Strength is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to produce maximum force. To test the strength of your muscles, you can use a variety of exercises and test protocols until you're unable to do another repetition. Expressed as your one repetition maximum or 1RM for short, strength is a essential characteristic in sports such as football, rugby, weight lifting and combat sports.
Strength testing requires an intense effort using heavy weights. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, beginners, the elderly, those suffering from hypertension and people with joint problems are among those who should not perform strength testing. Strength testing is most suitable for advanced, healthy participants who perform heavy strength training on a regular basis.
Types of Tests
Strength tests can be maximal or predictive. Maximal tests require that you lift progressively heavier weights until you are unable to proceed further -- the weight preceding the point at which you failed being your 1RM. Predictive tests estimate your 1RM based on your performance with a lighter weight. Common strength tests include the bench press, dead lift and squat, although almost any exercise, such as the leg extension machine, can be adapted to strength testing.
In some cases, maximal strength testing can result in injury, so it is important to consider the potential risks versus the benefits. The information gleaned from strength test may be useful for program design or progress monitoring. However, if you are a long distance runner and the amount of weight you can squat is not relevant to your sport, there are probably safer and more useful tests that you can perform, such as muscular endurance or aerobic fitness.
Strength Testing Protocol
For a strength test to be meaningful, the test must be repeatable so that subsequent tests can be compared to measure performance progress. The athlete should be well rested and injury free so he can put forth his best effort, the equipment used should be identical every time the test is repeated and the exercise should be performed in an identical fashion each time. For example, when performing the bench press, if you lower the bar to your chest during the first test but stop three inches short when you perform a re-test. The distance the weight traveled will be less and therefore you may be able to lift more weight -- not because you are stronger but because you made the test easier.
To minimize your risk of injury when performing strength testing, always have spotters on hand to take the weight from you in case you fail to complete a rep. Always perform each exercise using good form and make sure you warm up thoroughly before you attempt to lift very heavy weights. Perform some light cardio, dynamic stretches and some progressively heavier sets of the test exercise to ensure your body is ready for the demands of strength testing.
- ACSM's Resources for the Personal Trainer; American College of Sports Medicine
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning; National Strength and Conditioning Association
- Designing Resistance Training Programs; Steven Fleck, et al.