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A One-Day Field Test Battery for the Assessment of Aerobic Capacity, Anaerobic Capacity, Speed, and Agility of Soccer Players

Walker, Scott; Turner, Anthony MSc, CSCS

Strength and Conditioning Journal: December 2009 - Volume 31 - Issue 6 - p 52-60
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e3181c22085
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THE PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE IS TO PROVIDE THE STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING PROFESSIONAL WITH INFORMATION TO EFFECTIVELY IMPLEMENT A BATTERY OF VALID AND RELIABLE SOCCER-SPECIFIC FIELD TESTS FOR AEROBIC CAPACITY, ANAEROBIC CAPACITY, SPEED, AND AGILITY. INITIALLY, THIS ARTICLE WILL DEAL WITH THE RATIONALE FOR FITNESS TESTING, SPECIFICALLY FIELD TESTING. VARIOUS FIELD TESTS, WHICH ASSESS THE DIFFERENT COMPONENTS OF FITNESS, WILL BE DESCRIBED, COMPARED, AND CONTRASTED. WHAT DATA ARE GENERATED FROM THESE TESTS AND HOW TO ANALYZE THESE DATA WILL BE DISCUSSED. A RATIONALE FOR THE CHOICE OF RECOMMENDED TESTS WILL BE REASONED. AND FINALLY, A TIMELINE FOR IMPLEMENTATION WILL BE OUTLINED.

London Sport Institute, Middlesex University, London, United Kingdom

Scott Walkeris managing director and senior strength and conditioning consultant of Optimise Performance and Wellbeing and a master's student at the London Sports Institute, Middlesex University.

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Figure

Anthony Turneris a strength and conditioning coach and a senior lecturer and program leader for the MSc in Strength and Conditioning at Middlesex University, London, England.

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INTRODUCTION

It is essential that fitness testing be administered before the athlete begins a strength and conditioning program and/or competitive season (baseline measurements) (17), that is, in the off or preseason (49,52). Preferably, these tests are readministered at points throughout the season to assess progress and make program alterations if needed (26,36,37). When conducting testing within a competitive season, do so on a day which does not fall within 2 days either before or after a match, to prevent fatigue affecting either the tests or game performance.

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WHY TEST?

Fitness testing is performed to generate data and can be an effective procedure for a number of reasons including revealing a detailed and appropriate evaluation of the athlete's physical abilities, health, strengths and weaknesses, as well as assess the effectiveness of the training intervention, and other procedures expected to improve game performance (38,49,52). Results can guide the strength and conditioning and technical coaches' training planning, leading to more successful and economical objective attainment.

Various physiological parameters have been shown to have strong correlations with soccer performance. Castagna et al. (9) noted that it has been shown repeatedly, through descriptive (4,5,31,39,48) cross-sectional (1,19,23,55) training (12,22,34) studies, that aerobic fitness (o2max, lactate-anaerobic threshold, running economy) is positively related to soccer performance outcomes in terms of an individual's match statistics like distance covered, time on the ball, and number of sprints in a game (9,12,23,35) as well as the overall success of the team in terms of final standing in the league (55), level within the association the team plays (fitter athletes play in higher division teams) (1,48), or whether the player is a reserve or starter (19). Accordingly, as stated by Castagna et al. (9), “the assessment of aerobic fitness on a regular basis is important for monitoring the effectiveness of the physical training program and the preparedness of soccer players to compete.”

The ability to perform and recover from periods of intense activity during a soccer match (anaerobic endurance) has also been shown to have an influence on soccer performance (14,28). Players at the highest level perform twice as many anaerobic bouts of running during the most intense period of the match compared with the average player (30,31), and the ability to sprint after these intense periods is reduced (7). A player who is able to recover and repeat these intense actions will perform better, especially in the closing stages of the match (7,31,43). Training studies have found that players who improved in high-intensity fitness also improved in other indicators of soccer performance and experienced decreased match fatigue (29,50). Thus, assessing that soccer players' levels of anaerobic fitness, and training it, are essential.

It is well documented that soccer is a sport that requires repeated powerful movements like kicking, sprinting, tackling, and jumping (1,4-6,14,22,24,26,27,33,36,40,47,48,50,51,53,61). Components and measures of power generation including sprinting ability (26,27,33,47,50) and jumping distances (10,47) have all been shown to be positively correlated to soccer performance; therefore, it is important to measure players' strength and power generation abilities.

