What is Athletic Fitness Testing and Why is it done?

As sport and exercise professionals we often get asked by parents and athletes why fitness testing is performed and what is it used for? Physical testing has many functions, and is essential for training and developing athletes. We will discuss the reasons to test, as well as some of the common tests implemented in sport development programs. Any comprehensive athlete development program should have initial testing, along with ongoing monitoring to track progress and fine tune the training programs. There are many reasons to perform physical testing including:


Establishing Baselines:

As Maya Angelou famously once said “you don’t know where you are going until you know where you have been”. It is essential to understand the strength and weakness of each individual athlete, along with team trends. These tests objectively tell us where an athlete is in terms of their Functional Movement and Injury prevention Screens, Strength, Power, Speed, Agility, Flexibility, Balance, Aerobic and Anaerobic Fitness. There are normative results for athletes based on their age, as well as within each sport for a specific athlete development phase. There is both general fitness testing and sport specific testing e.g. on-ice testing for skating sports. Often young athletes are taken through general fitness tests first, and over time as they progress through the levels of athletic development, they obtain more sport specific testing. Each sport will have different physical parameters that are important for that sport. By identifying relevant strengths and weaknesses, baseline testing results help provide information for training professionals and coaches to use for helping athletes improve.


Developing Training Programs:

Once the baseline testing is established, Coaches and Strength & Conditioning professionals use this data to develop individual and team training programs. The goal is typically to make overall improvement, and exercises and training can be focused to address each athlete’s asymmetries or weaker areas.  This can help with injury prevention as well as improving performance. Smart sport programs often have testing at the beginning of the season (training camp), during the season at least once or twice to monitor progress, and at the end of the season which directs the coach and athlete as to what type of off season training they should focus on. Athletes can also use these test results to monitor their own progress, so ensuring the results are available to them is important. Testing is a key component of a more comprehensive Yearly Training Plan (YTP) that the team coach and support team can follow.


Comparing to Norms:

Research has been conducted for over 50 years on children as they progress in school by age, and it shows results for athletes as they progress in a particular sport.  This research has been conducted all over the world, and there are normative values for almost all sports, often categorized by age as the athlete progresses through development.  Some leagues like the NCAA produce values for each age and sport, as well as the sports conducting their own research on developing, and national team athletes.  The American National Strength and Conditioning Association as well as the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology also produce normative value research.   There are expected levels of performance for entry into professional leagues (combine testing) as well as athlete ID testing. For example, the national RBC Training Ground testing hopes to identify individuals with certain attributes that match a particular sport.  So, testing not only allows athletes to “see where they are” but it also helps them see “where they need to be”.


Re-Evaluating and Assessing Goals:

A successful athlete development program requires testing to monitor progress.  This testing also provides the ability for strength and conditioning and technical coaches to sit down with the athletes to discuss their progress, set new goals and re-evaluate what is being done to specifically achieve said goals. It also gives the athlete incentive to want to concentrate on their personal areas of weakness and to recognize and celebrate their improvements.  In other cases, it can lead to discussions with the athlete pertaining to accountability, especially when little to no improvement has been made when training on their own.  There might not be any change to the programming or plan needed, although often some fine tuning is beneficial as this can maximize results.


If you have any further questions about athlete testing you can contact the Sport PEI Athlete Health and Performance Program at sportpeiahp@gmail.com