Power, Speed, and Agility Testing
by Gray Cook
In the book What Makes Winners Win by Charlie Jones, baseball great Tony Gwynn recounts, “There were always coaches who said that I couldn’t do something. I couldn’t throw, I couldn’t hit with power, I couldn’t run, I couldn’t field my position. I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve been successful, because they can measure everything you do on the field, but they cannot measure what’s inside of you and what drives you. It’s easy to cheat yourself and do just enough to get by, but that’s what everybody can do, just enough to get by. But those who want to be successful and maintain that level of success have got to push a little bit harder and do a little bit more.”
Defining Power, Speed, and Agility
Power equals work divided by time. This concept can be confusing. Two people who max out on the bench press at 375 pounds demonstrate the same strength because they move the same weight over the same distance. However, a closer analysis may show that one athlete has excellent technique and brisk movement and takes 2 to 3 seconds to perform the lift from start to finish while the other athlete may struggle with poor form, taking 10 to 15 seconds to perform the same lift. From a work standpoint, these athletes display the same strength, but the athlete who takes less time demonstrates greater power.
Consider another example. Two athletes display the same strength in the squat rack but differ greatly in jumping ability. Even though the athletes demonstrate the same amount of strength, the better jumper demonstrates better power. Therefore, a person can show power not simply by gaining strength but by taking the strength he has and learning to become more efficient, coordinated, and smooth with his movements.
Think of power as adding quickness to strength and speed to endurance. You should have a good strength base before adding quickness, and you need to develop endurance before adding speed. The word agility is often coupled with words power, speed, and quickness; but the best definition for agility is “quickness under control.” An example of good agility is extreme accuracy and power when throwing, swinging, or punching or quick acceleration, deceleration, or direction change when running, jumping, or cutting. By moving quickly and efficiently, you emphasize timing and coordination in a workout. Usually relaxation, timing, and coordination allow a person to move with more power, not just harder or more forcefully. Testing for power, speed, and agility allows you to track your baseline and continuously monitor efficiency.
Power, Speed, and Agility Assessment
The following tests have been chosen specifically for their effectiveness. It is a good idea for a coach or trainer experienced in testing protocol and safety to guide and monitor the tests. The coach or trainer may also be able to provide feedback regarding weak links and give overall appraisals of strengths and weaknesses.
These tests provide feedback in specific categories of performance. These tests represent only a small sampling of a large group of tests used to chart performance; but they are enough to get you started and provide a basic picture of performance, strengths, and weaknesses. Many other factors—such as skill, competitive spirit, experience, and emotional state—come into play in assessing total athletic performance.
The power, agility, and speed assessment includes the following tests:
1. Power tests: One-repetition maximum power clean and vertical jump
2. Agility tests: T-test and hexagon test
3. Speed tests: 120-yard dash and 300-yard shuttle run
Power Test 1: One-Repetition Maximum Power Clean
This test assesses anaerobic maximum muscular power and high-speed strength.
You will need an Olympic-style weightlifting set to accommodate your maximum or perceived maximum lift with weight in 5-pound gradations and a lifting platform clear of obstructions and other weight-training equipment. You should wear normal weight-training footwear and the platform should have a non-skid surface.
Place your feet approximately shoulder-width apart with toes turned out slightly. The bar should be approximately 1-2 inches from your shins and over the balls of your feet. Squat down while maintaining a flat back so that you can comfortably grab the bar wider than shoulder width with your arms comfortably outside your knees. Your elbows should be fully extended and you can readjust the bar to maintain the 1-inch distance from your shin. The shoulders should be relaxed. The chest should be up and out and you should be looking forward or slightly downward.
Lift the bar off the floor as you extend the hips and knees. The torso should remain in the same flat-back position. The hips and shoulders should move upward at the same rate. Keep the elbows fully extended and raise the bar in a vertical plane very close to the shins but not touching them. Raise the bar above the knees as you continue to extend the hips and maintain a flat spine. Keep elbows extended. Slightly flex the knees and set the body for the second pull phase.
In a brisk movement, extended the hips and knees and plantar flex the ankles as if you were jumping. The movement should quickly and crisply accelerate the bar upward. The bar can remain near or in contact with the front of the thighs and should remain as close to the body as possible while the back remains flat and elbows remain extended. As the shoulders reach their highest elevation in a shrug position, the elbows should flex and the body should be pulled under the bar. The continual pull of the arms should last as long as possible until the body is under the bar and ready for the catch phase of the movement.
