The Athletic Performance Pyramid, Part 1: Evaluation & Assessment

The foundation of any successful Strength and Conditioning program is organization, planning, and progression. I believe this is the case for all areas of Strength and Conditioning – Collegiate and Private Sector. This series of articles will focus on the collegiate sector, as that is where I have spent my entire career. Part 1 of this series will focus on Evaluation & Athletic Assessment.

Having a plan in place allows coaches to react and adapt to any unexpected situation that may arise – schedule changes, weather issues, etc. Of equal importance is having proper progression of movements and a program to maximize athlete development. As College Strength and Conditioning Coaches we have four years to develop our student-athletes. The key to maintaining progress and keeping our athletes injury-free is to have a great plan and a proper progression of each methodology of training. Too many times in the field of Strength and Conditioning, coaches and athletes can get caught up in the things that look “cool.” Hang Cleans, Box Jumps, heavy Squats and Deadlifts, and any other feats of Strength and Athleticism they may see on social media. What often gets lost when watching a video of an athlete performing an impressive feat is the fact that it took years and years of laying the groundwork through solid training to get to that point. Most people aren’t born jumping onto a 50” box or pulling 500 for reps; what you don’t see is the years of progression to those impressive feats of strength and athleticism.
This “boring” work is where the foundation for future athletic success is laid. We must be able to crawl before we walk, walk before we run, etc. With this in mind, we developed our Athletic Performance Pyramid – a system for organizing and structuring training. The idea of a pyramid is not unique in Strength and Conditioning – a quick internet search yields dozens of different pyramids related to Strength and Conditioning and Athletic Performance. Our pyramid is built on our training philosophy and principles, our facility, our athletes, and the knowledge and experience of our Strength and Conditioning staff.
In this 2 part article series, we will talk about how we organize the levels of our pyramid, what each level contains, and how each level builds off of the other to produce the end result – improved performance and durability on the field, court, ice, etc.
The first level of the pyramid is Evaluation & Athletic Assessment. We firmly believe that to develop a training plan to reach an end goal, there must be an understanding and subjective measure of where we currently are. We have metrics that we evaluate for each level of the pyramid. An evaluation takes place at the start of the offseason program, the end of the offseason program, and a modified evaluation when student-athletes return to campus from a break. We look for improvements among all individuals on a team, as well as consistent improvements in team averages for each metric. As with all other aspects of the Strength and Conditioning program, your system of Evaluation must be organized and thought out. The system we used is based on what I learned during my time at the University of Delaware working for Ted Perlak.
For Movement Skills, we use the Functional Movement Screen (FMS). The FMS is a lightning-rod topic in the field of Strength and Conditioning – people either love it or hate it. For us, it provides an effective means for organizing and evaluating how our student-athletes move. We look at general trends amongst a team and use the data primarily two ways – to know where we should start our lift progressions and know where the focus of our warm-up should be. If we have a team that across the board scores 2-3 on the Deep Squat, we know that we will likely be able to jump into Front Squatting them in the strength program quickly after a week of re-teaching (Holds, PVC Squats, and Goblet Squats). However, if there were a lot of 1’s mixed in with a handful of 2’s for a particular group, we will spend more time teaching the position using Squat Holds, grooving the pattern using PVC Squats, Goblet Squats, and Box Front Squats before progressing to the Front Squat. The FMS also serves as a method for us to work lockstep with our Athletic Training department when rehabbing and training athletes who are coming back from a surgery or major injury.
Work Capacity in our protocol is evaluated through one rep of the 300 Yard Shuttle using a 25 Yard Course. Another somewhat controversial topic, we understand that the 300 Yard Shuttle does not fall into the specific energy demands of every sport we work with. What we think it provides is a quick look at a student-athletes ability and willingness to go all out and get uncomfortable for an extended period of time. With proper training and implementation of our principles of hard work and effort, the 300 Yard Shuttle serves us well in evaluating this.
All of our Strength Evaluation is done through 3- Rep Max (3RM) or Multiple Rep Maximum (MR) repetition testing. Through our years of coaching and working with student-athletes, we feel this is the most effective and safest way to evaluate our program. We will evaluate Strength for a Lower Body Push movement, an Upper Body Pull movement, and an Upper Body Push movement. The most common Lower Body Push is the Front Squat, Upper Body Pull is Chin Ups, and Upper Body Push is Bench Press. Depending on the training level of a team, the evaluations may be regressed to other movements; Trap Bar Deadlift, Inverted Row, and Push-Ups.
