Wait, You’re Not Guessing Are You?

By Mike Watson – Two Brain Coaching One-on-one Course Mentor

I started coaching athletes almost 20 years ago at a small gym in Northern Ontario under some amazing mentorship that continues to this day.  I learned a lot of important lessons early on while working with hockey players, football players, cyclists and runners.  

One of the most important lessons that I now get to share with the coaches I mentor is simple.

It’s also easy to remember because it rhymes.  

“If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing.” 

Without baseline metrics that we regularly re-test, there is no way for us to know for sure if our athletes are getting leaner, stronger, faster, etc. 

The other important lesson I learned early on that pairs nicely with the rhyming one above:

Always have a plan! 

Not having a solid, well thought out plan in place means that you are guessing – and making things up as you go along. 

I strongly encourage the coaches I work with to start the evaluation process early on, either in their initial sessions with a new PT client or by having this built into their gym’s On-Ramp program.  This works nicely as it introduces the client to the language we’re going to speak going forward regarding metrics, goals, and testing protocols.  

When determining which metrics to use I always revert back to the old SMART acronym for goal setting as it works nicely here too: 


I want to know exactly what I’m measuring and how to measure it. I also want to communicate to my athlete our goals and expectations for their follow up testing.  How much stronger, faster, leaner do we expect them to be at the next testing date?  Do I expect them to hit a broad target, or are we aiming for the bullseye?  Assess, communicate, plan, deliver, repeat. 


Bumper plates on a barbell are the least scientific way of assessing strength and power baseline and improvements, but also the most effective.  They’re easy to use and provide replicable testing results.  Barbells aren’t afraid of hurting our feelings if we don’t put the work in. 

I recommend finding at least 3-4 metrics to test with each client to provide a global picture of progress.  These metrics should each be measurable and the testing should be able to be done with the same results by multiple coaches. 


When setting goals based on assessment, we have a challenging job to do.  Specifically we need to be able to set goals for our athletes that are attainable with good programming and hard work.  We don’t want these goals to be too easy.  No one is motivated for long by hitting a PR every time they complete a workout.   On the flip-side, we also don’t want to set unrealistic goals that can never be achieved in the given testing period as this is a great way to crush motivation.  This is a fine line that can be better managed with a good coach/client relationship and through regular assessment. 


We want to measure things that mean something to our client in their relentless forward progress to attain their goals. For a cyclist I know that I want to measure and continue to assess Functional Threshold Power (FTP) or Lactate Threshold (LT) as this is what tells me if our cyclist can go faster for longer no matter what other external factors (weather, tire pressure, etc) exist.  For a weight loss client I’m going to be looking closely at body fat percentage and lean body mass.  And for an athlete, I’m going to pick specific strength or speed tests that let me know we’re getting stronger or more powerful in things that matter to the chosen sport. 


Testing should be done on a schedule to be determined by the coach and the training plan.  A general guideline is to test every 6-8 weeks as this will allow suitable time for improvement in each metric, but this can be adjusted to include testing based on the specific cycles in your training plan, especially if testing numbers allow us to manipulate weights or percentages for the next training cycle. 

The image that accompanies this article provides some great support for the importance of assessment in developing a training program.  The athlete is a cyclist who is embarking on a 10 week training program.  The “Old Zones” are based on a Rating of Perceived Exertion the athlete had been using on her heart rate monitor platform which drastically underestimated her true potential and training zones.  The “New Zones” are a bit more daunting for her as she has to work harder now, but this means the program we design and deliver is based on a solid starting point due to the Lactate Threshold testing she did last week.  

We have a program built on metrics attained through testing.  We have a plan for training and re-assessment.

We’re not guessing anymore.

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