How to Design a Battery of Physical Fitness Tests

What exactly is a battery of physical fitness tests and how do you design one?

It is simply a group of fitness tests that closely represents the various physiological demands of your sport or event.

Step one is to break down the sport (or it could be an assessment for the Armed Forces or Fire Service) into its different fitness components. For an event such as the 100m sprint or the marathon this is fairly straight forward. Games such as basketball, rugby and volleyball for example are a little more complex.

One of the more complex examples is soccer. It’s an intricate blend of aerobic and anaerobic endurance, strength, power, speed and agility. The test battery should include physical fitness tests that measure each of these components. But its not enough to simply test for strength or endurance per se…

Each test must replicate the energy demands and the movement patterns within the sport. Keeping with the soccer example for a moment:

Walking 1 mile as quickly as possible (Rockport test) is less sport-specific than running in 20m bursts backwards and forwards (Multistage shuttle run).

Once the precise energy and movement demands of the sport are understood, the most appropriate physical fitness tests can be chosen. In fact the athlete or coach can even make their own test up so long as it meets the following criteria…

Test Quality

Whether standard physical fitness tests or self-made fitness tests are employed they should always conform to several quality standards:

This refers to the degree that a test measures what it’s supposed to. This is usually straightforward – a distance run for example would not be a valid measure of explosive power. sometimes the distinction maybe a little less clear – does a particular sprint test measure ultra short-term power for example?

This refers to the consistency or repeatability of a fitness test. If an individual does not change his or her athletic ability then a reliable test, repeated twice will show no difference. The only variable the test should measure is the one it is designed to.

Case in point: body fat scales use bioelectrical impedance analysis to determine a person’s body fat percentage. They rely on the fact that different tissues within the body consist of differing amounts of water. If the test is not properly controlled the scales may show a change in body fat levels when in fact they have only measured a change in hydration levels. This can easily happen if a woman is tested at different times of the month for example, and if this is not controlled then the test is said to be unreliable.

Reliability is less straightforward to control compared to validity. an unreliable test may occur because:

  • Different examiners are used for retesting, who use a slightly different protocol.
  • The examiner uses poor technique failing to standardize the test and calibrate equipment.
  • External factors have not been controlled, such as environmental conditions, order of tests or using different equipment for example.
  • Internal factors have not been controlled, such as when the athlete last ate/drank, the time of day or month the tests are performed at, fatigue levels and so on.Use these important general guidelines as well, to standardize the testing procedure and ensure accuracy and reliability…
  • Always warm up thoroughly before performing physical fitness tests. Perform 5-10 minutes of light aerobic exercise followed by stretching to all the major muscle groups.
  • Complete short, explosive tests first. For example a standing vertical jump should be performed before a multistage shuttle run (see below for more details on test order).
  • Always keep the order of the fitness tests the same when retesting.
  • try to test at the same time of day and in similar environmental conditions.
  • Use the same equipment making sure it is properly calibrated before each testing session.
  • If an examiner is taking measurements, have the same person take the measurements each time. Needless to say they should be experienced in administering the tests.
  • Avoid eating within 3 hours of the test battery, and avoid smoking, coffee and alcohol on the day of the test.
  • Avoid training heavily the day before the physical fitness tests and do no training at all on the test day.

Sample Physical Fitness Tests

Here are some reliable physical fitness tests that measure strength, speed, power, endurance and flexibility. They require little or no equipment – or certainly equipment that is readily available to most people.

Strength Tests

  1. One repetition max — The standard strength test for all athletes.
  2. Sit up test — A good indication of core strength.
  3. Press up test — Used to test strength endurance.

Speed and Power Tests

  1. 30m sprint — A simple fitness test to measure power.
  2. 30m sprint fatigue — Excellent for multisprint sports such as basketball, soccer, hockey etc.
  3. Illinois agility test — Another great fitness test for multisprint sports.
  4. Standing long jump — A simple test to measure explosive, ultra-short term power
  5. Standing Vertical jump — The standard fitness test used to measure explosive power. Particularly relevant to basketball and volleyball.
  6. Hexagon drill — Excellent test to measure quickness, agility and balance.

Endurance Tests

  1. Balke 15 minute run — A fitness test to measure aerobic power (VO2max) indirectly.
  2. Cooper 12 minute run — As above
  3. Multistage shuttle run — Also used to estimate aerobic power but more appropriate for multisprint sports. Also effective for testing large groups at a time.
  4. Rockport test — A simple walking test for less active individuals.

Flexibility Tests

There are only a few reliable tests to measure flexibility. The best instrument is a goniometer (a very simple and cheap type of protractor). It can be used to measure the flexibility of most joints and the range of motion for dozens of movements.

  1. Sit and reach test — The standard flexibility test that measures lower back and hamstring flexibility.
  2. trunk rotation test
  3. Groin flexibility test

Test Order

According to the NSCA (1) a battery of physical fitness test should occur in the following order:

  1. Non-fatiguing tests (height/weight measurements, skinfolds, vertical and broad jumps)
  2. Agility tests (T-test, Illinois test)
  3. Maximal strength & power tests (1-RM, 3-RM)
  4. Sprint tests (40yard sprint, sprint fatigue test)
  5. Muscular endurance tests (12min run, shuttle test)

An Example Battery Of Physical Fitness Tests

Here’s an idea for a test battery for our soccer example…

Example Test Battery For Soccer
Test number Test Fitness component Time (mins)
1 Skinfold measurements Body composition 20
2 Standing jump test Explosive power 10
3 30 meter sprint test Short term power 10
4 Sprint fatigue test Power maintenance 10
5 1-RM test Maximal strength 15
6 Press up test Muscular endurance 5
7 Sit up test Muscular endurance 5
8 Multistage shuttle run Aerobic endurance 20
9 Sit and reach test Flexibility 5
10 Groin flexibility test Groin flexibility 5

Now that you have developed your battery of physical fitness tests, use it at the beginning of your training program (usually the start of pre-season training. Use precisely the same set of tests to measure yourself about 6 weeks later and note your progress. It’s a good idea to test yourself just prior to the start of the competitive season and then a couple of times during the competitive season.

1. Baechle TR and Earle RW. (2000) Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning: 2nd Edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics