| | Better Benchmarks

Author / John

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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Power, Explosiveness:

Broad Jump – Power, Horizontal displacement
The broad jump is a great testing tool because is requires very little instruction.  Nearly anyone can perform it with some practice and is a good reflection of power output.

Vertical Jump – Power, Vertical displacement
Although the vertical jump is more technical and can even be considered a skill, it is still a really valuable tool to determine if an athlete can create maximal force on the ground.  Additionally, you can see a lot happening with the lower extremities that could be hindering an athlete’s ability to jump high and land safely.

Timed 10yd Sled Push @2x BW – Explosiveness/Speed
Putting some resistance into the mix, we can observe one’s ability to to be powerful against an external object.  As strength and mechanics improve in other exercises, you will see this one progress similarly.


Agility, General Athleticism:

Triple Broad Jump – Horizontal displacement
This one is going to require a bit more instruction and practice.  The act of picking up the triple jump quickly will prove a level of athleticism.  Beyond that, you can observe the ability to use maximal force in a unilateral fashion.  Stability and body awareness will be big takeaways here.

5-10-5 Sprint – Speed, Agility, Change of Direction
The 5-10-5 yard drill is a little controversial.  It can be mastered and almost gamed but it also is an excellent test of speed, agility, and COD.  This test does not take long to teach but from a coaching perspective, you will see athletes master this with great success as their trunk and hip stability, for instance, improves with the other aspects of training.


Strength, Power:

Power Clean 1 RM – Power, Strength
The ability to pull a heavy 1 RM Power Clean comes down to a number of factors not limited to training age, CNS efficiency, technique, and testosterone production.  Keeping in mind these factors, it also comes down to brute power.  Can you perform hard and fast for one rep?  This test will determine that.

Back Squat in meters/sec @80% of 1 RM – Power, Strength
If you have a tendo unit, this is where you’ll want to utilize it.  My advice is to test the ability to replicate power via this closed chain exercise.  Use 80% of your training 1 RM and test the speed of the bar over the course of a set of 5 repetitions.  Record this data and track the progress.  You will want to shoot for  .8 meters/sec, but any progress is progress.

Weighted Pull Up 2 RM – Strength
I can’t think of a better way to test upper body strength than the weighted pull up.  I know what you’re thinking…what about bench press?  Benching is almost too easy and leaves too much room for interpretation (“just the pinkies”) in a testing scenario.  Besides, someone who will 2 RM over 100 lbs is going to be more of a beast in so many other athletic feats than the guy who can Bench 225 for 15+ reps.


Muscle Endurance:

LATT :30 seconds on 2:00 off – Muscle endurance, Lactic Acid Threshold
We prefer the Airdyne for this one.  Basically, it’s a complete suckfest that should take a Power Athlete outside their comfort zone and typical lactic acid training threshold.  The goal is to get as many calories as possible over the course of 5 rounds. You can vary the times to better suit the sport of the athlete (longer for hockey, soccer, rugby) if you want.  If you follow the testing as is, a good goal is over 100 calories.

Max Strict Pull Ups – Muscle endurance
People who are strong pound-for-pound are generally faster runners as well.  This is merely a correlation, but a meaningful one at that.  Not only do strict pull ups test posterior chain muscle endurance, a huge limiting factor in performing most other lifts, they demonstrate grip strength.



Timed Sprint (Distances will vary) – Speed
This is intentionally vague as you may want to choose several distances here depending on the training goals of your athletes.  There is no getting around the fact that speed kills.  Performance is about moving with purpose at 100 million miles per hour.

This brings me to some closing thoughts on testing, training, and creating benchmarks.  Having goals, tapping into intrinsic competitiveness, and providing purpose can all be positive outcomes of selecting intelligent benchmarks.  Just remember what the real goal of the training is.

How do you know if your training is making you faster, stronger, or more explosive?  You test.  How do you know if your training is making you a better athlete?  You win.


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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


  1. robertc160 on March 28, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    Sick article Cali!

    • CALI on March 30, 2015 at 2:09 pm

      Thank you! #illest

  2. Steve (a.k.a. Prof. Booty) Platek on March 28, 2015 at 5:25 pm

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

    • CALI on March 30, 2015 at 2:09 pm

      Well, since you asked nicely…

  3. Matt Whittemore on March 28, 2015 at 9:42 pm

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

    • CALI on March 30, 2015 at 2:10 pm

      Good stuff! However, I don’t envy your member.

  4. DavidMck on March 29, 2015 at 6:52 am

    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?

    • CALI on March 30, 2015 at 2:16 pm

      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.

  5. DavidMck on March 29, 2015 at 7:50 am

    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?

    • CALI on March 30, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      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!

  6. Chretien Teitelbaum on March 29, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    @cali great article.

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

    • CALI on March 30, 2015 at 2:28 pm

      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?

  7. Zigg on March 30, 2015 at 7:04 am

    @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)

    • CALI on March 30, 2015 at 2:46 pm

      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!

  8. Ingo B on March 31, 2015 at 7:20 am

    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.

    • CALI on March 31, 2015 at 2:20 pm

      Sex sells. Also, people actually sell sex which is like, a whole other thing.

  9. Nono on April 1, 2015 at 1:42 am

    @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

  10. alexandertakacs on April 6, 2015 at 10:41 am

    @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.

    • CALI on April 6, 2015 at 11:12 am

      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.

  11. alexandertakacs on April 6, 2015 at 1:47 pm

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

  12. DavidMck on April 6, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    @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.

  13. Brockolee on April 7, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    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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