note at this point that if you don’t achieve certain goals or improve on your testing results, it’s not the end of the world!
While it is definitely possible and a great achievement, it is quite difficult to improve yourself in every facet of training, every time you test. We still have to live our lives in a healthy manner, balancing work, friends, family, exercise etc. So if some of your scores feel like a bit of a kick in the guts, use that feeling as motivation to reset your goals, refocus your mindset, program your training accordingly and work hard until you get another chance to make up for it.
Any individuals results can be a strong reflection of the environment they are subjected to whilst training. In todays society, the popularity of group training is enormous and still growing. Group classes are easily accessible and much lighter on the pocket than one on one personal training sessions.
When it comes to group training, testing time ignites a bright spark of competition in most athletes which can produce some amazing results. Seeing others pushing themselves to their limits is a big motivational tool and can be the difference between lifting a few extra kilos or shaving off a few seconds from a previous time. A healthy training environment would consist of athletes competing against one another whilst supporting each other at the same time, wishing for the best outcome for every athlete.
Another great example of why testing is such a crucial element of training is for those clients with a one-off life or career goal such as passing a physical exam to enter the Army or Police Force.
Whether the client has years of training experience or none at all, the first thing you would need to do would be to assess where they are at physically and mentally, what they can and can’t do, strengths and weaknesses etc. Once you have this information, you can program an effective training plan for them to be where they need to be by the time the exam comes around, be it 6 weeks or 1 year away. Without testing them across a broad range of exercises and skills you would essentially be programming blindly, with every chance of skimming over a vital aspect of their training that may cause them to miss out on passing the exam.
The last point I’d like to touch on is the healthy change in routine that a testing period can bring with it.
In a perfect world, exercise programs would be enjoyable, motivating and interesting 100% of the time. Unfortunately this is not the case, in order to grow as an athlete, physically, mentally and emotionally we need to do the things we don’t enjoy, the things we aren’t good at and sometimes the things that bore us to death. So with this in mind, its only natural that however good or bad your training program may be, it may start to feel stale at some point and cause you to lose motivation or interest. Testing cycles at regular intervals throughout the year break up routines and inject a fresh burst of energy into athletes and coaches alike. You can use this break up in your regular training to wipe the slate clean and begin again from scratch, or simply enjoy the change and return back to the same training schedule revitalised and refreshed.
We choose to implement two testing periods annually at Mind Body Athletic, one during the month of May and the other toward the end of the year, during November.
Programming 2 testing cycles per year allows members to set specific goals for each area of their training, work towards them, test where they are at and then re-evaluate for the next training phase. Goals will change with each phase as priorities shift and previous goals are achieved. This ever-evolving nature of exercise and goal setting is one of the most fulfilling things about training & developing and a major contributor to living an all-round healthy lifestyle.
Whether you are a competitor by nature, motivated to keep up with others pushing themselves just as hard, or whether you prefer to block it all out, listen to music and keep to yourself in the gym, there is no question that testing and holding yourself accountable for your performances is an invaluable tool in the world of training.
Find a method that works best for you, tailor it to perfection and exceed your own expectations.
Nathan Wagstaff – Coach at Mind Body Athletic