12 Insane Physical Tests U.S. Olympians Must Undergo
I will not be participating in this year's Summer Olympics.
Shocker, I know. But that doesn't mean I can't train like an Olympian.
Nike's Limitless Potential program demonstrates the intense training and transformation elite athletes undertake on the road to Rio 2016. In an effort to make the often unseen work and commitment of an Olympian visible, I was given the opportunity to live like one for the next eight weeks. Exactly how convincingly I'll be able to do that remains to be seen, but I'll certainly try my best. Side note: do Olympians still get to eat dessert?
To prime me for my journey, I visited the Michael Johnson Performance Center in McKinney, Texas to undergo an Advanced Athlete Assessment, which consists of a battery of tests, screenings and evaluations designed to identify opportunities for improvement in nearly every facet of an athlete's life.
From MJPC's official website: "[W]ith a comprehensive review of your body, we can provide you and your coach the necessary information to improve your athletic performance and reduce injury ... we utilize state-of-the-art technology to get an assessment of your current status ranging from your basic structural function to your specific sport's performance." These are the same tests used to help Olympians make the tiny improvements that often prove to be the difference between capturing gold and being left off the podium. Here are 12 different tests used to assess some of the greatest athletes on earth.
1. Functional Movement Screen
The Functional Movement Screen (or FMS) was developed by physical therapist Gray Cook in 2001. It's a 10-minute evaluation that consists of seven simple unweighted movements. However, rating the quality with which one can achieve these movements provides a very useful diagnostic tool. According to Cook, the FMS helps "determine the greatest areas of movement deficiency, demonstrate limitations of asymmetries and eventually correlate these with an outcome." The FMS probably won't make you break a sweat, but it can speak volumes about the type of athlete you are. For example, I now know I have pretty pitiful shoulder mobility but fairly flexible hamstrings.
2. Y-Balance Test
The Y-Balance Test is closely related to the FMS. However, it places a heavier focus on balance and proprioception. From the Functional Movement official website: "[T]he Y-Balance Test is a thoroughly researched, yet easy way to test a person's motor control as well as demonstrate functional symmetry. The Y-Balance Test allows us to quarter the body and look at how the core and each extremity function under bodyweight loads."
It essentially measures how well you control your body through six different movements. A measurement is taken of how far you can put each foot in front of you, behind you to the left and behind you to the right while maintaining control of your body. "It's looking for any asymmetries you may have between your right and left limbs," says MJPC Performance Specialist Brendan Fagan. Since you're standing on just one leg, your proprioception, balance and flexibility are pushed to the limit.
3. Firstbeat Heart Rate Analysis
From the moment I arrived in McKinney, I was fitted with a Firstbeat heart rate monitor to be worn at all times (except in the shower). The amount of data that can ultimately be gathered from this device is staggering, tracking everything from daily calories burned to the training benefits of a specific bout of activity. But perhaps the most important feature is sleep tracking, as the Firstbeat can track how much and how well you sleep throughout the night. All of these factors are combined to help analyze how well your body recovers from training.
4.InBody Body Composition Analysis
The InBody 770 Body Composition Analyzer analyzes an athlete's fat, muscle and water levels in under 60 seconds via hand and foot electrodes that send low-level currents throughout the body. It is much more accurate than a simple BMI value, which does not take muscle mass into account. In addition to measuring lean muscle mass, the InBody has the ability to track water levels, giving a definitive answer to a question athletes often ask themselves—am I hydrated?
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5. 7-Point Skin Fold Assessment
The 7-point Skin Fold Assessment measures body fat and body composition with a pair of calipers.
While the InBody provides an accurate measurement of overall body fat percentage, the 7-point Skin Fold Assessment gives a more detailed evaluation of your composition in specific areas. Need to add some bulk in your back? Carrying some extra pounds around your midsection? In conjunction with the InBody, the 7-point Skin Fold Assessment can help you get a clear picture of where your body composition stands. "A number on the scale or a circumference in a tape measure doesn't paint the whole picture," says MJPC Performance Nutrition Specialist Drew Little.
