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Better Benchmarks

We preach a lot about abandoning superficial numerical goals however, the idea of training for a specific number or benchmark is not entirely bad.  In fact, on it’s own, it can be highly motivating.  It’s when the training becomes so blatantly skewed in a way that the main emphasis becomes the benchmark, rather than performance, that we see fault.  Many people liken this to standardized testing seen in public schools or even testing at the NFL combine.  The exception to this, of course, being if the actual benchmark movement IS your performance sport.

We are competitive by nature and we have a need to measure athletes against each other for assessment purposes. When someone lifts more, jumps higher, or throws farther, it is quantifiable.  You can compare one athlete to another within these set movements to see who can perform them the best.  The problem is that this doesn’t give very much room for the idea of application.  In this industry, we continue to struggle conveying and quantifying athleticism.10599645_355934337921593_2422915148507113339_n

You wouldn’t want to shape an entire program around seemingly arbitrary benchmarks.  The reason being that they will only represent one aspect of performance, a mere indication of what an individual is capable of.  Pick certain benchmarks for a reason and know without a shadow of a doubt why you're using them. If some are meant to encourage competition, that's fine, but the real emphasis should be on the individual athlete. Benchmarks can impart a sense of achievement and progress that can be directly attributed to the individual, rather than team.

An argument for numbers: Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we like the idea of moving more weight than last time, or than the person next to us.  Creating and achieving benchmarks can be fun and have practical application when implemented intelligently. Getting results has always been our goal as a coaches and finding tools that get the job done optimally is part of that goal.

Here are a few Power Athlete benchmarks that you can confidently place on your leaderboard.  By no means is this a fully comprehensive list of testing exercises, but it sure as shit is a great start.


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A strength and conditioning coach since 2009, Cali has worked with numerous athletes spanning from rugby players to cross country skiers.Almost immediately after finding CrossFit in 2010, she was introduced to a program that better suited her athletic goals.With her existing background in powerlifting and football, she became a natural devotee to CFFB/PowerAthlete and testament to it's effectiveness.In 2012, she left D.C. and headed for the state named after her to be a part of the CrossFit Football Seminar Staff and a Jedi of Power Athlete HQ. Cali currently resides in Seattle where she works full time in law enforcement.

Posted in Blog, Programming, Strength | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

22 Responses to Better Benchmarks

  1. @cali your articles are awesome! keep it up, please.

  2. Great article Cali, we have implemented using the LATT as a standard test every cycle at Furnace, with a lot of success.

  3. Once again, great information. Couldn’t come at a better time. I literally just finished writing my benchmark testing for our upcoming 6 week strength performance camp at my gym.

    We’re running the broad jump, vertical jump, 5-10-5, illinois agility test, timed sprints w/ distances at 20 meters, and 40 meters and we are using a version of the english rugby clubs conditioning test. Decided to throw in the 10yd sled push as well. @cali do you think a test of strength is necessary with these potentially untrained athletes? Ill be working with kids from the ages of 13-18 very few of them will have had any good instruction or coaching. The plan was to measure explosiveness, power, speed, and agility, and then retest at the end of the 6 weeks to give the kids, parents and ourselves some feedback on the program.

    As far as measuring strength, we will be tracking their daily progress in an effort to show an increase in strength over the course of the 6 weeks, but I was avoiding any actual testing because the kids will be so new to this and will have had very little if any time under the bar. We plan on spending a decent amount of time under the bar and if nothing else I am hoping to simply create competency in the squat, deadlift, power clean, Horizontal and vertical press.

    Id love to have your input since you are the experts. Should we test for strength or do you think our other benchmarks and weekly tracking of strength increases is sufficient?

    • I don’t think that an untrained teen needs to test RM’s. It’s a blanket statement as some 15 year olds have serious facial hair and tinder accounts, but ultimately, I think it will be too dicey. The sled push will indicate power/increased CNS efficiency with added resistance.

      You’re on the right track. Just LP the shit out of them and have that be your standard for progress. Sets and reps, baby. Sets and reps.

  4. Also, Would you follow a specific format, like Muscular power, Muscular strength, Muscular endurance, anaerobic power, aerobic performance? Do you have a better approach than that?

