Fitness Testing for Football
with Jimmy Petruzzi
The most important thing that you should consider before the season begins is the physical condition of soccer players after the holiday season. Because of this, it is worth considering physical and physiological tests at the start of your pre-season schedule to see how the players are doing and to evaluate their preparation plans. These tests give information on the properties of endurance, speed, muscular endurance, strength, coordination, technical, and tactical elements during the preparation period.
From the results of the testing, you can identify the strengths and weaknesses of the players and train them accordingly. Appropriate testing should be specific and reliable enough to reflect the actual status of the fitness of the soccer players. In this context, the features of the soccer game and related physiological testing will be discussed
Purpose of physiological testing
The data from the testing can form the basis for the development of optimal training strategies. Further tests can then be used to evaluate the impact of these interventions on the physical fitness profile of individual players, thereby evaluating the effectiveness of the programme.
Determine individual strengths and weaknesses
If individual players in the team have weaknesses in any particular fitness component relative to soccer, they can be detected during the completion of fitness tests and subsequently remedied by employing appropriate training programmes. During pre-season specific fitness regimes can be designed for individual players, which can then be designed to correct each individual player’s weaknesses.
Training prescription should also be based on the specific requirements of the playing position. Position-specific training programmes result in improvements in the most relevant fitness measures for each playing position, thereby ensuring players are better able to fulfil their tactical responsibilities during the game. These improvements may not, however, overcome individual deficiencies in genetic potential for the physiological characteristics required for the position. This makes physical performance an important consideration in player selection at the top level.
Physiological tests for soccer players
Several tests have been designed either to be part of an overall physiological assessment or to measure specific components of soccer-specific fitness. The following subsections provide examples of some of the common tests used in the laboratory and the field for evaluating different fitness components of soccer players. The relevance and usefulness to soccer of each test are described and a brief evaluation of each test is also outlined
To develop an individual physical profile
The aim of developing a physical profile is to identity a player’s physical strengths and weaknesses. This can be achieved through the administration of a series of soccer-specific tests. The information gained from these tests can then be used to set up short- and long-term goals. In the event of a long-term injury, chronic sickness, or planned rest period, a player’s predetermined physical profile will also provide data that can be used for comparison purposes.
To evaluate objectively the effect of a specific training program
The aim of the pre-season program is to improve performance. In order to quantify changes in performance that have occurred as a result of training, baseline data is needed. Baseline data is collected before the start of a training program using a test (pre-test) which must be specific to the type of training that is to be performed. The same test is then repeated (post-test) usually after 6 or more weeks of training. Thereafter, the subsequent progress of players should be periodically monitored through repeated tests.
To monitor progress during rehabilitation
During a rehabilitation program it is important to monitor how well an injured player is responding to treatment and to know when the player is ready to return to competitive soccer. Players who return prematurely can have a high risk of recurring injury.
To monitor the health status of a player
The general health status of a player can be monitored by checking the heart rate and other physiological responses to a standardized exercise work rate. Early signs of overtraining may be detected by regularly monitoring a player’s physical performance capacity. Heart rate response to the standardized exercise can also be used to evaluate how well players adapt to new, unaccustomed surroundings.
Selecting a Test
Once the reason for testing has been clearly defined, an appropriate test must be selected. Factors to be considered when selecting a test are discussed below.
Specificity for soccer
Information gained from a test will be of no benefit to the coach or player unless the recorded measurement can be applied to soccer.
Test-retest reliability refers to how reproducible a test result is from trial to trial, or day to day. Factors which affect reliability can be classified as either biological or experimental. The former refers to the relative consistency with which a subject can perform, while the latter concerns variations in the way the test is administered. For repeated testing it is necessary to determine whether there is any difference in two test results for a given player, and whether this can be attributed to a change in the physical status of the player or whether the difference is within the expected measurement variation for the test. Test-retest reliability is usually reported in the form of a correlation coefficient; the closer this coefficient is to 1 the more reliable the test is.
When selecting a test, considerations must be made for such factors as the playing status of the team and availability of facilities and appropriate equipment, as well as for the amount of time required to carry out the test and analyze the test results. For example, with a team which trains twice a week it is not feasible to use time-consuming tests. Time can also be a problem for the coach of a national team where the squads of players are only together for short periods of time. Furthermore, selected squads of players are usually assembled to prepare for a game, therefore exhaustive exercise tests are not recommended in this instance.
Testing conditions e.g. running surface, preparation of test areas, and calibration of measuring equipment, must be standardized each time a test is performed. While test conditions can usually be accurately reproduced for tests performed in a research or clinical setting, problems can arise with field tests, e.g. if performed on soccer pitches the type or condition of the surface can change throughout the year. Extreme variations in environmental conditions should be avoided.
The standardization of testing procedures refers to the way in which the test is administered. For example, when a battery of tests is performed on the same day, the order in which each player performed the tests should be standardized. Where possible, the exhaustive tests should be performed last.
Practice should be given if possible to get the player familiarized with the test and this will reduce the learning effect and attain a more accurate test result.
Pre-test condition of players
Players should be well rested before the tests. Usually, at least 24 hours should be allowed after a competitive match. When players have just recovered from an injury or an acute illness this should always be noted. With female players, it is advisable to note any players experiencing detrimental side effects caused by menstruation.
An often-overlooked consideration when testing is clothing and footwear. Suitable clothing should be worn which will not interfere with performance, and in running or jumping tests, the same type of shoes should be worn for repeated tests.
Instructions and test administration
It is essential that players clearly understand how each test should be performed. When using a test which is not possible to test all the players in the team at the same time, other activities should be planned so that players are not waiting for long periods of time. However, such activities should not be strenuous enough to affect the result.
