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Testing human performance under exercise conditions

This is an excerpt from Laboratory Manual for Exercise Physiology 2nd Edition With Web Study Guide by G. Gregory Haff & Charles Dumke.

Testing human performance under exercise conditions allows for the evaluation of the human body's functional ability. This information can give us an understanding of the individual's overall health and wellness as well as athletic performance capacity. We can also garner information about the ability to tolerate and adapt to exercise by examining the individual's postexercise responses. This information can then be used to implement exercise programs designed to enhance health and wellness or sport performance. There are numerous tests that can be performed in the exercise physiology laboratory in order to evaluate health and wellness or examine athletic performance capacity. Many of these tests fall into one of three classifications: field, field/laboratory, and laboratory.


Field tests
allow us to assess specific fitness and performance variables in a real-world setting. These tests are generally practical and less expensive than their laboratory-based counterparts. Though not often used for research due to difficulty in controlling external variables (e.g., weather, terrain), these tests are extremely useful for screening and monitoring purposes. Because these tests are developed from their laboratory counterparts, they can offer a high degree of validity when conducted with attention to appropriate methodological controls. Examples in exercise physiology include the 1 to 1.5 mi (1.6-2.4 km) run test, the 1 mi (1.6 km) jogging test, the 12 min cycling test, sprints, the 30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test, and the quantification of the body mass index, or BMI. Though typically done in field settings, some of these tests may also be conducted in laboratory settings (e.g., BMI, 12 min cycling test).


Field/laboratory tests
can be conducted in either field or laboratory settings. Like field tests, they often require minimal equipment, but they are subjected to tighter controls, and a field/laboratory test in the field must be performed with the same tight controls that would be used in the laboratory. One example of a field/laboratory test is the step test. In the laboratory, this test can be performed using a step box, which limits the number of subjects to one. In the field, the step test can be performed on stadium bleachers with a large number of subjects at the same time. Regardless of location, the step test requires a metronome and stopwatch to appropriately conduct and control the test. Other examples of field/laboratory tests include the sit-and-reach test, skinfold assessments, vertical jump testing, and blood pressure (BP) measurements.


Laboratory tests
are conducted with the highest level of control and often require expensive equipment that cannot be taken into the field; as a result, they are usually performed on one person at a time and thus tend to be time consuming. In return, they offer a significantly higher degree of accuracy and precision. Examples include measurement of maximal oxygen consumption, quantification of resting metabolic rate (RMR), exercise electrocardiograms (ECGs), dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), underwater weighing (UWW), quantification of isometric or dynamic force-time curves, and anaerobic treadmill testing.