Muscular strength tests to track fitness progress

Not sure how to measure strength, muscular endurance or muscle recovery? Use one of these physical strength tests! This comprehensive list of fitness tests covers all proven strength tests, muscular endurance tests, speed tests and power tests. By performing these tests regularly, you can objectively track strength training progress.

By Loek Vossen

Muscular strength tests to track fitness progress

List of muscle strength tests

If you want to track strength training progress, you need to perform strength tests regularly. That doesn’t necessarily require 1RM testing. In fact there are many strength tests that give you progress metrics that go beyond 1RM. For instance: power, bar speed, exercise technique, etc.

After performing a strength test, you know if your strength training is working. You also know what to work on next. Here’s a comprehensive list of strength tests:

If you’re assessing muscular strength, it’s important to pick the right strength test. Here’s a quick overview that answers which test to use.

1RM (one-repetition maximum) test

A 1RM test is probably the most well known muscular strength test to track strength progress. It measures the maximal load that you can lift once. You can use this test for any muscle (group).

Although the test seems straightforward at first (simply try to lift a heavy weight once), it comes with several 1RM testing problems and risks. That’s why most coaches use a submaximal 1RM test.

Sub maximal 1RM strength test to track fitness progress.
Measure the velocity when lifting a light load (in this example 45kg) and a heavy load (in this example 70kg). Draw a linear line between the 2 (blue) points that crosses the horizontal x-axis. Determine your 1RM by looking at the crossing point between your linear line and the minimum velocity of the exercise (0.16 m/s for the bench press). In this example, the estimated 1RM equals 90kg.

If you want to easily and accurately predict 1RM, you can use a velocity device like GymAware RS or GymAware FLEX.

Here’s everything you need to know about 1RM testing:

Muscular endurance test

Muscular endurance is the ability of your muscles to generate force over a long period of time.

A wall sit or wall squat is often used to measure muscular endurance for the lower body. However, this only looks at your isometric muscular endurance. The same is true when using (side) planks to measure upper body muscular endurance.

In most sports, eccentric or concentric muscular endurance is more important. That’s why a better way to measure muscular endurance is by looking at the performance of the muscle over time, in the exercise that you want to measure. By tracking muscular fatigue over time, you can easily determine muscular endurance. Metrics to look for: load, velocity and power.

Say you want to measure lower body muscular endurance in a dynamic squat. By tracking velocity loss, you can see how fatigue resistant your lower body muscles are. The faster your velocity decreases during a set, the worse your muscular endurance.

This test requires you to move the load with maximal intent: as fast as possible.

If you consistently track velocity loss with a specific load (e.g. 80% 1RM), you can track your muscular endurance progress over time. Here’s how your velocity loss could look like in a single set:

Velocity fatigue trend to measure muscular endurance.
Velocity loss during a single set: an indicator for muscular endurance and fatigue resistance.

Instead of measuring velocity, you could also measure power loss as an indicator of muscular endurance. To measure velocity and power, you need a velocity based training device like GymAware RS or GymAware FLEX. The apps that come with these products automatically show your velocity loss as a percentage of your previous rep:

FLEX Stronger app showing velocity loss percentage during set as a measure for muscular endurance and fatigue resistance.
FLEX Stronger app showing velocity loss (14%) live.

When testing muscular endurance, it’s important to remember that type II muscle fibers can produce more force, but are less fatigue resistant compared to type I muscle fibers. As a result, measuring muscular endurance can also be an indicator of muscle fiber types. A type II dominant athlete probably shows a steeper velocity loss trend (higher velocity at first, rapid decline when reps accumulate) than a type I muscle fiber athlete. 

Learn more about testing strength endurance via this article:

Dynamic Strength Index

In most sports, explosive strength is as important as maximum strength. But which one should you focus on in training? 

The Dynamic Strength Index (DSI) shows how your explosive performance relates to your absolute strength performance. As a result, you know your strengths and weaknesses, which allows you to individualize your training program based on DSI.