Players are required to exert the maximal effort in performance tests. Such tests can be greatly affected by the motivation of the players. It is therefore very important that players are well motivated and mentally prepared.
When to administer a test
It is difficult to define exactly when or how often to carry out a test. Some general guidelines are listed as follows:
- When the objective of testing is to evaluate the effect of a training program, sufficient time should be allowed for the desired adaptation to take place – a period of six weeks between tests is usually the minimum time advisable.
- It is useful to test players just before they are released at the end of each season and again when the training resumes.
- Data for physical profiles should be collected toward the end of the pre-season period when players reach their peak performance level.
Aerobic testing procedures
Aerobic fitness is dependent on and limited by the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to the working muscles. The heart, lungs, blood, circulatory system, and working muscles are factors in determining one’s aerobic fitness. Aerobic fitness is important as a soccer player has to cover an average distance of around 10km in a game. 35.1% of the total player time in a game consists of low intensity running.
Estimation of aerobic capacity
VO2max can be determined from either maximal or submaximal exercise testing. At maximal exercise level, VO2max is measured directly from expired gases or estimated from exercise intensity. In the laboratory, VO2max can be estimated from treadmill and cycle ergometer performance and heart rate response to the exercise.
Field tests can also be conducted to determine the aerobic capacity in soccer players comparing different field test results (Cooper’s 12 Minute Run test, Multistage Shuttle Run test) with a maximal treadmill test. Results showed high correlations, with coefficients for the Cooper test and Multistage Shuttle Run test of 0.92 and 0.86 respectively. As soccer requires frequent changes of direction during running, the Multistage Shuttle Run test may be a more specific comparison.
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Multistage Shuttle Run test procedures
Players are required to run back and forth on a 20-metre course, starting at a speed of 8.5kmh-1. The running speed is regulated by a sound signal emitting from a prerecorded tape. Players try to complete as many stages of the shuttle run as possible, and the test is terminated when the testing player is unable to maintain the prescribed pace.
The running speed is increased by 0.5kmh-1 every minute.
The player will be given a warning signal the first time they are behind the sound signal and the test will be stopped at the third warning.
The maximal speed corresponding to the last completed stage is used to estimate each player’s VO2max according to the following equation:
max = 31.025 + (3.238 x velocity in last stage) - (3.248 x age) + (0.1536 x age x velocity in last stage)
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Anaerobic testing procedures
Soccer players are frequently required to produce high power output and sometimes to maintain it with only a brief recovery. The total time for high intensity running is about seven minutes of the whole game. The average sprint distance is about 15 metres and occurs once every 90 seconds.
Sprinting is an important component of playing in a soccer match. Bangsbo (Bangsbo J, Norregaard L and Thorso F (1991) Activity profile of competition soccer, Canadian Journal of Sports Science 16:110-116) showed that the 19 sprints (on average) accounted for 0.7% of the total time of a game. The performance of sprinting is important and it is one of the tests included in the test battery of performance in the Australian Soccer Team.
Two sets of timing gates should be used and placed at the distance required (5m, 12m, 20m). A five-minute warm-up should be completed followed by stretching of the lower and upper limbs.
Several maximal runs over a short distance are allowed in order to familiarize the players with the test. Players then stand 50cm behind the starting line and some crouch is allowed. The player starts sprinting when ready and strong verbal encouragement is given over the whole course of sprinting. Three trials are performed and the best time reported.
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Strength testing procedures
Muscle strength is also important in soccer as discussed above. It is also included in the test battery of some national and elite soccer teams.
Recording your players’ fitness data
You can perform the following tests on your players then log the results on the proforma checklist below and compare it to the normative data used by professional soccer academies (again found below).
Why use normative data?
Normative data can be used by the coach as an indication of what level the players are at physically, and what level players are at Academy and School of Excellence standard.
This information is highly beneficial for any coach aiming to get the best out of the players. By conducting the battery of fitness tests with the players and comparing the results to the normative data you will get an idea of how physically fit your players are in comparison to players at the highest level. Depending on the margin between your players and the normative data you can decide on the fitness plan you are going to adopt with your players.
1. Height – in centimetres
2. Weight – in kilograms
3. Bleep test results (explained above)
4. Flexibility test
This test measures the flexibility of the lower back and hamstring muscles.
1. The test involves sitting on the floor with legs out straight ahead.
2. Feet (shoes off) are placed with the soles flat against the box, shoulder-width apart.
3. Both knees are held flat against the floor by the tester. With hands on top of each other and palms facing down, the player reaches forward along the measuring line as far as possible.
4. After three practice reaches, the fourth reach is held for at least two seconds while the distance is recorded.
5. Make sure there are no jerky movements, and that the fingertips remain level and the legs flat.
5. T test agility test
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1. The player starts at cone A.
2. On the command of the timer, the player sprints to cone B and touches the base of the cone with their right hand.
3. They then turn left and shuffle sideways to cone C and touch it’s base, this time with the left hand.
4. Then shuffle sideways to the right to cone D and touch the base with the right hand.
5. Then shuffle back to cone B touching with the left hand, and run backwards to cone A.
6. The stopwatch is stopped as they pass cone A.
6. 10 metre sprint (speed test)
1. Set out cones 10 metres apart.
2. The player sprints from one cone to another.
3. Record the time with a stopwatch.
4. Start the watch as soon as the player initiates movement forward and stop it once the first part of the player’s body goes past the cone.
7. 30 metre (speed test)
1. Set out cones 30 metres apart.
2. The player sprints from one cone to another.
3. Record the time with a stopwatch.
4. Start the watch as soon as player initiates movement forward and stop it once the first part of the player’s body goes past the cone.
8. Double leg jump (test for power)
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1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
2. Bend the knees.
3. Jump as far as possible.
4. Measure (in centimetres