Sport-specific test protocols.

I have previously explained how to identify your sports physical profile in my post Customize your workouts. Elite performance depends on a combination of several abilities.
In this post, I will explain how to apply sport-specific test protocols to your workouts. A reliable sport-specific test protocols enables you to identify strengths and weaknesses. As an illustration, if you are strong enough to do one chin-up with 50 kg weights. Then it seems like your maximum strength is not the reason why you can´t do 1:50,0 on 200 freestyle. Therefore, improving your maximal strength might not be the best use of your time. This is important! Because I have met and competed against too many athletes who made this mistake. Some of my competitors were strong enough that they could have competed in powerlifting. Nevertheless, they still came in after me. However, I´m sure they had the potential to outperform me. By applying sport-specific test protocols to identify which performance-enhancing ability to target. They would have been able to raise their performance to another level.
For this reason, I strongly advise you to evaluate which abilities to target. Use the information presented in this post to apply a sport-specific test protocols to your workout. Thus, identifying abilities that will contribute to your performance. And most importantly, let your workouts target these abilities accordingly.

How to make your sport-specific test protocols reliable.

The purpose of sport-specific test protocols is to retrieve information about your fitness development. For this reason, you need to be able to compare the results. In other words, the conditions around your tests should be as similar as possible for each time. Therefore, it is helpful to apply a proper sport-specific test protocol to your workout. This list shows circumstances that might affect your test results. Hence, measures for these circumstances should be included when creating your sport-specific test protocols:

1. Fatigue.

How fatigue affects the results?

Your energy level after a hard day or week will affect your test performance. Jan Olbrech illustrates this masterly in his book “The science of winning“, where he presents a useful chart over recovering time in connection to different workout intensities [1, p 5]. In short, you need to ensure an appropriate rest period before testing.

What can you do about it?

Try to schedule test days when you are fully recovered and ready


How nutrition affects the results?

Your aerobic endurance reduces after a fluid loss of 3-4% of your body weight [2], [3, p 91]. However, it takes more fluid loss to reduce performance in anaerobic exercises. Something that has also been observed with muscle glycogen reduction. “It is now well established that with prolonged continuous exercise, time to fatigue at a moderate submaximal exercise intensity is related to pre-exercise muscle glycogen concentration. (Bergstrøm et al. 1967). With high-intensity exercise, the relation between the availability of muscle glycogen and performance is less clear.” [4]
In other words, without food and water, your performance rate will fall in the long run. However, the effect on short intensity performance is less clear.
Also “There is growing evidence that nutritional factors such as macro- and micronutrients, fruits and vegetables, dietary patterns, and supplements are implicated in the mood.” [8] In other words, if you want to be in good mood for your test. Then eat your vegetables.

What can you do about it?

Apply a standard nutrition plan for test days. Clinical tests usually demand that subjects don´t eat for three to four-hour before testing. However, this might not be practical for your sport-specific test protocol. All things considered, the nutrition seems to have less effect on anaerobic tests, but might make a difference on longer aerobic tests. Also, knowing how nutrition might impact your mood [8]. Many would prefer a healthy diet on test days.
Nevertheless, it is advisable to create a standard nutrition plan. Thus, ensuring that you have a similar energy supply each time.


How sleep affects the results?

“The physiological and psychological stressors associated with sustained work, fatigue, and sleep loss affect worker performance.” [6] Hence, it might be a good idea to priorities a good night’s sleep before the test day.
What can you do about it?
“Here are a few tips to improve your sleep. 
  1. Set a schedule—go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. 
  2. Exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day but no later than a few hours before going to bed. 
  3. Avoid caffeine and nicotine late in the day and alcoholic drinks before bed. 
  4. Relax before bed—try a warm bath, reading, or another relaxing routine.
  5. Create a room for sleep—avoid bright lights and loud sounds, keep the room at a comfortable temperature, and don’t watch TV or have a computer in your bedroom. 
  6. Don’t lie in bed awake. If you can’t get to sleep, do something else, like reading or listening to music, until you feel tired. 
  7. See a doctor if you have a problem sleeping or if you feel unusually tired during the day.
Most sleep disorders can be treated effectively. [7, p 8]”

Accurate measurement methods.

How do the measurement methods affect the results?

The higher speed you are operating with, the more crucial it is to use accurate measurements method. For example, a manual stopwatch might have a margin of error of approximately 0,2 sec. For a 100 m sprinter like Usain Bolt, who is moving at 9 m/s, this will add up to 1,8 meters. In this case, more accurate measurement methods are required. Thus, giving you a better foundation for comparing test results.

What can you do about it?

