How to reliably assess your training and know if you’re improving

Posted on November 10, 2020 by

If you set some goals earlier this year, have been visiting the outdoor gym or getting some cardio under the belt, then you will want to assess your improvements to ensure your training is working and to help encourage you to keep putting in that work.


Assessing your improvements through testing

Aerobic improvements can occur after just six weeks with strength improvements apparent after two weeks  and muscle size after 8-12 weeks. Therefore, you may want to use a timeframe of 6-8 weeks for your testing depending on your type of training.


Valid and reliable testing

In high performance sport we aim to implement valid and reliable testing.

Validity ensures your tests are assessing what you want to measure. For example, if you haven’t been performing strength work, you won’t see much change in any strength assessments included in your testing battery. And if you haven’t been performing aerobic training, you likely won’t see much change in an aerobic test.

Reliability means the tests will produce a repeatable result when conducted day to day.

When testing your aerobic capacity, ensure you are completing the same course each test. For example, 6km of undulating hills is not comparable to 6km on a flat course. For resistance training, ensure you are strict with your form. If you are inconsistent with what constitutes a proper repetition you will find it hard to determine when you are seeing real changes.


Testing with and without equipment

If you have the luxury of a heart rate monitor, you can use it to conduct a submaximal test. This will show you for example whether your heart rate has dropped at a given running pace. Alternatively, you could simply time yourself to complete a set distance as fast as possible.

If you’re now back in the gym you can use the weights or machines to conduct a strength test. If you’re still at an outdoor gym you can perform a bodyweight exercise such as push ups or chin-ups for maximal repetitions.


Typical Error

If you really want to put on your lab coat and get scientific, you can assess your normal test variation from day to day to ensure results at follow up testing are real changes.

This involves completing the same test twice within seven days and calculating the change in test result despite minimal fitness changes. Any changes that occur will be influenced by general motivation and feeling on the day.

You can then use this to ascertain whether your post-test at eight weeks is a real change or not. For example, if your time trial changed from 8 minutes to 7 minutes 56 seconds within three days, you know that a day to day variation of 4 seconds is possible. Therefore, at your eight week follow up testing, you would want a change of greater than 4 seconds to be sure it is a real improvement.

Similarly, if two bench presses completed three days apart were 85kg and 87.5kg (a difference of 2.5kg) then you would want an improvement of greater than 2.5kg at your eight week follow up test to be sure that you’ve improved.


Test like a scientist, perform like an athlete

Abiding by these principals means you will ensure that your testing is as accurate as possible which will assist you in nailing those goals you planned earlier.

If your post-test does not show the results you were after, it will provide you with the feedback needed to change your training, recovery and nutrition to improve your next training block.



Tanner, R and Gore, C. Physiological tests for elite athletes. Human kinetics, 2012.

Bacon, AP, Carter, RE, Ogle, EA, and Joyner, MJ. VO2max Trainability and High Intensity Interval Training in Humans: A Meta-Analysis. PLoS One 8, 2013.

Monti, E, Franchi, MV, Badiali, F, Quinlan, JI, Longo, S, and Narici, MV. The Time-Course of Changes in Muscle Mass, Architecture and Power During 6 Weeks of Plyometric Training. Front Physiol 11, 2020.

Kubo, K, Ikebukuro, T, Yata, H, Tsunoda, N, and Kanehisa, H. Time Course of Changes in Muscle and Tendon Properties During Strength Training and Detraining. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 24: 322–331, 2010.

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