Athlete Testing 101: How to Test Aerobic Capacity in the Field
Updated: Nov 16, 2020
Testing your athletes aerobic capacity or in colloquial terms, the size of their "tank", is very similar to thoroughbreds galloping around the track in a race.
Wait what, how is that similar? What is the link between racehorses and athletes completing a Beep Test (multi-stage fitness/shuttle run test) or Yo-Yo Intermittent recovery test?
Have you ever participated in a Beep Test, 2km Time Trial or Yo-Yo test? The 15-minutes in the leadup to these events are almost identical to the mounting yard at the track. There's discussion surrounding each athletes form, analysis of physical appearance and commentary surrounding the past performances of each athlete. Everyone has an idea of who the favourite is and who is a good chance, whilst also identifying those that have been in a "good paddock" over the offseason.
But without testing these athletes or watching the barriers fly open, all you are left with is speculation on the aerobic capacity of your team. You don't know what's under the hood until the whips are cracking.
If you don't know the levels of your athlete's aerobic capacities it's very difficult to then train and tailor training programs to improve their performances on the field.
With knowledge of your athlete's aerobic capacity you can start to effectively plan training sessions and pre-seasons that directly correlate with your goals. Re-testing at a later date also allows you to analyse and re-evaluate your training programs and whether you are effectively improving the aerobic capacity of your athletes and team.
It's important you test your athlete's aerobic capacity so when it's deep into the business end of the season, you can back your team "on the nose" rather than "each-way".
This edition of the TRIAX blog will cover how and when to test your athlete's aerobic capacity, whilst also examining which test is right for your sport.
Let's get stuck into it.
We've already discussed the topic of aerobic capacity previously in Damo's Aerobic Training blog, but for the purposes of this article I will define aerobic capacity in the following sentence.
Aerobic Capacity is the maximum amount of oxygen that can be consumed and utilised by the body during exercise (2). Essentially a proxy term for VO2 max.
"Aerobic Capacity is the maximum amount of oxygen that can be consumed and utilised by the body during exercise."
In slang terms, at the local level, aerobic capacity refers to the size of your tank, engine, motor and any other car-related terms you can think of. Also go back to Damo's article to check out his car-based aerobic capacity analogies.
I don't need to tell you what the benefits are of having a huge aerobic "tank", but let's just say having a greater aerobic capacity effectively means you "can run all day" and maintain a greater consistent speed throughout exercise. That's what we want.
Now let's go about testing it.
Testing Aerobic Capacity
For the purposes of this blog, we will focus on aerobic capacity tests that are appropriate for team sports and are practical for implementation in the field.
Obviously we're not going to splash the cash and advocate that all team members should go to the exercise physiology lab and run on the treadmill until they fall off. So let's just stick to the basics.
STEP 1: IDENTIFYING THE RIGHT TEST
There are many aerobic capacity tests that are practical and feasible for team sport athletes that can be conducted in the field. There's a wide selection of tests that are more appropriate for some sports than for others, so it's important that you choose a test that most represents the movement patterns of your sport. Whilst there are many tests you can implement, we will focus on the three most relevant to sub-elite teams.
1. Beep Test (Multi-Stage Shuttle Run Test)
I dare say a lot of Australian's have attempted a beep test during secondary school. Nothing has triggered more forged excuse notes in secondary education than the infamous beep test. The sound of "your test will start in 30 seconds" has most competitors dreading the next 15-minutes to come.
"Nothing has triggered more forged excuse notes in secondary education than the infamous beep test"
The Multi-Stage Shuttle Run Test (beep test) involves continuous running between two lines, 20m apart in time to the recorded "beeps" (1). At the sound of the initial "beep" the athlete is required to run towards the other end and arrive at the line before the sound of the second beep. This process repeats as the intensity of the test increases (time to complete each rep is reduced each minute) until the athlete cannot reach the target line in time with the beep on two consecutive occasions (1).
Traditionally, the Beep Test is suited to team sports such as Australian Rules Football and Soccer due to the continuous nature of the test. However, in recent years, the AFL has replaced the beep test with the Yo-Yo test at their AFL Draft Combine to coincide with the testing implemented by the clubs. Sports such as Rugby League and Rugby Union should look to other tests as these sports aren't as continuous in terms of running demands.