6. Foot Biomechanics Evaluation
Thanks to an in-facility Nike Sport Research Lab at MJPC, elite athletes have access to a ridiculous amount of foot and footwear-focused technology. A 3D modeling machine builds a virtual outline of your foot, giving you exact measurements of everything from your instep circumference to your foot breadth. Highly sensitive pressure plates are used to track how your foot strikes the ground during your stride, which can have a big impact on both your performance and the type of footwear you should be rocking.
7. Physical Therapy Evaluation
Although things like the Functional Movement Screen and the Y-Balance Test can indicate certain movement deficiencies, a full Physical Therapy evaluation can help find out exactly why those deficiencies might exist. A Physical Therapy evaluation typically involves an interview covering the athlete's injury history and a full physical examination designed to pinpoint specific areas of weakness or immobility in an athlete's body. "If you have pain during the FMS, let's say in the shoulder for example, that might be impingement. Then our physical therapists can go in and look closer to see what's really going on," says MJPC Performance Specialist Lindsey Anderson.
8. Jumping/Landing Mechanics Assessment
Jumping and landing mechanics provide an insightful window into an athlete's overall movement patterns and biomechanics. At MJPC, the assessments are performed with a plethora of high-tech tools, including pressure plates, high-speed cameras and an LED beam-break system called the Optojump. These tools help coaches break down an athlete's movement to a near microscopic level. For example, a simple Depth Jump viewed on high-frame, slow-motion video can reveal a lot of issues. One foot hits the ground before the other? That's a problem. Right knee collapses in when you land? That's a problem. How you jump and how you land says a lot about how you move as an athlete.
9. Wingate Bike Test
Not too long ago, STACK's Andy Haley wrote an article entitled "The Wingate Test: The Hardest 30 Seconds of Your Life." After experiencing it myself, I won't argue. The Wingate Test requires a cycle ergometer, which is an expensive type of stationary bike. The resistance provided by this bike can be precisely calibrated to a percentage of your body weight, which is exactly what's done for the Wingate Test. The athlete simply pedals as fast as he or she possibly can against the resistance for 30 seconds. After the test, the resistance used is multiplied by the speed attained at various points to provide data on the athlete's anaerobic energy system. Specifically, it measures max power output (anaerobic power) and the ability to maintain power (anaerobic capacity).
10. Aptus Mental Assessment
Whereas the other tests on this list have to do with physical capabilities and wellbeing, this one's a mental test. The Aptus Assessment is a 30-minute test consisting of 10 exercises performed on a tablet. These exercises measure how a person defines, processes and executes information and instructions in a variety of environments. As mental fatigue sets in toward the end of the test, the pace of the exercises gets increasingly frantic, and crowd noise is pumped into your headphones. Can you keep your cool during crunch time? The Aptus Assessment will find out.
11. Omegawave Readiness Test
All athletes know they can't get the most out of their training if they don't recover the right way. Basing your training for a day entirely on how you feel can be a guessing game, but the Omegawave gives you real, reliable data that tells you how recovered your body really is. Measuring both heart rate and brain waves, the Omegawave can tell you what sort of state your body's sympathetic, parasympathetic and metabolic systems are in.
"It gives you recommendations on what you can train and what you're going to get the most benefit out of. Everything is on a scale of one to seven, seven being the best and one being the worst," says MJPC Performance Specialist Mark Pryer. "We're looking at a balance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Sympathetic is going to be more tied to your stress level, parasympathetic is going to be more tied to relaxation. You want to have a nice balance between the two. If you're overly stressed, anything you do in training is going to feel a whole lot more taxing. If you're too relaxed, you're going to feel kind of weak."
12. The Beep Test
Also known as the multi-stage fitness test, the Beep Test is used to estimate an athlete's VO2 max. What does that entail? Running. Lots and lots of running. Athletes run a distance of 20 meters and attempt to cross the end line before the "beep." Every minute, the interval between the beeps gets quicker. The longer you can beat the beeps, the higher your estimated VO2 max is. I pray I never have to run this thing again.