Alternative Fitness Testing

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Every coach with even a basic understanding of physical fitness knows about the importance of fitness testing. Results obtained from various fitness tests serve three purposes.

Why perform fitness tests?

  1. Evaluate: Fitness tests allow a coach to physically view strengths/weaknesses and assess a participant’s exercise technique. Fitness tests are also used to determine baseline measures and to simply compare results among others.
  2. Help Plan: If the fitness tests are wisely chosen and meaningful, they will greatly aid in the program design phase. As they say- the numbers don’t lie. If I see a result that does not meet expectations, then that may become the primary focus for the next training period.

    For example, let’s refer to the chart below; assuming an offensive linemen was tested on his 1-RM bench press and lifted 225 lbs, it would be a disappointing result. As pushing is a primary sport specific movement within his position in football- the player’s new program should emphasize his weak points- namely his bench press 1-RM. 

    3. Motivate: Normative fitness test data can serve as an added motivation to the majority of athletes due to their competitive nature. However, the same rarely holds through for the general population. More specifically, normative fitness test data can have the opposite effect.

The Case for Alternative Fitness Testing

Normative fitness data could depress an athlete- if an individual learns that they are within the bottom 10% of normative data, they might ask themselves…what’s the point? 

Many individual’s begin a fitness program because they have low confidence or a low level of self-esteem- the gym should aid in building both- and subsequently, not add to a negative feeling.

Because of this, I rarely use traditional fitness tests within the general population. The purpose of this article is to highlight some of the tests that I typically use among the general population. In addition, some of these tests may be applicable to sports teams.

Traditional fitness tests within personal training such as a 1 mile walk/run time, push-up and sit up tests meet the above purposes. In addition, tests such as V02 max, 1-RM testing and sub-max repetition testing also help serve to evaluate, aid in program design, and motivate clients/athletes.

Alternative Fitness Tests

Plank Variations (For Time)

Beginner: Plank w/ knees on the ground






Intermediate: Regular plank






Advanced: Exercise ball plank

Why? Planks test stability within the trunk musculature, while curls/crunches test muscular endurance. Stability is crucial within the sporting environment- and I’ve found that people can easily perform 40-50 regular curls, but shake uncontrollably after just 30 seconds in a plank position. Personally, I believe the ”Plank Test” to be a far superior method of testing the core.

Inverted Rows (Max Reps) 

Beginner: Band assisted inverted rows

Intermediate: Regular inverted rows

Advanced: Inverted rows with feet elevated

Why? The push-up test is a common and reliable indicator of relative strength and upper body endurance. However, most individuals neglect the back side of their body (namely the upper back, lower back and hamstrings) and favor exercises such as bench press and curls (mirror muscles).

Y’s & T’s for Time

Beginner: Body weight

Intermediate/Advanced: Plates or dumbbells

Here’s a good description of the Y and T. Simply hold the position for the maximum time possible.

Why? Similar to the rationale for inverted rows, the Y’s and T’s for time test upper body stability and endurance. I once had a golfer say ”I didn’t even know I had muscles there”. While this test is the most simple in terms of set-up- it is probably the most difficult of the three tests. Guys, check your ego and use <5 lb plates/dumbbells.


The results of these three tests can be used to recognize strengths and weaknesses, and will most definitely help within the program design phase. What I like most about the three tests is that the tests are actual exercises that can be readily sprinkled within a general strength and conditioning program. In doing so, an individual will frequently see improvements within the aforementioned exercises, thus providing continued motivation. Additionally, these exercises have no norms.. so a person compares updated results against their old self, and nobody else.



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