Dynamic Strength Index test to track fitness progress.
Dynamic strength index: divide the force production during an explosive exercise by the force production during a maximal strength exercise.

The DSI test can be used for upper and lower body exercises. Simply measure force production in an explosive movement (e.g. weighted vertical jump) and divide it by the force production in a maximum strength exercise (e.g. heavy squat). The good news: you don’t need a force plate. Simply measure bar velocity, using a VBT device like GymAware RS.

Learn everything about the Dynamic Strength Index via this article:

Reactive Strength Index or Drop jump test

The Reactive Strength Index (RSI) test – or drop jump test – measures an athlete’s ability to rapidly change from an eccentric motion into a concentric muscular contraction. It is also known as the stretch-shortening cycle test, depth jump test or box jump test.

The RSI test can be used to measure an athlete’s ability to cope with plyometric exercises and the change of direction.

Reactive Strength Index (RSI) test to track fitness progress.
Reactive strength index: divide jump height by ground contact time.

This fitness metric is measured by dividing jump height by ground contact time, in a box jump test. Professional coaches and athletes have used GymAware RS for over 20 years for RSI testing. Learn exactly how to perform the test and what’s a good RSI via this article:

Vertical Jump test or Countermovement Jump (CMJ) test

Vertical jumps and Countermovement jumps are popular exercises to quickly monitor performance and fatigue. Additionally, there are many benefits of being able to jump high, besides the obvious reasons in sports like basketball and volleyball.

Some coaches use jump tests to assess muscle fiber identification.

With a velocity device like GymAware RS and GymAware FLEX, you can easily measure jump height, jump power and jump velocity.

Vertical jump test or countermovement jump (CMJ) test
Vertical jump test, using a GymAware device.

Here’s everything you need to know about vertical jump testing or CMJ testing:

Rate of Force Development (RFD) test

Producing muscle force is one thing, but being able to produce force quickly is often even more important. A Rate of Force Development test measures how quickly a muscle can reach peak force.

This muscular strength test should be high on the test list of any athlete or coach who wants to test strength progress beyond 1RM. RFD is an important ingredient of your explosiveness.

Start tracking progress in your RFD, using a velocity device. Here’s an in-depth overview of the Rate of Force Development test:

Power test

Muscular power is essential in almost all sports, which is why power training is so popular. A muscular powertest looks at the load and the velocity of an exercise.

Power (watt) = load * velocity

During a muscular power test, you aim for the highest power production possible. This means you need to find the right balance between a heavy weight and a weight that you can lift quickly. In other words: the highest load will probably not result in the highest power.

GymAware app showing mean power in a power test.
GymAware app showing mean power in watt per kg

You can also use a specific load and aim for a high muscular power with that load. This essentially comes down to moving the bar as fast as possible, which is the foundation of velocity based training. Here’s more about improving muscular power.

GymAware RS allows you to easily measure:

  • Concentric peak power
  • Eccentric peak power
  • Concentric mean power
  • Eccentric mean power

Bar speed test

If you want to test for speed in fitness exercises, you need to track the bar velocity. This allows you to look beyond load.

When testing for speed, you could for instance track the speed of the bar during a squat, using 80% of 1RM. You can now start to improve speed, instead of focusing on load only. You can also compare your bar speed (at a fixed percentage of 1RM) with others.

GymAware app showing deadlift bar velocity in a bar speed test.
GymAware RS app showing deadlift mean velocity (0.71 m/s)

Speed testing and using (bar) speed in training is the foundation of velocity based training.

GymAware RS allows you to easily measure:

  • Concentric peak velocity
  • Eccentric peak velocity
  • Concentric mean velocity
  • Eccentric mean velocity

Force velocity profiling

Most physical strength tests look at one single strength trait. The force velocity profile on the other hand, shows a relationship between muscle force production and speed/velocity.

Force velocity curve as a result of a force velocity profile test
Force velocity profile: when force increases, velocity decreases.

To create your own force velocity profile, you need to lift several loads, as fast as possible. Make sure to measure velocity during the lift, with a velocity based training device.

