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Fitness Testing Newsletter: Tests for Intermittent Sports

Hi and welcome to the August 2009 fitness testing newsletter about the challenging task of testing athletes involved in intermittent type team sports.

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Testing for Intermittent Sports Athletes

In intermittent or interval type team sports, such as rugby, football (soccer) and Aussie Rules, the players require a wide range of fitness abilities that are specific for each sport. Not only are the players required to reproduce high intensity sprints, they also need to be strong and powerful, run fast, be agile and keep running for extended periods (high aerobic endurance). The physiological demands of the sport may also be determined by the playing position, level of play, the officiating style of the referee and the tactics used.

A good understanding the physiological demands of the sport is required to design an appropriate testing regime, and the fitness test protocols should be closely matched to the physiological demands. Due to range of fitness requirements of players involved in intermittent or interval type team sports, they must therefore undergo a wide range of tests to fully assess their fitness. However, I am going to discuss just one of the fitness components that is involved in intermittent team sports - the ability to continually produce short bursts of high intensity work, often with short periods for recovery.

Testing Anaerobic Capacity

High intensity exercise stresses the anaerobic energy system. Each short burst of high intensity exercise depletes the stores of creatine phosphate and utilizes anaerobic glycolysis in which lactic acid is produced. There is often insufficient time to recover completely after each sprint, leading to the accumulation of lactic acid. The efficient removal of lactic acid is required to limit muscle fatigue.

There are tests of anaerobic capacity that require a single burst of activity, such as the Wingate test, 300m run and some shuttle run tests. These tests have their uses, but are not specific to the demands of intermittent type team sports, as the ability to reproduce these efforts is not tested.

Testing anaerobic capacity in team sport players is designed to measure not only their anaerobic power, but also their ability to recover from these bursts of high intensity exercise, which is often variable in intensity and duration. The difficulty is to create a test that is both reliable and valid. As the intermittent sprints during play are not consistent, it's impossible to get test that exactly replicates the demands of the sport. With the complex tests that are required, it is difficult to control all factors and create a reproducible test. Below are some of the fitness tests that have tried to address these issues. More details of the tests are described on the Topend Sports website.

Test Examples

Loughborough Intermittent Shuttle Test  - a test that includes jogging, running and sprinting, designed to simulate the demands of soccer matches. The protocol involves moving between two lines 20 meters apart, at speeds set based on the player's individual fitness levels and relevant to the sport that is being simulated. Audio signals dictate the speeds they run at. The standard test for male soccer players involves 6 x 15 minute blocks of exercise, separated by three minute rest intervals, making a total of 90 minutes of activity. Each 15 minute block consists of approximately 11 cycles: 3 x 20m walking, 1 x 15m sprint, 3 x 20m running, and 3 x 20m jogging.

The J.A.M. Intermittent Test  - developed to measure the intermittent fitness ability of team sport athletes, specifically Rugby players. The test involves a series of walk–jog–run shuttles. The participants loop around the triangle, either running, walking or jogging in that order. Approximately every 2 minutes the run is replaced with a maximal 12 meter sprint bout.

Yo-Yo Intermittent Test  - developed specifically for soccer players, though it is suitable for similar sports teams which are intermittent in nature. The test is a variation of the running 20m beep test, except in this intermittent test the participants have a short active break (5 and 10 seconds for the intermittent endurance and intermittent recovery tests, respectively) between each shuttle. There are two versions of each Yo-Yo Intermittent Test, a beginners and advanced level.

Water Polo Intermittent Shuttle Test  - assesses a player's ability to perform repeated high-intensity efforts interspersed with brief periods of active recovery, set to mimic the demands of the sport of water polo.

30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test  - designed to closely replicate the demands of intermittent sports. Unlike the beep test, where athletes run continuously with increasing speed every minute, this test involves 30 seconds of running alternated with 15 seconds of walking over a 40m shuttle area.

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Rob Wood

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