You should evaluate how accurate your test results need to be. For example, I frequently do test days with my swimmers. Although video analyzes will give me more accurate results. A 0,2-sec margin of error will not affect the test results to strongly. However, video analysis for 15 swimmers will take a considerable amount of time. A time that would have been better spent on workouts. Subsequently, a regular stopwatch is accurate enough. For this reason, I advise you to choose measurement methods that are accurate enough for your sports. And practical enough to be utilized with efficiency.

Use a standard test environment.

How does a standard test environment affect the results?

As an illustration, if you run a 3 km test with no wind. Consider how the results might differ if you perform the retest in wintertime with wind and slippery ground.

What can you do about it?

Use test sites where you can control as much of the environment as possible. For example, an inside running track takes away how wind and weather might affect the results. If this is not possible, then you should make sure to note any circumstances that might have affected the test result.

How to make your sport-specific test protocols valid in relation to your sport.

Make sure that the test measures abilities that are relevant to your sports improvement. Firstly, it´s useful to determine which abilities will improve your performance the most. For sports like 100 m sprint and 200-meter freestyle, I would recommend performing a race analysis.
By dividing your race into several segments and measure them. You will be able to determine which segments you need to improve. For example, a 100 m sprinter realizes that his top speed is approximately the same as his competitors. However, his starting and acceleration speed is weaker. Hence, he will benefit from abilities that help him improve starting and acceleration speed. You may use the sports analysis explained in the post “Customize your workout” to target the right abilities.
The 100 m sprinter that realized that his starting speed needs improvements. He might decide to target maximum strength in his workout. In the meanwhile, a 200-meter freestyle swimmer that realizes she is losing speed the last 100 meters. She might decide that she needs a sport-specific test protocol to test her power endurance. And by doing that, she might discover how to target her training sections accordingly.
For open sports like soccer, basketball, and so on, it might be harder to configure a race analysis. The same goes for longer sports like cross-country skiing, marathon, or triathlon. Here I recommend that you evaluate your competition performance together with a coach and support team. Your subjective evaluation will give several pointers for which skills you might benefit from improving. When you have identified those skills, then evaluate which abilities that will improve them. Then apply a sport-specific test protocol and customize your workout to targets those abilities.
In other words, before deciding what kind of test you need for your sport. Analyze which ability you will benefit from improving.

Does your test measure the right ability?

A common mistake is made when the chosen test does not accurately measure the chosen ability. For example, a cross-country skier wants to get stronger in the uphill segments of his race. As testing for maximum strength, he chooses 1 RM bench press. The bench press is a wonderful test for the maximum strength of the pectoralis and triceps. However, the correlation between a strong benchpress and a paddling stroke in cross-country skiing is uncertain. The correlation between chin-ups and paddling strokes in cross-country skiing might be better.

To summarize

    •  Apply a sport-specific test protocol for your workout that can be repeated.
  •  Minimize the margin of error by choosing controllable parameters and accurate measurement methods. 
  •  Target your testing towards skills and abilities that are relevant to your sports performance. 
  •  Use testing methods that are specific enough to your sports physical profile. Furthermore, do not let one test result determine your whole workout plan. Use the test results to document trends in your physical development. The average results from multiple tests will reveal your physical development. Use this information to customize your workout plan.
In my next post, I will give concrete explanations for how to create   and test protocols. Hence, giving you tools to optimize your workout plan.


[1] Olbrecht, J., 2007 “The Science of Winning” F & G partners.


[2] Michael N, Sawka, Louise M, Burke, FACSM, E. Randy Eivhner, Ronald J, Maughan, Scott J, Montain, Niana S, Stachenfeld. 2007 “Exercise and fluid replacement” American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and Fluid Replacement, 2007

[3] Garthe. I, Helle. C., 2011 “Idrettsernæring» Gyldendal undervisning.

[4] P. D Balsom, G. C. Gaitanos, K. Søderlund and B. Ekblom., 1999 “High-intensity exercise and muscle glycogen availability in humans” Department of Physiology and Pharmalogy, Karolinska Institute and University College of Physical Education ans Sports, Stockholm, Sweden.

[5] Drust. B, Edwards. B. J, Waterhouse. J, Reilly. T, 2005 “Circadian in sports performance-an Update” Chronobiolog International

[6] Kreueger. G. P., 1989 “Sustained work, fatigue, sleep loss and performance: a review of the issues” US Army Acromedical Research Laboratory.

[7] “Understanding sleep”.

[8] Maria A. Polak, Aimee C. Richardson, Jayde A. Flett, Kate L. Brookie, and Tamlin S. Conner., 2015 “Measuring Mood: Considerations and Innovations for Nutrition Science” University of Otago, Department of Psychology

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