When was the last time you tested your strength and flexibility? Hopefully it was within the past few months. Assessments should form the backbone of your program helping to gauge which exercises and routines are effective and which aren’t. Without regular and consistent assessment, it’s nearly impossible to track improvements.

To ensure you’re seeing improvements, implement the following flexibility and strength training assessments into your routine every four to six weeks. Document your results and compare them against previous trials. If you perform poorly on one specific test, focus the next month of your program on improving that aspect whether it’s upper body flexibility, lower body strength, or a mixture of the two.

flexibility-training

Assess Your Flexibility

The Test: Wall Angel

Directions: Lean against a wall in a wall-sit position with your knees slightly bent and your back pressed flat. Bring your arms up to 90 degrees at your shoulder and at your elbow. Firmly press the back of your arms and hands up against the wall. Keeping your entire arm touching with the wall, slowly slide your hands up and over your head similar to a shoulder press while keeping your back flat.

The Problem: If you’re like most guys, you probably couldn’t get your hands all the way over your head without compensating in your lower back.

The Fix: The front side of your body is likely tight inhibiting you from opening up your shoulders to get all the way overhead. A tight chest also prevents the muscles in the back of your shoulders (external rotators and rear deltoids) from being as strong as necessary. Start by using a soft ball or tennis ball to break up some knots in your chest. Then, incorporate exercises into your routine that strengthen the posterior part of your shoulder like seated rows and other pulling variations.

The Test: Overhead Squats

Directions: Grab a dowel rod placing your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Lock your arms out overhead. Assume a traditional squat stance with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Perform a squat as usual while keeping the bar locked out directly overhead.

The Problem: Your elbows likely start to bend as you descend into the squat or the bar begins to fall forward. At your lower body, your knees may cave in or your heels may rise up off the ground.

The Fix: Your arms are falling forward due to tight lats and a restricted chest. Start your workouts with foam rolling on your upper back and begin with some basic shoulder mobility exercises like overhead reaches and pass-throughs. At your lower body, you’re likely suffering from weak glutes and tight calves. Remedy this situation by foam rolling your calves and beginning your workout with some activation exercises for the glutes like tube walking and single leg glute bridges.

The Test: Plank

Directions: Start on your elbows and toes with both spaced out evenly about hip width apart. Elevate your hips off the ground effectively forming a straight line from you head through your heels. Pull your stomach in as tight as possible and hold this position. To further gauge your level of fitness, have a friend place a dowel rod on your back right along your spine. The rod should touch your head, shoulders, lower back, and tail bone.

The Problem: After a few seconds, you might start to feel pain in your lower back. Your lower back may also begin to sag forming an excess curve after 20-30 seconds. Your shoulder blades can also wing out from your upper back and poke up through your shirt.

The Fix: The sagging and painful low back is likely due to lower cross syndrome – a series of tight muscles and compensations that throw off alignment and core strength. Focus on stretching out the hip flexor and quad complex while also working on pelvic tilts and exercises that target abdominal stabilization. Inclined planks (elevating your upper body) are a good place to start. For the shoulder blades, incorporate serratus anterior exercises like the push-up plus into your routine to help glue your shoulder blades to your rib cage and prevent scapular winging.

Fitness-Test-Pull-Up

Test Your Strength

The Move: Front Squat

Standards:

            Work needed: 0.5-0.75 x bodyweight
            Average: 0.75-1.0 x bodyweight
            Above Average: 1.0-1.5 x bodyweight
            Excellent: 1.5-2.0 x bodyweight

Improve Your Score: The front squat combines the unique combination of strength and flexibility to successfully perform the lift. To improve your performance, focus on mastering upper body flexibility to keep the bar in the proper place throughout the exercise. Build flexibility in the lats and forearms with stretching and foam rolling. Improve range of motion in the hips with hip flexor stretching and deep squats. To build strength in the front squat, start with high repetitions to master form and flexibility before working down to lower rep ranges after a few weeks. Once a week, implement front squat box squats into your routine to increase power production in the lower body.

The Move: Pull-up

Standards:

            Work needed: 0-5 with bodyweight
            Average: 6-10 with bodyweight
            Above Average: 10-15 with bodyweight
            Excellent: 15+ with bodyweight

Improve Your Score: In order to boost your numbers, you have to work multiple pull-up variations into your routine. Pick three days a week to focus on your pulling power. One day should be dedicated to lower rep strength work including sets of three to five utilizing additional load if necessary. Another day should incorporate higher volume including sets of 8-10. A final day should focus on form and technique using a variety of grips but stopping before failure.

The Move: Overhead Press

Standards:

            Work needed: 0.5-0.7 x bodyweight
            Average: 0.7-0.9 x bodyweight
            Above Average: 0.9-1.1 x bodyweight
            Excellent: 1.1-1.3 x bodyweight

Improve Your Score: In order to safely master the overhead press, lifters should first ensure that they have the appropriate flexibility to perform the movement correctly and minimize chance of injury. This includes completing the wall angel mentioned above and being able to extend the arms fully overhead without compensating at the lower back. To improve strength, work the overhead press into your workout frequently (2-3x per week) even simply as just a warm-up exercise to groove the movement for maximum efficiency. Work overhead two times a week including a power session and a strength-focused workout. For the power workout, utilize the push press to build total body explosiveness and cause the upper body to adapt to heavier loads. On the strength session, utilize additional tools like bands and pins to emphasize different portions of the movement. Alternate weeks of using bands and chains to change the difficulty of the movement with pins, which emphasize the top (lock-out) portion.