What is Fitness Testing?
Fitness testing is a way for coaches and researchers alike to be able to use various testing methods to evaluate the physical condition of their performers/athletes. They evaluate the performers based on areas such as aerobic (with oxygen) endurance, anaerobic (without oxygen) endurance, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, maximal oxygen uptake, as well as in various other areas of fitness. They can also test a performer’s flexibility, muscular strength, balance, power, and speed. The most common methods utilized for these tests include running on a treadmill, using a cycle ergometer and rowing machine, push-up and sit-up tests, sit-and-reach tests, and wobble boards.
Why is Fitness Testing Important?
Fitness testing is a valuable tool for trainers and coaches in that it allows them to assess the various strengths and weaknesses of their athletes. With successful data, they can put together a training program that will address all of these areas to meet their athlete’s needs. Reliable fitness testing data can help athletes avoid injury and over-exertion. Fitness testing can also tell if the current program is meeting the athlete’s goals and expectations and can be an excellent motivator for them as they are able to judge progress!
Examining Current Fitness Testing for Dance!
A recent study conducted in 2009 by Emma Redding for the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science provided clues on how to develop a successful fitness training program for ballet and for dance as a whole! The study looked at the methods currently in use for high-performance athletes, specifically treadmill and cycle ergometer testing. They also evaluated the benefits of laboratory-based and field-based testing in relation to dance. They concluded that both types of testing have benefits, with laboratory testing having more accurate data and field testing having more practical applications and benefits.
What they also found, however, is that the current methods of fitness testing are not the most reliable ways to test dancers. When looking at the DAFT test, which is used to measure aerobic output over time in dance, they found that the test is lacking based on the fact that dance utilizes both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems and comprises a combination of low, moderate, and high intensity energy levels. In practical terms, dance classes and practice tend to use low to moderate levels of intensity and mostly use the aerobic energy system while dance performances tend to be carried out in much higher intensities and combines both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.
They also looked at the Wingate Anaerobic Test (WAnT) currently used to measure anaerobic energy output. The researchers found that this test wasn’t the most practical due to the fact that the method of exercise (using cycle ergometers) was unfamiliar to dancers and that they are not used to going to volitional exhaustion. Also, the cycle ergometer is a low-impact mode of exercise that utilizes only a specific group of muscles in order to perform while dance is a high-impact sport that involves various muscle groups working together to be successful. The outcome of the examinations of these two methods of testing led the researchers to put together a way of testing that allows dancers to be in a familiar environment using the types of movements and energy output required in their field!
The Dance Fitness Test Protocol!
The dance protocol that the researchers came up with was designed to reflect the environment, tempo, and movement used in modern dance. The intensity levels of the testing procedures were made to be similar to what a dancer feels when on stage during a live performance. Movement phases were designed to mimic the intermittent stop-start nature of dance and the work-to-rest ratio was set at 1:2, meaning that for every one minute of dance there would be two minutes of rest.
The different abilities and techniques required of the participants included jumping in the first and second positions, rolls to the floor, weight transference from feet to hands and back to feet again, circular hops with an arm pattern, and a parallel jump forward in space using an arm swing. This sequence of events is repeated three times within one minute using a tempo of 106 beats per minute. It is then repeated again after two minutes of rest. The whole series is to be done four times!
The test was a success and led to the conclusion that testing such as the one illustrated above should be incorporated into any form of dance and that specific elements related to various styles should also be incorporated to best recreate the actual feel of the dance routine. In ballet, for example, positions and movements such as the arabesque, the assemble, battement, pirouettes, side leaps, jette, and various other techniques could be interchanged or added to the routine above to make it more specific to this particular style of dance.
Other Forms of Fitness Testing!
Other simpler forms of fitness testing can also be performed to determine the fitness of different areas of an athlete, such as balance, muscular and cardiovascular endurance, power, speed, and flexibility. For balance, using equipment such as wobble boards using methods such standing on one leg for an extended period of time can be useful. To test for muscular endurance, sit-up tests, and push-up tests can be performed to fatigue. Cardiovascular endurance can be measured through treadmill testing and mile-long runs. Power can be tested by doing standing vertical jump tests while speed can be gauged using various sprint tests. And finally, flexibility can be measured using sit-and-reach tests and calf flexibility tests!
Sport-Specific Fitness Testing!
When it comes to fitness testing, the best thing a coach/trainer/athlete can do is to use methods best suited towards their own specific goals and areas of expertise. For ballet and other dancers, using techniques described above can help simulate the modern dance experience and prepare the athlete for situations faced during actual performance. Using methods that simulate sport-specific scenarios is being more commonly used today as new research sheds light on the benefits gained from this practice. Look at any football and basketball practice and you will see that they perform as if in the actual event. This kind of conditioning is healthy for dancers so that they can see how their fitness has progressed when viewed from the prism of dance rather than some generic form of testing. It allows for realistic goals to be set and can be used to fix areas of weakness that the athlete may have. When it comes to fitness testing for ballet and dance, sport-specific testing will reward in ways that other kinds of testing cannot.
Redding, Emma. “Testing for High Intensity Dance Fitness.” International Association for Dance Medicine and Science 1.2 (2009): 14-15. 22 November 2010.