The Train Body Smart Relative Strength Tests
At Train Body Smart, we specialise in bridging the gap between strength and conditioning and personal training. As part of that, its important to provide our clientele with strength testing and monitoring tools that help us track client progress, identify areas of weakness, while serving as meaningful performance goals for our clients to strive to improve on.
We wanted to develop a baseline set of strength tests that could be applied to all clients at entry level. We refer to this as the Relative Strength Tests. They serve as primary strength tests for some older clients training for longevity, but we also use them as preliminary tests for clients that want to progress to loaded barbell movements, as we’d like them to achieve a minimum strength standard before progressing to barbell training.
What is Relative Strength?
Relative strength is how strong someone is in relation to their bodyweight.
- Bill weighs 100kg and his back squat 1RM is 100kg
- Bill can squat 1.0 x bodyweight
- Ted weighs 70kg and his back squat 1RM is 85kg
- Ted can squat 1.2 x bodyweight
Bill has a greater absolute strength then Ted: 100kg > 85kg
Ted has a greater relative strength then Bill: 1.2 x bodyweight > 1.0 x bodyweight
Relative strength is a better indicator of general health than absolute strength, because increasing strength while maintaining a healthy body weight is directly associated with improved health.
Relative Test Selection
For the tests to be appropriate for us, they had to meet the following criteria:
- Inclusive to a broad range of fitness levels.
- Reliable and repeatable across different coaches and clients.
- Indicate relative strength.
- Practical for easy implementation with little time cost.
All six tests involve bodyweight isometric holds for maximum duration, meaning the aim is quite simple:
I test myself with these exercises regularly. The unfortunate thing about isometric hold tests is they generally aren’t very fun by the end. But that’s part of the challenge!
The dead hang is one of my favourite grip and upper body strength exercises that serves as a great indicator of functional strength, but it can also be used as a posture corrective exercise as its useful to help shoulder and scapular mobility. This isometric hold is an indicator of strength in the pull foundational movement pattern.
Fun fact, grip strength has the highest correlation with living longer than any other measure of strength, which makes this test a must for anyone training for longevity.
Split Squat Hold
I started incorporating the split squat hold into my training at the start of the lockdowns to try and maintain lower body strength, that was back in 2020 back when our allocated parking spot and the boot of my car was my gym. They are surprisingly difficult, hits almost all lower body musculature, and in my opinion translates very well to unilateral deceleration strength. This is essential in almost all sports, but also is extremely important injury prevention from trips and falls. This isometric hold is an indicator of strength in the lunge foundational movement pattern.
Take a ½ kneeling stance (ideally with your knee on a mat) and ensure both knees are bent to 90 degrees, this will ensure your stance length is correct. When ready to start, lift you knee off the mat by approximately an inch to enter the split squat position. Make sure the gap between the knee and floor stays as little as possible, and keep your knee bent as close to 90 degrees as possible.
Tip: After completing one side, make sure you take plenty of rest before doing the other side as both legs will be working no matter which side you start with. I tend to break the two sides up with one of the upper body strength tests to allow extra rest time.
Parallel/Dip Bar Hold
Much like the dead hang, the parallel bar hold tests upper body strength and shoulder health. This isometric hold is an indicator of strength in the upper body push foundational movement pattern. I have also used this test in the past to screen for postural issues as it’s very easy for clients to want to roll forward with their shoulders if thoracic spine musculature is lacking.
Hands should be placed on the p-bars, dip bars with elbows locked while keeping head up and looking ahead. Try to avoid dropping into a shrugged position, staying tall throughout.
*If a dip bar isn’t available, you can use two exercise benches at each hip with dumbbells on top to replicate the same position. It will be slightly harder as the knees will need to be bent to raise the feet off the floor.*
While the plank isn’t exactly new or revolutionary, if done properly it’s a reliable measure of strength for the rectus abdominal and a useful tool to practise trunk stability through anti-extension.
Start by laying on your front with your elbows tucked under your armpits and feet dorsiflexed ready to lift onto your toes. Then when ready to start, lift your body off the floor so your bodyweight is evenly distributed between your feet and elbows. The spine position should be neutral, and to prevent over extension it can be useful to engage the glutes and abdominals.
The side plank challenges trunk stability through anti-lateral flexion, being strong through the side plank can be associated with a decreased risk of spinal and shoulder injuries. More difficult then the front plank, we recommend that clients should be able to side plank on each side for at least half the duration of their maximum front plank time.
Start by laying on your side with your elbow directly under your armpit and your feet stacked on top of each other. Then when ready to start, lift your hips off the floor so your bodyweight is evenly distributed between your feet and your elbow. You should try and maintain a straight line from the top of your head to your feet, maintaining a neutral spine. Try to prevent rolling your spare arm/shoulder forward, think about being tall with a big chest.
After completing all the tests, scores from each test can be added up to give a total duration across all five tests.
*Please note, tests where the two sides are performed separately (split squat hold, side plank) the average time of both sides should be used. Not the total time of both sides.*