In the catch phase, simultaneously flex the hips and knees into a quarter-squat or slightly deeper position. The elbows should be pointed forward with the upper arm as close to parallel to the floor as possible. The bar should rest on the clavicles and anterior deltoids and the palms should be pointing toward the ceiling. The torso should remain in a flat-back and erect position. The feet should remain flat and the head should be in a neutral position looking forward or slightly up.
In the lowering phase, you can either take a step forward and rack the weight on a squat rack that has already been adjusted to your shoulder height or you can gradually lower the weight through your arms and allows a controlled descent to your thigh. Flex the hips and knees to cushion the impact of the bar on the thighs. With the elbows fully extended, squat down until the bar is replaced on the floor.
It is generally recommended that you perform a light set with 5 to 10 repetitions followed by 2 heavier sets of 2 to 5 repetitions (if needed) before the 1-rep max attempt. Following the warm-up rest for 2 to 4 minutes and estimate your maximum lift. Since the heavy warm-up sets should have been near your maximum load, you should have a good idea of what your maximum load will be. If you are successful with your first estimate, take another 2- to 4-minutes rest break and make a 10- to 20-pound load increase and attempt the one-repetition maximum again. Repeat until you find your 1-rep max. Ideally, you should achieve your 1-rep max within 5 testing sets.
Power Test 2: Vertical Jump
Find a flat surface to jump from that provides good traction, is free of obstructions, and is near a smooth wall that is higher than your maximum jump. Get chalk or powder that is a different color than the wall and a measuring tape of yardstick.
Rub chalk on the fingers of your dominant hand and stand away from the wall with about 6 inches between your shoulder and the wall. Stand with your heels flat and feet together.
Reach as high as you can onto the wall and make an initial mark. Make sure the mark is visible before you perform the vertical leap. If the mark is visible, prepare for the vertical leap by squatting without stepping or moving the feet. Explode as high as you can, arm fully extended overhead, and place a second mark on the wall at the height of your jump. Perform three vertical jumps and take the best of the three trials to the nearest half-inch.
You can also do a ratio test with the vertical jump by comparing a single-leg vertical leap on the left to a single-leg vertical leap on the right. Look for differences great than 10 to 15 percent. Follow the instructions for the vertical leap, except jump off one leg only. For safety, land on both feet. If you have a difference between the right- and left-leg performance of greater than 15 percent, you should focus on single-leg performance until the difference is below 15 percent. Otherwise your double-leg jumping assessment is limited by the side that is performing poorly.
Agility Test 1: T-Test
You will need four cones, a stopwatch, a flat floor that provides good traction and is free of obstructions, and a person who can serve as a timer and spotter. Place two cones 10 yards apart to indicate the first line of the T-test. Place the other two cones exactly 5 yards to the left and right of one of the cones. This should create a perfect T with cones at the end of each line and at the intersection of the two lines. You should go through a standard warm-up and set of stretches before this full-speed, vigorous drill.
When the timer says “go,” spring along the first line, starting at the first cone you placed (cone A). Sprint forward to the second cone (cone B) at the intersection of the two lines. When you arrive at cone B, touch the base and quickly shuffle to the left to cone C. As you shuffle, remember to face forward and never cross your feet. Touch the base of cone C with your left hand, change directions, and shuffle back past cone B to the last cone (cone D). Touch the base of cone D with your right hand. Change directions again. Shuffle to the left for 5 yards and touch the base of cone B with the left hand. Then run backward past cone A as quickly as possible. The timer stops the watch the moment you pass cone A. Be careful as you run backward. It is a good idea for the timer to be in position to catch you or slow you down, or have a mat to soften the blow if you trip and fall.
Perform two trials of the T-test and take the best time. Times will be recorded to the nearest tenth of a second. Do not count the time on the test if you cross your feet, fail to face forward the entire time, or miss touching the base of any of the cones.
Agility Test 2: Hexagon Test
You will need adhesive tape that contrasts with the color of the floor or surface, a standard stopwatch, and a flat floor clear of obstructions with a nonslip surface.
