Am I Getting Better?
Last week I finished a workout that was a little over the top. You know what I'm talking about: too many burpees combined with too many kettlebell swings and maybe one too many 200 meter efforts at 10% incline. After the workout, I couldn’t help thinking about why I just did that to myself. But more importantly, why did it feel like too much? Was it me or was it the workout? The next day, I whipped out one of my gold standard workouts, a benchmark that I use as one of my markers to see where I’m at in my fitness journey. These benchmark workouts are the best diagnostic tool I have to gauge many things but they also help give me a big picture of whether I am getting better, worse or staying the same.
Now, of course, it’s not that simple. I know that a singular test can’t show me exactly how I am doing, but it can always push me back onto the right path. That test can help me understand what changes I need to make to continue to get better overall.
I remember when I was learning how to link pull ups together using a kipping motion. I couldn’t do more than 4 or 5 at a time. There was this one workout that required 100 pull ups amongst 100 reps of some other things. I would dread the pull ups…...it would take me 10 minutes at least. I spent about 3 months digging into my mechanics, my strength and my technique around the pull up. When I came back to that 100 pull up workout, I was better. I could do it in half the time it took me before. This was a measure of “getting better” in the singular sense of “getting better.” This is good, but testing gives us so much more than just these simple measurables.
As the strength and conditioning coach for Minnesota United, I had access to every measurable that you could possibly imagine. All these measurables would give us predictors of how our guys were doing...better, worse or the same, as far as the level of fitness. I didn’t use any of them. Instead, every 6 weeks we did a re-test of the same workout to measure how they were doing. The re-test wasn’t designed to make sure they were always doing better. It was designed for what I called “absolute status.” I used it to get feedback on how each player was doing, I mean how they were really feeling, how they responded, how they compared to last time and the time before that.
At different points in the season, the test would show us data that players were getting worse. This, in turn, let us dig deeper into what was going on. Was the test in the middle of the season when they were traveling and stressed? If so, we knew to adjust sleep patterns and give guys time off. If the test was at the end of the season when they had time off before playoffs and it indicated low fitness, we could use that to inject more work into training. I took a big picture view every time we tested because I wanted to see big trends. These overall trends helped me dial in what each player's needs were in order to get better, not just today but over the course of a long career.
My point is that these measurables are important, and they are much more than a result that is Yes or No, A or B, Pass or Fail. We have to use these invaluable tools to assess more than just “are we better” at this exact moment in time. We have to continue to watch our trends and, overall, we should see improvement. But, at the beginning, we are creating a platform that allows us to truly assess ourselves over time, in a way that has the potential to tell us more than just am I better, worse or the same.
For the record, I was far worse on my benchmark workout. But it gave me the perspective that I needed on my training. 2 weeks in a row of travel, a sick kid at home and lack of sleep wasn’t going to get me to a personal record on that benchmark workout. Instead, it was a good diagnostic to get more sleep and recovery before jumping into a crushing workout.
As you begin to compare your test results, let us help you figure out how to get on a path that will show general improvement of broad time domains.