Litmus Testing For Mixed Modal Athletes

by Evan Peikon

Litmus Testing. You know, so you can check an athletes Ph levels. Wait, I think thats the wrong type of Litmus test…

We received a great question from one of our readers and a fellow OPT CCP coach Michal Bohumel earlier today, and thought it would be great to share with all of you as you can implement it into your own programs. We had not intended to post this to the site, but after sending him our response we realized that this information may help others who also had a similar question.

Michal Asked:
In the program design example sheet you prescribed those 500m Row repeats as a litmus test. How would you have that test/ check-in if a client doesn’t have access to a rower?

Our Response was as follows… (this differs slightly to what we told him since the context is different).
I’ll give you some background/context first, then answer your question.
The reason we use the 500m as a litmus is because the Rower gives instant feedback, and incremental changes can be made week to week.

For example:
Say our athlete Rows an 8:00 2k.

Now we prescribe them the following…
6 Sets:
500m Row @2:00/avg
Rest 2 minutes

This should be quite doable for them, so for this example lets say the athlete hits 2:00 on every interval. Then next week we make the intervals a bit faster, shorten the rest b/w sets, or add sets. The progression from week to week is pretty straightforward.
We can also gauge their recovery based on how they do each week since we know what they “should” be able to do relative to their best at a given time.

Now for substitutions…
Its tricky since the reason we like the rower is that the athlete can monitor their pace and get instant feedback in relation to that (ie- I should be rowing a 1:50 split, but I’m at 1:52 so ill speed up).
The most comparable thing would be 400m Running repeats at their Mile (1600m) PR pace.
However, most people will not be able to gauge pace very accurately while running if they are not experienced in that modality. Therefore that only works for those who have some sort of endurance or track background. Because of this we must find an alternative…
The next best thing for a litmus test may be heavy (relative to a 1RM, and the athletes capacity with maximal loads) olympic lifts due to the fact that they require a high CNS demand, so if the nervous system isn’t recovered it becomes quite apparent.

Take the following as an example...
Say we have an athlete train twice on saturday. In the morning he does shorter time domain MAP work, then in the late afternoon we have him do lactic power work or a heavy tester. This is considered a higher volume/ more taxing day for this athlete.
So then he takes Sunday off as a rest day and resumes training on monday.
Monday we do Oly CP and well as Slow lift CP.
We start his training session off with a Snatch or Clean variation working to a heavy single (this programming piece is in line with his priorities in this case).
If his nervous system is fully recovered from saturdays training he will be more likely to reach a maximal or near maximal weight on monday. If his nervous system was still dampened from the training he would not. The reason we use Oly’s over slow lifts here is that they require a higher neural demand. So while the Olys may be effected by his dampened NS, the slow lifts may be completely fine ( nervous system recovery can  also be tracked by HRV as well).

The litmus tests can also be used to gauge other factors assuming you know your nervous system is recovered (this is where HRV helps as you can figure out what recovery modalities allow it to be so). The Litmus can gauge nutritional changes (assuming you have a baseline), sleep changes, hydration, life stress etc. The point is to weed out factors that are hurting (or helping) your performance.
(Ie- to test where the athlete is physiologically in relation to their optimal state).

I hope that cleared up your question, and as always feel free to ask us questions any time you’d like. We really enjoy helping people as we feel it allows us to grow as coaches as well.

About The Author:
Evan Peikon is  a full-time athlete, student, and coach whose passions lie in Biochemistry, nutrition, health/longevity, mental health and optimal human performance. Evan Peikon Co-Founded Peak Athletic Development in July of 2013, and later expanded his scope of practice which led to the creation of Enhanced Human Performance. You can contact Evan Peikon at or if your interested in his services you can reach him here.

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