    • It’d be good to have a “test” for each of the performance biomarkers which is basically how I categorized these benchmarks. If you are asking if there should be a hierarchy…yes. With the age group you are working with – even though you are not testing strength RM’s – the daily LP is the benchmark. Nothing should inhibit their ability to get strong because of the finite window of the Novice Effect. THEN, after they have tapped out – start to bias training towards what performance mechanism will be most utilized in their sport. If it’s a field sport, it will be power/speed. Remember – as far as aerobic capacity goes, you just need to be in good enough shape to play your sport and survive the training. Hope this helped!

  5. @cali great article.

    What are your thoughts about flexibility benchmarks?
    My last school use the seated hamstring reach as a flexibility benchmark.

    • Squatting, Deadlifting, and Power Cleaning is nothing but stretching with weight. I think doing a V-Sit as a test is bullshit because it’s not training you to do anything outside of just stretch. All of the other performance benchmarks I listed are athletic feats.

      I would suggest doing Deadbug hold test, which is not just determining hamstring flexibility but is also incorporating an active aspect to training – i.e. maintaining a stable trunk while doing so. The bench mark may look like: Max Deadbug until deviation from perfect home position (or until knees bend, or lower back comes off ground, etc – depending on what level they are starting from). Once they can achieve this for 3 min, add a band around the ankles/arms. Make sense?

  6. JZ

    @cali I am curious, what would be your ideal view on tests to use in pe class? (not all pe programs have a budget, mine being one of them)

    • This is a tough one. I’m not sure what kind of curriculum liberties you have to work with but I’d imagine barbell movements are out.
      An easy and good 5 to work with would be:
      1. Power, lower – Broad Jump for distance
      2. Strength – DB Farmer carry for distance. Boys: 50# / Girls: 30# — or whatever.
      3. Speed – 200m Sprint
      4. Power, upper – Med Ball kneeling chest pass for distance. I’d use a light slam ball here. Boys: 40# / Girls: 20#
      5. Endurance – Treading water with a brick over head. Just kidding. Max rep burpees in 90 seconds. Have them hop up with feet between a set box so as to require good position. Teach them the importance of movement integrity.
      ** Bonus – agility or overall athleticism. Make up a set obstacle course of 3 events. I used to do this with some kids.

      “Superkid Olympics” or some shit:
      Flip small car tire x 10
      Pull a light sled with rope attachment (sitting in tire, pull with upper body only)
      Once the sled hits the tire, Push it back down (sprint)
      Record time. Takes about 90 seconds.

      Hope this was helpful!

  7. Top pic is a blatant use of sexy images to grab views. No, not the shirtless guy. The dude next to him in the yellow shorts, mostly obscured by said shirtless guy.

    You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

  8. @ingob I have no clue who that AWESOME shirtless guy might be but you are clearly the starring role on that picture!! BTW, great post @cali

  9. @cali could you explain a little more in depth on why you would rather test a 2RM weighted pull-up vs a 1RM? Awesome article.

    • The reason I chose the 2RM is because I want to see if the athlete can maintain perfect posture and position in addition to assessing their upper body strength.

      Getting someone to perform a 1RM anything is going to tempt them to deviate from perfection. It’s the nature of the “whatever it takes” beast. Really, any RM especially in a movement like a pullup, is going to be highly taxing and highly tempting to break form. This upper body pull can be dicey because of the smaller musculature and connective tissue in/around the shoulder girdle – making this slightly greater risk than say a hip dominant RM. By nature of doing a 2RM over a 1RM you have dropped the weight and inadvertently given the athlete an opportunity to display the movement with better integrity (however minimal) AND achieved a strength benchmark.

  10. @cali Thanks for dropping some knowledge. Makes a lot of sense.

  11. @cali thanks for the responses. Much appreciated.

    “Squatting, Deadlifting, and Power Cleaning is nothing but stretching with weight” should be a t-shirt, or at least one of those neat little powerathlete memes you guys post on Instagram.

  12. Great article, just curious are there plans or maybe already a way to track and trend these in Train Heroic, that maybe I missed?

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