Create a hexagon on the floor using the adhesive tape in 24-inch lengths. Each of the six sides will intersect at 120-degree angles. Start in the center of the hexagon and remain facing in the same direction throughout the entire test. On the “go” command, the stopwatch starts. Hop to the side in front of you and perform a double-leg hop over the line. Hop back to the center then hop to the next side, working in a clockwise sequence until you have hopped over each of the six sides three times. The stopwatch will be stopped when you return to the center of the hexagon after your third time around the hexagon. If you land on a line, lose your balance, or have to take a step, stop the test and restart after resting 1 to 2 minutes. The score will be the best time of three trials. Remember, there must be 18 total jumps free from mistakes to constitute a valid test.
Speed Test 1: 120-yard dash
I personally think that this is one of the most ingenious and practical tests because, to quote the authors of Sports Speed, it “provides information on practically all phases of sprinting, speed and quickness including the start, acceleration, maximum speed and speed endurance with just one sprint.” This test will take a little extra setup time and requires some minor calculations, but I feel it has applications in nearly all sports. Running movement is fundamental and if it is not part of your sport it can still be an effective means of cross-training and balancing the body. It is important to understand where your sprinting strengths and weaknesses are. Arbitrarily running wind sprints will not expose or isolate your weakest link with respect to sprinting.
You will need approximately 130 to 140 yards free of obstructions, preferably on a safe running surface, such as a track or well-groomed turf. You will need three times with stopwatches at the 40-, 80-, and 120-yard marks. To help the timers, you can also stretch a piece of tape across your running path at these positions. As you break the tap, the timer will know to mark the time.
Start in a sprinter stance or three-point football stance. On the “go” command from the first timer at the 40-yard mark, begin to sprint. Sprint as fast as you can throughout the entire 120 yards and through the 120-yard mark; do not decelerate until you have passed the last timer. The first time stops the watch as you pass him at the 40-yard mark. At this exact instant, the timer at the 80-yard mark starts his watch and stops it when you cross the 80-yard mark. At the 80-yard mark, the timer at the 120-yard mark starts his watch and stops it as you pass the 120-yard mark. Record the three times—the stationary 40 (0 to 40 yards), the flying 40 (40 to 80 yards), and the 80 to 120 times.
To assess acceleration, subtract flying 40-yard time from stationary 40-yard time and record the difference. This difference is your time delay required to accelerate. If there is more than a 0.7-second difference, it is recommended you improve acceleration. This can be accomplished by balancing the body, by building a strength base, and by building a power base specifically with plyometrics, power movement, heel running, jumping rope, and sprint-starts.
To quickly ascertain how fast you should already be sprinting in a 40-yard dash from a stationary start, add 0.7-seconds to your flying dash time. With appropriate acceleration training, this is what your 40-yard dash should be.
Next calculate speed endurance. Compare your flying 40 time to your 80 to 120 time. If these scores happen to be the same or almost the same, you are in excellent physical condition, according to the authors of Sports Speed, to “spring a short distance such as 40 yards repeatedly during soccer, football, basketball, rugby, lacrosse or field hockey without slowing down due to fatigue.” If these two scores differ by more than two-tenths of a seconds, target speed endurance in your training. The authors of Sports Speed say, “Speed endurance is easy to improve. You only need to sprint short distances 2 or 3 times per week and keep a record of how many repetitions you sprinted, how far you sprinted, and how much recovery time you took between each repetition. The rest is easy. On each workout, you simply increase the sprint distance and decrease the recovery time between each repetition. In a period of 6 to 8 weeks, your speed endurance scores will be better.”
Speed Test 2: 300-yard Shuttle
You will need two stopwatches, a measured course of 25 yards free of obstructions with a non-slip surface, and tape of cones to mark the lines at each end of the 25-yard course.
Perform a standard warm-up and stretch routine before testing. On the timer’s “go” command, sprint the length of the 25-yard course, touch the line with your foot, and return to the starting line. Touch the starting line with your foot and sprint back and forth until you complete six round trips. Immediately after you cross the finish line after the sixth trip, the second stopwatch is started. Record the time of your 300-yard shuttle. Rest for 5 minutes. After exactly 5 minutes, report to the starting line to repeat the 300-yard shuttle test. Take the average of the two 300-yard shuttle sprints and record times to the nearest tenth of a second.
The two times (fresh shuttle compared to the shuttle after the 5-minute rest) should be close. This will demonstrate good recovery and speed endurance. Of course this will not be accurate if you do not try as hard as you possibly can on each test.