To score and report upon the results of the Beep Test, you need to record the last successfully completed level and shuttle (e.g., 15.5).
From the test score (i.e., 15.5) we can then predict VO2 max, maximal aerobic speed and total distance during the test.
If you achieved level 15.5 the attained speed for that level is: 15 km/h
VO2 Max (adults) = V02 max = –23.4 + 5.8 (speed (shuttle level attained in km/h)
VO2 Max (adolescents ~ 18 years old) = –27.4 + 6.0 (speed (shuttle level in km/h))
Example: Adult: -23.4 +5.8 (15 km/h) = 63.6 mL/kg/min
For total distance, we simply multiply the number of shuttles completed by 20 (for 20 m of distance on each shuttle). You can find the number of shuttles per level here!
Example: 20m x 50 shuttles = 1000 m (1).
2. Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test
The Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test is possibly the most widely used aerobic capacity test within the professional football codes (see video below of All Blacks contesting the Yo-Yo). There are multiple different versions of the Yo-Yo tests, but the one we will focus on is the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test (Level 1).
The Yo-Yo works in similar fashion to the beep test where the athlete needs to run 20m shuttles in time with a recorded beep whilst the difficulty of the test increases incrementally. However unlike the beep test, the Yo-Yo features a 10 second active rest period after each shuttle (shuttle = run to the first cone, run back and then recover). Athletes are required to walk around a cone 5 metres behind the start/finish line and then return to the start line to start the next shuttle.
The process then closely follows the beep test. However in the Yo-Yo once you accumulate two failed shuttles you are eliminated, regardless of whether the shuttles happened in succession. Your last completed shuttle score should be recorded. From this point you can calculate the distance covered, predicted VO2 max and maximal aerobic speed.
Record the number of shuttles completed x 40. By definition, a shuttle is the 20m up and 20m back, so 40m.
To predict VO2 max for the YYIR1 you need to record the distance of each athlete. The formula to predict VO2 max is as follows:
V02 max = IR1 distance (m) × 0.0084 + 36.4
3. 30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test
The 30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test is another test that incorporates an active rest period within the process. Hence the intermittent part I guess (ground-breaking). Compared to the beep and yo-yo tests, the 30-15 IFT isn't as common within Australia as it is in Europe and whilst the 30-15 IFT is targeted towards most outdoor team sports, it's popularity lies within Soccer and Field Hockey. However there are variations of this test that are suited to the smaller, indoor courts for Basketball, Netball and Handball athletes.
The procedure in conducted the 30-15 IFT can be confusing for those who haven't previously conducted or participated in the test. The 30-15 in the name of the test is representative of the work to rest ratio of the athletes participating. Each shuttle is 30 seconds in length which follows a 15 second recovery.
In similar fashion to the beep and yo-yo tests, the 30-15 IFT requires athletes to run between two lines, but in this case, the lines are 40m apart. Athletes have to run in time with recorded beep, with the time to complete it shuttle decreasing as the intensity of the test increases. At the 20m intersection between the two lines, there is a 6 m, marked zone that is used to help the athlete pace their intensity to match the beep. There is a distinctly different beep that indicates to the athlete when the rest period has begun.
The athlete needs to continually reach the end point of the shuttle in time with the beep, which is similar to the yo-yo and beep tests. If the athlete fails to make the 3m zone in time with the beep on three consecutive occasions they are eliminated.
An athlete's score for this test is their last completed shuttle speed. So in the 30-15 IFT, an athlete's score is their speed. This is outlined in the recorded audio of the test.
To predict VO2 max from the 30-15 IFT: Science for Sport have got some good info on these equations.
28.3 – (2.15 x G) – (0.741 x A) – (0.0357 x W) + (0.0586 x A x VIFT) + (1.03 x VIFT)
VIFT is the last attained running speed
G = gender (male = 1, female = 2)
A = age (years)
W = weight (kilograms)
1. Time Trials (i.e., 2km)
Time trials or set distance tests are common choices for a lot of team sports. The AFL during their draft combine incorporate a 2km time trial, with many sub-elite level clubs implementing the same.
