The Future of Fitness Testing
Technology is continuing to significantly impact the way we live, and sports have not escaped being radically transformed by an explosion of scientific and technological advances in materials, training, nutrition, and medicine. Examples of the technological changes in sports include swimming suits in swimming, racing bicycle design, athletic shoes, video replays and ball tracking, and sports medicine developments (see more about Technology in Sports). Although the changes have been slower to manifest, it is inevitable that there will be significant advances in the field of fitness testing.
Traditional Tests Are Still Popular
Although there have been some advances in fitness testing over the years, it seems like the recent advancements in technology have not been fully incorporated into the field of fitness testing. Many traditional fitness tests are still very popular, partly because people are familiar with them, they have been used for a long time and we know how to interpret the results, and we have previous data to compare to. A new test may be more accurate and more valid, but we will be hesitant to use it without the years of experience, research and data behind it. A new test has to be much better than what has come before it, before its use becomes more widespread. The use of new technology may be just the thing to make a new test good enough to supplant these traditional tests.
The Rise of Wearbables
An obvious use of new technology in fitness testing is the wearbable, such as the popular FitBit smart-watch that can measure steps, heart rate and sometimes distance using a GPS. Using wearables during sport can give us a lot of information about performance. Greater knowledge about what is going on with the body during performance means we can get more specific with tests that are designed. There are devices available which can measure during games the player's body temperature, heart rate, sweat rates and movement speed. We can monitor player fatigue, recovery, and the effect of environmental conditions. With all this information, there is less need to do fitness testing. You don't necessarily need a fitness test to monitor changes in fitness over time when you can see directly monitor how their performance is tracking with data from on the field.
Another way that wearables can be utilized is to supplement current test protocols, so we can record things more accurately and more easily. For example, there is a vertical jump tester using touchless technology. When running tests like the 12-minute Cooper test, you can use a GPS to accurately measure the running distance, or use trackers to accurately time how long the athlete took to complete a test, sensors to count the number of push-ups or sit-ups, and even to check for correct technique. There are fitness testing apps using the power of mobile phones that can do some of these things. Such use of wearables removes assessors’ error and provides more accurate and reliable results. With this, there is less need for trained assessors and you could test larger groups at once, and some athletes could even accurately test themselves remotely.
With the proliferation of electronic devices, which can sometimes measure continuously many factors at once, there is consequently a lot more data collected. Having more data is not necessarily a good thing. Sports scientists often try and make things more complex than it needs to be, and trying to look like they are on the cutting edge with a fancy new test using the latest gadgets. However, there is are benefits to keeping things simple, and using traditional and inherently simpler tests can make it easier to collect data, easy to interpret, and easier to explain the results to the athlete.
With everything connected, there is undoubtedly a lot more data to be found online. You can easily find online athlete and sports team fitness test results, but as always with what you find on the internet there may be uncertainty about it. Can you trust that the data is true, is it reliable, how was it collected, which procedure was followed, was the equipment calibrated, what version of the test was used, what are the details of the subject group? Rarely will you find much of this information presented with test results.
Trend to More Specificity
There is a recent trend to more vocational or sport specific tests, particularly for the army, police and other workplace assessments - working towards more work specific tests and equitable testing. For example, the US Army is bringing in The Army Combat Fitness Test in October 2020, a newly designed fitness testing protocol, a gender and age-neutral test that more closely replicates the types of physical actions that army personnel do on the battlefield.
Where to Now?
With the currently available technology, I can see many ways that new devices and techniques could be incorporated into fitness testing. Here are some possible examples (and some probably already in use!):
- Sensors in implements for recording force/velocity profiles, work output, actual distance thrown
- Real-time tracking of movement speed - onboard sensors could measure instantaneous speed at any time during a sprint test.
- Movement sensors for counting repetitions and checking for correct technique.
- Virtual reality for measuring agility and reaction time, placing the athlete in actual but controlled game situations.
- In-muscle sensors to record the performance of aerobic and anaerobic systems directly.
- Wearable sensors which are sensitive enough to measure small movements in all directions, to enable accurate range-of-movement measurements of joints.
- A simple scanner, providing an easy, cheap and accurate method of measuring body fat levels.
Who knows what else? Keep an eye on Topend Sports for all the latest fitness testing information.
- Sports Technology — the use of technology is just one of those areas that has made an impact on many sports in the modern day.
- Health Activity Trackers — Smart watches and wristbands are currently popular, but smart garments and loggers you can ingest or inject are not far away.
- Sweat Monitoring — biometric skin monitors to measure sweat rate and composition.
- Technology and the Olympic Games
- The winners of the annual Sports Technology Awards
- Body Composition Software
- About Heart Rate Monitors
- New Fitness Tests
- Read the Sports Technology entries on the blog.
- Sport science and sports apps