Benchmark Testing: What it is and how it could make you a better athlete

Benchmark Testing: What it is and how it could make you a better athlete

If you’re already a proficient athlete looking to improve your performance and get the edge on your competitors, you could benefit from adding benchmark testing to your training regime. We get the expert insight on what this is and how it could make you a better athlete from Lewis Moses, a qualified athletics coach and winner of the British Indoor 1500m title in 2012.

What is benchmark testing?

Lewis explains that, “Benchmark testing is a protocol used to give an athlete or coach a guideline and insight into their current performance. This could be a fitness test to see where current fitness levels are or it could be a strength and conditioning screening, which can help to shape a training programme.”

Benchmark testing is used by professional athletes and their coaches to create training plans which make sure the athlete is being pushed and is making progress. A benchmark test will be repeated at set intervals to give tangible data on how the athlete has responded to their training.

Runner on treadmill

What are the benefits of benchmark testing?

Lewis explains that there are a number of benefits to benchmark testing, including:

  1. Measuring your current performance levels. This gives an indication of your current level compared to previous performances.
  2. It can help a coach develop a training plan, as it can highlight strengths and areas for development.
  3. The athlete could then use the data to help them set performance goals and training can be tailored towards these goals
  4. You can easily monitor progression over time if you then perform the same set of tests at a later date. This will show if the athlete has improved.
  5. It can provide motivation to an athlete, to see improvement in certain areas.

Benchmark testing for multi-sport athletes

There are various different types of benchmark tests which can be tailored to each individual athlete and their sport. For example, a cyclist could perform an FTP test or a runner could perform a Vo2 max test. Lewis says, “The main question you must ask yourself when carrying out any type of testing is: what is the purpose of this and what will we do with the data collected? Some athletes will go for testing, they will get their results, but they won’t know what to do with these results.”

Lewis goes on to explain the best time to incorporate benchmark testing into your training. “We perform benchmark tests at the start of a new training block or phase, to get our benchmark before starting a new period of training. This helps us to understand where the athlete is starting that phase of training and it will help me as a coach to understand what type of training they need in order to get the desired results or improvements.”

Types of benchmark test

There are different aerobic benchmark tests that will suit swimmers, cyclists, runners, and triathletes. Let’s take a closer look at some of the best examples.

Sub Maximal Tests

A sub maximal test is suitable for those starting a new training cycle and those returning to sport after a break, or trying a new sport such as going from running to triathlon. It is not as intense as something like an FTP test as it does not take you to your limit - hence the name ‘sub maximal’. In general, you will stop the test at around 7 on the scale of perceived exertion, as opposed to 10 for something like an FTP test. Sub maximal testing can also give you an idea of how your fitness level compares to other athletes in your age group.

Strength & Conditioning Screening

Strength and conditioning screening will give an idea of your muscular function, and will take the form of set exercises. For example, your coach may ask you to see how many squats you can do at a certain weight. You may also be asked to do a 1 Rep Max test which shows how much weight you can lift for 1 rep. This is most suitable for exercises such as squat, deadlift, and bench press.

Lactate Testing

According to research, blood lactate concentration is one of the most often measured parameters during clinical exercise testing as well as during performance testing of athletes. Researchers suggest that lactate threshold testing is a better predictor of performance than VO2max and is a better indicator of exercise intensity than heart rate.

Technique Testing

As an athlete, you can choose to monitor any training metric you like to use as a benchmark for improvement. If you are a runner who often gets injured, it may be better for you to test something like your left/right balance than your lactate threshold or muscular strength. This will help you to reduce your long-term risk of injury and make you a more efficient athlete. The INCUS NOVA gives accurate training metrics which can help you to improve your form in both swimming and running and these intricate metrics are perfect for benchmark testing. 

Lewis suggests that cadence, stride length, and lean angle would be among the top metrics for benchmark testing when looking to improve technique and running performance.

Benchmark testing example for runners

Below, Lewis gives an example of a benchmark test for runners to repeat at 12-week intervals to help improve speed and performance.

  • 5 x 800m with 2 mins static (standing recovery) between each of the 800m repetitions.
  • Measure the time it takes to complete each 800m rep and then take your average time for the overall session.
  • You could then go back after a training block, for example 12 weeks, and re-test to see if your average pace has improved.
  • You could also wear your INCUS device during this testing period and analyse each metric after the test.

About the author: Alex Parren is a Freelance Health & Fitness writer as well as a qualified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist.

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