This is an easy test to setup. Essentially you just need a stopwatch, a marked circuit for your chosen distance, a pen and a piece of paper.
Record the times for each athlete as they complete the test. It is possible to predict VO2 max from 2km time trials. Our man Damo, has the spreadsheet to do such a task!!
To find the normative values to compare your predicted VO2 max, have a geez at Damo's blog post!
STEP 2: WHEN TO TEST?
The next step is to determine when you should test your athletes. Generally the best time to test is at the start of pre-season and to re-test after the Christmas break or at another appropriate time later in the pre-season.
Ideally your first or second session of the pre-season should incorporate one of the tests mentioned above. It's important to conduct the initial testing early in pre-season to ensure you are testing the athletes closest to their fitness baseline and when they are "freshest" coming in from the break.
To incorporate testing into a pre-season session itself, it's important that you commence any testing at the start of the session. Facilitating testing early in the session allows athletes to attempt the test when they are fresh. However, skill drills can still be completed after testing, in keeping with target volume and intensity for the training session.
STEP 3: EVAUATING YOUR RESULTS
When evaluating your testing results, you need to analyse your data in conjunction with what your goals are on an individual athlete level and at the team level. Additionally, you can also utilise the initial testing data when you re-test to help identify whether your training program is effective in improving the capacities of your athletes.
If you have an established database at your club, you may have an archive of aerobic testing results for your athletes. Information on your athlete's previous testing performances (provided you have completed the same aerobic capacity test as previous seasons) provides a greater understanding of where your athletes are at in terms of their physical conditioning.
Specifically, through the use of any of the three tests above, you can determine your athletes maximal aerobic speed. This refers to the point at which
To compare the results in an objective and statistical way, I would keep it basic. You don't need to be studying the movie Moneyball to be effective in analysing your results. For the team as a cohort, a simple average and standard deviation in excel would suffice. You could become a stats guru and Delve(s) a little deeper by grouping players by their position to gain a greater understanding of the aerobic capacities of your position groups. For individual athletes, it would make sense to collate all their testing performances and compare their most recent test to the average of their historical data. This could be represented in percentage changes.
If you find that your testing results aren't as sizzling as the snags on the club BBQ, then this is a chance to tinker with your training program to give your team's engine a much needed performance boost.
Test, Analyse, Plan, Improve, Repeat.
STEP 4: RE-TESTING
As we briefly touched on in the previous steps, it's important that you re-test your athletes during the pre-season. Typically you might do this after the Christmas break when the athletes first return back to training. Testing during this juncture will allow you to see who enjoyed their Christmas lunch more than others.
Be warned, some athletes may get scared as to what tests you are performing when you tell them they've got testing so soon after New Year's Eve.
When you plan to re-test your athletes, consistency in the testing process is required to maximise the quality of your results. Essentially what this means is to ensure that the processes you used to test during the first/initial testing block is replicated when you re-test. This means identifying considerations such as the following:
Time of testing: Ensure you re-test at the same time of day as when you initially tested.
Location of testing: Endeavour to complete the testing at the same location (i.e., oval).
Test selection: An obvious one, but make sure you are performing the same test.
Test order: Ensure you are testing at the same time within the session as when you initially tested.
Warm Up: Incorporate a similar warm up compared to your first test
Temperature: If possible, try and conduct the re-test in similar weather conditions. Obviously this is a best-case scenario.
After you have collected your re-test results, you can then identify any alterations that need to be made to the team and individual's training program before the competition phase of your programming begins.
Look out for my next instalment for this blog where we look at Maximal Aerobic Speed. This will help you improve the tank of your athletes using the results of the fitness tests we've discussed in this blog!
about the author
B. Ex&SpSc (Hons)
Available for Sport Science Consulting
1. Léger, L. A. ( 1 ) et al. (1988) ‘The multistage 20 metre shuttle run test for aerobic fitness’, Journal of Sports Sciences, 6(2), pp. 93–101. doi: 10.1080/02640418808729800.
2. Powers, SK & Howley, ET 2018, Exercise physiology : theory and application to fitness and performance, Tenth edition., McGraw-Hill Education, viewed 1 November 2020, <https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=cat06414a&AN=vic.b3981394&site=eds-live>.