You can then enter your load- and velocity data into our free force-velocity spreadsheet, to create a force velocity curve. It automatically highlights when you underperform at a specific load (e.g. your bar velocity at 40% 1RM is low).

After the force-velocity test, you can take action based on your force-velocity profile. Learn everything you need to know about force-velocity profiling in this article:

Load velocity profiling

Similar to the force-velocity profile, you can also create a load-velocity profile. This allows you to accurately predict 1RM.

In practice, this strength test is similar to the force-velocity fitness test. However, it looks at load instead of force.

Get a step by step example of how you can test and implement the load-velocity profile in this article:

Muscular profile: combining power and force-velocity profile

If we combine the power test with the force-velocity profile (or load-velocity profile), we get a muscular profile. This muscular strength test looks at the relationship between power, force and velocity (hence: force-velocity-power profile).

In other words, it shows at which percentage of 1RM you generate your peak power. Here’s an example of a muscular profile, showing the force-velocity and power-velocity relationship, using GymAware cloud:

Muscular profile showing force-velocity and power-velocity relationship in back squat.
Muscular profile showing force-velocity and power-velocity relationship in back squat.

If your peak power occurs at a high percentage of 1RM, you’re considered slow but strong. If your peak power occurs at a low percentage of 1RM (e.g. between 40-50%), you’re considered a high velocity athlete.

Learn more about the possibilities of muscular profiling in the GymAware cloud via:

Bar path test

A bar path test looks at how you move a load from A to B. You can use the bar path test to test for exercise technique. It looks at the athlete’s ability to perform a movement and therefore is a measure for exercise quality.

Bar path (trajectory) test
The GymAware FLEX app shows the bar path of a snatch.

All strength tests should actually be combined with a bar path test, to see if the technique used is good. If the bar path is off in any strength test, you’re not measuring the actual abilities. An athlete could for instance be “cheating” or worse: injuring themselves.

Dive deeper into the bar path test via this article:

Muscle recovery test

If you want to measure whether your muscles have recovered, you could do a muscle fatigue assessment. This shows how fatigued (or recovered) the muscle is, and therefore the readiness to train again.

Knowing muscle recovery is interesting both within a workout and between workouts.

You can measure muscle recovery by looking at the velocity of the barbell for a given load. A recovered muscle is able to move the bar fast, while a muscle that is not recovered yet, moves the bar much slower. Here’s an example.

Perform a 50% 1RM squat at the beginning of each workout, and measure velocity. If the velocity is lower than your 30 day average, you’re not recovered yet. Here’s what to do when your daily readiness is down.

The same is true within a workout. If the velocity of your first rep of set 2 is lower than the first rep of set 1, you’re not fully recovered between sets. Of course this is normal, but it enables you to quantify your recovery. 

You can even take it one step further and control fatigue by only allowing a decrease in velocity of e.g. 30%. This is called autoregulation in strength training.

Autoregulation in strength training using velocity loss to measure muscle recovery
Autoregulation in strength training using velocity loss. Example of a workout with a velocity loss threshold of 30%. Whenever the velocity loss is higher than 30% you stop the set.

Learn more about monitoring recovery and fatigue via this article:

Strength test wrap up

Hopefully you learned more about muscular strength testing beyond 1RM testing. Many of these tests require a velocity, force or power measurement. If you want to measure these metrics accurately, the scientifically validated GymAware RS is the system of choice. For more than 20 years GymAware has been trusted by World Champions, Olympians and Pro Athletes — and those who prepare them to win. Looking for an alternative? GymAware FLEX is a validated VBT device for modest budgets. Compare GymAware RS with GymAware FLEX or immediately get your own velocity device via our shop.

Got a question? Not sure what strength test you should use to track your strength progress? Reach out and we’ll get back to you asap!

Learn more about velocity based training via our free PDF:

Download: How to get started with velocity based training [use case]

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Loek Vossen

Loek Vossen

Human Movement Scientist | Content Marketing and Education