Modern Life and The Slow Decline

Part III — Benchmark Testing


Beta Testing SYNAPSES

To recap, here’s what SYNAPSES entails:

  • 20 yard shuttle.
  • Vertical Leap.
  • Broad Jump.
  • 20lb Overhead Medicine Ball Throw.
  • 40 yard dash.
  • 95 lb Barbell Squat AMRAP.
  • 95 lbs Bench Press AMRAP.
  • Pull-Ups.
  • Farmer’s Walk 95lbs each hand.
  • Sit & Reach Test.
  • Beep Test.

At a minimum, SYNAPSES requires a bench press, squat rack, pull-up bar, a beep test app and speaker, a measuring tape (needs to measure broad jump, vertical leap and farmer’s walk), a stopwatch, coaching cones, a 20 lb medicine ball, heavy kettlebells, 50+ meters to run and a clipboard & pen to record results.

There’s a spectrum of what’s required for benchmarking athletic excellence.

At one end, you could just do something really simple, that requires no equipment, like counting how many pushups you can do. But the more granular you get, the more equipment and preparation you need.

My hack here was to connect with my local Crossfit box and arrange for us to use the facility for ~2hrs. We kicked off at 5.30am, putting us outside of normal hours.

Having a trainer facilitate the benchmarking (waddup Zain!) was really helpful — he called reps when they were missed, coached us on technique and helped us run every test from setup, to time tracking to measuring distance.

You’ll want a group of mates in roughly the same vicinity of physical fitness. I’ll talk a little bit more about the competition aspect later in this article, but my advice is to pick your most athletic, ego-free friends and get it happening.

SYNAPSES Testing Notes

To minimise the distortion of fatigue, our order of testing was: Agility > Power > Speed > Strength > Flexibility > Endurance.

Agility: The 20 yard shuttle.

When was the last time you changed direction at maximum speed? I bet it’s been a long while.

We were slipping all over the place for the agility test. We let each person practice twice before testing, but even that wasn’t enough.

Group’s Best Time = 5.2 seconds.

Next Time: I’d run two agility tests (the 20 yard shuttle and the Illinois agility test) as they’re over really quickly and a tiny slip can destroy your result.

Power: Vertical Leap

Vertec’s somehow cost $1,000, so we did a wall touch, where you extend to your maximum reach standing (marking with chalk) and then see how high up the wall you can touch from a standing start.

Group’s Best Vertical = 22 inches/56 cm.

Next Time: A Vertec would make a big difference. Jumping up and touching a wall sideways feels super awkward.

Power: Broad Jump

Super-easy test. A little hard to measure because feet slip when they land, but otherwise very smooth to do.

Group’s Best Broad Jump= 8'6/2.60 metres.

Next Time: Test on grass, not concrete.

Power: 20lb Overhead Medicine Ball Throw

This was even more awkward than the agility testing. Holding 20lbs over your head is harder than you think, and driving the chain of muscles required to throw overhead is very unfamiliar.

Group’s Best Throw= 16'1/4.91 metres.

Next Time: Remove or find a replacement power test. Too awkward and for beginners, measures technique more than actual power.

Speed — 40 yard dash.

Great test, relying on pure speed. Somewhat large margin for error in terms of starting and timing, but feels reaaaaal good man when you’re sprinting all out. Finds tightness in places you didn’t know you had and fires muscles you almost never use.

Group’s Best Time= 5.28 seconds.

Next Time: Have a replicable starting sound and have multiple people timing to improve accuracy. Also, warmup more. We had one person gank a hamstring in this one.

Strength — Barbell Squat AMRAP @ 95 lbs

This was the biggest error of the test. With too little weight, we had guys going beyond strength and into endurance. Squats are a great test, but it’s important to get the weight right.

Also, as one of the professional S&C people I spoke to said, “most people cut depth so squat numbers become invalid”.

Group’s Best Effort= 75 reps.

Next Time: Much heavier weight to ensure failure comes quicker. Consider a box squat to ensure a level playing field with respect to ‘depth’.

