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Anaerobic Testing

This is an excerpt from Advanced Exercise Physiology by Jonathan K Ehrman,Dennis J. Kerrigan & Steven J. Keteyian.

To accurately determine baseline status in order to guide exercise prescription development and determine whether adaptations occur in response to the exercise training stimulus, one needs to be able to precisely measure the variables of interest. Measures must be both repeatable and accurate (i.e., valid). To attain valid measures, the testing methods used must be performed according to specific guidelines with respect to

  • the subject’s preparation (e.g., meals, rest, prior exercise, time of day),
  • equipment use (e.g., appropriateness of equipment for measuring variables of interest, maintenance, calibration),
  • implementation according to testing guidelines applied by the individual conducting the test, and
  • proper interpretation of the test results.

Typical variables of interest in anaerobic performance assessment are anaerobic power and anaerobic capacity. Anaerobic power is important for sprint, mid-distance, and distance athletes but for varying reasons. For most athletic events, there is interplay between the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. Referring to figure 7.1, we see that sprinters (events lasting 4 min) predominantly utilize aerobic metabolic sources. Even aerobic athletes must rely on anaerobic sources at critical times of an event, such as during a hill climb in a bicycle race or the final sprint of a 10K running race.

No direct method of determining anaerobic energy power and capacity currently exists. Although blood lactate accumulation generally is considered to be the product of a high rate of anaerobic glycolysis, blood lactate concentration measurement does not provide specific information about the rate and capacity of the production of ATP. Additionally, the concentration of blood lactate is affected by the rate of its clearance, which differs in individuals due to factors such as - but not limited to - recovery activity status (i.e., active vs. passive); recovery exercise intensity; ratio of individual Type I to Type II skeletal muscle fiber composition; the rate of blood flow to the skeletal muscles, heart, and liver (Cori cycle); and the rate of release of muscle lactate into the blood.

The following is a comprehensive list of common anaerobic tests. The test to be utilized must be specific to the variable being measured. For instance, to measure maximal anaerobic muscle power, a test needs to be very short in duration to isolate the ATP-PCr energy system. Maximal muscle power is used in activities such as jumping and throwing. A vertical jump test is a good example of a short-duration muscle power test. Speed often is thought of as a useful measure, and the 40-yd (36.6 m) dash is used by the National Football League (NFL) to measure speed and provide a ranking of potential draftees. However, a 40-yd dash technically assesses acceleration, velocity, and average speed. The top speed is the fastest instantaneous rate of an object in motion while the average speed is the distance divided by the time to cover that distance. Velocity includes the component of direction of movement; thus, speed is the magnitude component of velocity. NSCA’s Guide to Tests and Assessments (Human Kinetics, 2012) provides an excellent review of the performance of anaerobic tests.

Anaerobic Tests

  • Vertical jump test
  • Margaria-Kalamen power test
  • Modified Margaria-Kalamen power test (also known as the football staircase test)
  • Three Modified Box Long Jump (MBLJ) test
  • Wingate Anaerobic Test (WAnT)
  • Critical power test

Various studies have determined that each test in the list is a valid measure of anaerobic power. In particular, the vertical jump test, standing long jump test, Margaria-Kalamen power test, Modified Margaria-Kalamen power test, and three modified box long jump test are considered to be the most sport specific of these tests. The following sections briefly discuss and provide directions for performing several of these anaerobic tests.

Vertical Jump Test

The vertical jump test is commonly used by coaches to measure lower body power and to test an athlete’s jumping ability. Previous investigations determined that the vertical jump has high predictive value for measuring power production for athletes participating in such sports as track and field, weightlifting, volleyball, basketball, and football. To test the vertical jump, schools, organizations, and sport teams commonly use a commercially designed device consisting of plastic swivel vanes placed in 0.5-in. (12.7 cm) increments. Because the athlete uses countermovement of the lower body and an outstretched arm swing to reach the highest vane, the vertical jump test is also known as the jump and reach test.

As an example of the sophistication that can be developed for simple tests such as the vertical jump, consider the following. Some researchers believe that the gold standard for measuring the vertical jump includes implementing video analysis and using biomechanical reflective markers on the hip to measure the displacement of the center of mass. Although valid and reliable, this method is cost prohibitive for many fitness and sport organizations. A commercial jump mat is another device used to measure the vertical jump. Embedded in the mat are microswitches that determine flight time - that is, the interval between the liftoff and landing of both feet during a countermovement from a flat-footed standing position. The flight time in the air is used to compute the subject’s vertical jump. A study by García-López et al. using three countermovement jumps found that jump mats designed with photo cells showed higher correlations with force plate technologies compared with a contact jump mat. Similarly, Whitmer et al. determined that practitioners using a contact jump mat may underestimate the vertical jump for high performers. A promising new technology for measuring vertical jump is the Myotest (Myotest Inc., Switzerland). The Myotest device is approximately the size of a small smartphone, and the subject wears the device on the hip to determine the displacement of the center of mass. This test does not require the subject to reach and stretch with one arm to displace vanes like when using a vane jump test device. A study by Nuzzo et al. found that the Myotest demonstrated the best intrasession reliability for measuring a countermovement vertical jump when compared with the vane jump test device and jump mat system.

Figure 7.2 Vertical jump test.
Vertical jump test.

Procedures for the Vertical Jump Test

  1. Before the test: To measure the highest standing reach, instruct the subject to stand flat footed and reach with one arm fully extended. This should be the same arm that will extend and displace the vanes. Then measure again during plantar flexion with the same arm extended and during plantar flexion. Measure the subject’s reach at the middle finger. This measure will be subtracted from the highest recorded vertical jump value.
  2. During the test: Instruct the subject to take a vertical jump from a standing position using a countermovement. The subject should squat down and back while simultaneously using a bilateral backward arm swing. The subject should then explode upward by extending the hips, knees, ankles (also known as the triple extension), shoulders, elbows, and wrists and attempt to displace the highest vane with one arm (see figure 7.2). Alternatively, a wall-mounted jump-and-reach board may be used.
  3. Obtain the measurement and repeat two more times. Instruct the subject to rest for 30 s between trials.
  4. Calculate the maximum vertical jump by subtracting the highest standing reach from the highest vane displaced during the three vertical jumps.

Learn more about Advanced Exercise Physiology.