Each Strength movement is evaluated 2-3 times in an offseason training cycle. The first step, during the first week or so of a training cycle, is to find an initial 3RM for a movement. This is a controlled 3RM, with the athlete being cut off when there are signs of technique starting to falter. Around the halfway point of the semester or cycle, we will then find another 3RM for the same movement. At the end of the semester, we will return to the initial 3RM weight and perform a “Burnout” set – going for as many reps as we can with that load. It is not uncommon to see an athlete hit their initial 3RM for 10+ reps at the end of the semester.
                                    Front Squat 3RM
                                                Week 1 –           185×3
                                                Week 7 –           200×3
                                                Week 14 –         185×12
This athlete would be reported as having added 9 reps to their Front Squat max over the course of the semester. We will feel this is a simple and beneficial way to evaluate your program and an athlete’s progress. While Strength and Conditioning professionals may understand the 15lb improvement from week 1 – 7 is great progress, those not trained in the profession (Sport Coaches and Student-Athletes) may not understand. However, showing them a 9 rep improvement is almost guaranteed to present to them as a major improvement.
We also are of the belief that this sets our student-athletes up for success when performing our evaluation and athletic assessment. We’ve all seen an athlete who tests in Week 1 at a particular weight, proceeds to have a great training cycle and work over that Week 1 number many times during training, then fails to achieve a heavier “Max” at the post-test. This method takes into account the stresses of being a college athlete – academics, social life, and lack of proper sleep and nutrition – and still sets them and the program up to be effective.
The final part of our Strength Evaluation is the return to campus protocols. Sending an athlete away to train on their own for 6 weeks to 3 months (winter or summer break) and then having them walk in the door day 1 and “Max Out” is a recipe for disaster. Everyone is given a workout program for the break, but without training with teammates and the Strength and Conditioning staff, we all understand it can be difficult to get full compliance with those programs. For us, all we ask of our student-athletes is to be within 90% of where they were the last time we trained together on campus. If I have an estimated 1 Rep Max(e1RM) (calculated via a 3RM) of 275lbs on the Front Squat, when I return to campus from Winter Break, I need to be able to Front Squat between 245-250lbs. If athletes are able to hit this 90%, we know that for the most part they probably trained and followed the program over the break. If they are able to hit 90%, we will leave their e1RM where it was before the break with the belief that we can regain that 10% in a week or two back training with the team. When implementing this system, it is important to properly plan and progress the take-home workouts and build the athlete up to working at 90% or slightly less over the course of the break. It would make no sense to send them home with a program that only asks them to train at 75% for 6 weeks and bring them back to campus and evaluate them at 90%.
Our movement evaluations consist of the 10 Yard Sprint (10yd) and the Standing Long Jump (SLJ). These two tests provide us with metrics we feel are of significant importance for any and all of the athletes we train – the ability to accelerate and the ability to produce power with the lower body through the ground. While there are other ways to test both of those abilities, we use the 10yd and SLJ because they are ‘non-skilled’ tests – we don’t need to train specifically to improve those tests, they will improve in a sound athletic-based training program focusing on Strength, Power, Speed, and Work Capacity, all of which will be explained in greater detail in part 2 of this series.
We are fortunate enough to have three Brower Timing Systems for timing all of our sprint and movement tests. We use the fully automated version, with the timer starting with the first movement of the athlete and stopping when they pass through the gates. Each athlete will get two attempts at the 10-yard sprint; when explaining the drill, we make sure to tell the group to sprint to 12 yards to avoid any chance of them slowing down before they reach 10 yards. We will take the better of the two times. We follow the same protocol with the Standing Long Jump, with each athlete getting two jump attempts and taking the best.
For each and every part of our evaluation and athletic assessment, we do not have standard scores that we want different individuals to reach. All we are looking for is improvement, both individually and as a team. We use these measures to evaluate our program, know what worked well, what we could change, and give us ideas for future training phases.
I hope this article gave you some useful information to take to the groups that you train – stay tuned for part 2, where I will explain each level of the pyramid as well as the how’s and why’s for our training at each level.

Coach Runner is the Owner and Director of Sports Performance at Full-Stride Performance. Prior to founding FSP, Runner was formerly the Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Atlanta Gladiators of the East Coast Hockey League, a minor league affiliate of the NHL's Boston Bruins. Coach Runner was also the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Husson University Eagles, Graduate Assistant Strength Coach at the University of Maine, and a former collegiate hockey player for Plymouth State University. He earned his Master of Science degree in Kinesiology & Exercise Science from the University of Maine and is recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist by the National Strength & Conditioning Association in addition to numerous other certifications.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.