Strength — Bench Press AMRAP @ 95 lbs

This is maybe the most controversial inclusion in the test. Lots of people have suggested Overhead Press, Pushups or Deadlifts as a replacement, but it worked well for us and is relatively isolated so won’t bleed into the others tests too much.

Group’s Best Effort= 36 reps.

Next Time: Weight was a little light. The average effort of the group was ~20 reps and I think the right weight would see that number halved.

Strength — Pull-Ups

While we’d originally planned to do deadlifts, people were so blown out by the high rep barbell squats that we switched to pull-ups (no kipping) at the last minute. This proved to be a great test, as it’s very level. Each person is working with their own bodyweight, rather than a fixed weight. It’s also a good ‘pull’ exercise to complement the ‘push’ of bench pressing.

Group’s Best Effort= 17 pullups.

Next Time: Keep it in.

Strength — Farmer’s Walk with 95 lbs each hand

We didn’t have heavy enough kettlebells or handweights, so we went with barbells. This made balance a major issue causing a lot of people to drop early.

Group’s Best Distance= 290 ft/88.4 metres.

Next Time: Use heavy kettlebells instead.

Flexibility — Sit & Reach

I’m really glad we included this test. We included it late in the testing, when people were well and truly warmed up. And it really showed up where some of the guys were weak in a way none of the other tests could. Flexibility will have a rising-tide-all-boats effect on every aspect of a SYNAPSES test.

Group’s Best Effort= 9"/22.9 cm

Next Time: Keep in. Great benchmark to track over time.

Endurance — The Beep Test

Beep-beep! The dreaded beep test. The issue with endurance is you can only test it properly once. The second test of endurance will be too impacted by the first.

Originally we’d intended to do a Beep Test and 2k row for time, but we all performed so poorly in the beep test relative to what we would have done in a standalone effort that we scrapped the rowing.

Group’s Best Effort= Level 12.1

Next Time: The Beep test rules. No change.

SYNAPSES

If you’ve read to this point, it’s possible the details and effort required may put you off replicating the SYNAPSES test among your own friendship group.

You might also think you need to wait until you’re stronger, or assume you’re not ready.

You’d be wrong on both counts.

The point of SYNAPSES is to show you today where you can get better.

I can run up Mt. Diablo for four hours, but I can’t do a single pull-up. Really.

Having to display that lack of strength in front of my peers is motivating in way that just internally recognising the weakness is not.

What came out of the SYNAPSES test for the group was a desire to change and a clearly definite outcome to work towards. Our job now is to get better in these specific areas, in time for our next benchmarking.

For the record, here were my SYNAPSES Results:

  • 20 yard shuttle: 5.36s
  • Vertical Leap: 18.75 inches/47.6 cms
  • Broad Jump: 89 inches/2.27 mtrs
  • 20lb Overhead Medicine Ball Throw: 15 ft/4.59 mtrs
  • 40 yard dash: 5.68s
  • 95 lb Barbell Squat AMRAP: 31
  • 95 lbs Bench Press AMRAP: 23
  • Pull-Ups: 1 (For Shame!)
  • Farmer’s Walk 95lbs each hand: 120 ft/36.58 mtrs
  • Sit & Reach Test: 3 inches/7.6 cm
  • Beep Test: 10.2

I can improve everything, but I especially need to improve my upper body strength. It’s woeful.

Now you don’t have ‘I’m woeful’ as an excuse. And you have no reason to wait.

The Power of Competition

It’s entirely possible to do all these tests alone.

But the power of a group is profound. I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that the power of the group might add 30% to your results for each category.

Not only are you competing with yourself, you want to get as close as you can to the guy one step ahead of you.

When you do a SYNAPSES test, aim to get a group of 8–12 together to get the most out of it.

Conclusion

The SYNAPSES beta was a success. We’re all coming back three months from now to do it all over again.

Sure, there’s some improvements to be made, but the core of the test is there — and it’s really clear how we all need to get better.

I’ve said before, my health goal is to lose 1lb in the next 1o years.

I’m actually serious about that.

From the SYNAPSES perspective, my goal is to be at least as good as I am today, 10 years from now.

Regular benchmarking is the only way to hold yourself accountable to something with that kind of long view.

You can read Part I of this article here.

You can read Part II of this article here.