Agility is generally defined as the ability to change direction of the body rapidly, without losing balance, using a combination of strength, power, and neuromuscular coordination (26,33,49,59). Although rapid actions constitute a smaller percentage (about 11%) of player movement (33,38,39,51), on average, a player will turn 50 times throughout a match (54). Rapid activity often occurs in the crucial seconds of the game and can make the difference between scoring and conceding a goal (3,14,26,33). Thus, agility is very important in soccer, and the ability of soccer players to produce fast paced variable actions is known to impact soccer performance (18,33). Even though related to acceleration and maximum speed, Little and Williams (33) found that they had weak coefficients of determination; therefore, separate testing for agility should be used.

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WHY FIELD TEST?

It is very difficult logistically to get one athlete to a proper physiological testing laboratory, let alone an entire squad. Laboratory tests are often expensive (38,52), making them impractical for regular use even for wealthy professional clubs. While laboratory-based tests often provide more internal validity and reliability, these inhibitory factors have lead to the design of valid and reliable field tests (8).

Usually, coaches have a limited amount of time in the preseason period, less than a month in the case of professional and college teams, before the season properly begins; therefore, it is important that assessments are administered in the most time conscious manner possible without compromising reliability and validity and ensuring each player has a sufficient amount of recovery between each test (49). Sports-specific field tests are better suited, compared with laboratory tests, for these goals because of the simplicity and lack of equipment, making them popular with both coaches and players (38).

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SEQUENCE OF TESTING

Knowledge of exercise physiology and, specifically, the body's energy systems can help to determine test order and rest period duration, thereby promoting test reliability (20). Tests that require tasks, which are highly skillful, such as those that require coordinated movements and an attention to “form,” should be conducted before fatiguing tests so that the latter do not distort the results (20). The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) (20) suggested the following order of tests: resting and nonfatiguing, agility, power and strength, sprints, local muscular endurance, anaerobic capacity, and finally aerobic capacity tests. The author will outline and justify the chosen sequence of tests later in this article.

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FITNESS TESTS

AEROBIC TESTS

Ninety percent of soccer players' energy production is aerobic (4,11,23); thus, incorporating a test for aerobic fitness within a battery for soccer players is essential. Several field tests for aerobic capacity have been developed. Many field aerobic tests for o2max require the subject to either cover a maximal distance in a set time or cover a set distance in the fastest time possible. These tests are maximal from the beginning and require a high degree of motivation and knowledge of pacing to achieve a reliable result (44).

In the 1980s, with the growing public interest in running and athletic performance, field tests for aerobic capacity underwent a revolution with the introduction of continuous multistage track tests and maximal multistage shuttle run tests. These tests all have growing intensities that necessitate subjects' exercise maximally at the end of the test (44) and are usually paced by a sound recording (“beep” tests). However, each of these is unique and assesses the fitness of an athlete in a different manner (49).

The Université de Montréal Track Test (UMTT) (15) is an example of a continuous multistage test. Participants run continuously around a track or field, with marker cones set at 25-m intervals. The initial pace is set at 10 km/h and increased by 1 km/h every 2 minutes. Subjects have to be within 2 m of the subsequent cone at each beep. Three consecutive failures to be within 2 m of the following cone mean that the participant has reached his/her maximal velocity and the test is terminated for that subject. If the subject has completed at least half of the 25 m distance, the recorded velocity is increased by 0.5 km/h. This velocity is assumed to represent the maximal aerobic velocity (MAV). Léger and Boucher, cited in Dupont et al. (15), found that this test is valid (r = 0.96, standard error of the estimate [SEE] = 2.81 ml·kg−1·min−1) and reliable (r = 0.97, SEE = 1.92 ml·kg−1·min−1) to predict the o2max of trained and untrained young and middle-aged women and men, which is the population more than likely to be engaging in competitive soccer, thus giving it the appearance of being an appropriate test.

Although player activity during a soccer match is constant, making continuous running tests like the UMTT appropriate, a player's direction of movement and pace often changes between intense running, jogging, walking, and complete rest (1,5,14,15,27,30,33,36-38,47-50,53,55).

Ramsbottom et al. (44) compared a 20-m progressive shuttle run test (running between 2 markers placed 20 m apart at increasingly faster speeds) with a laboratory treadmill test that measured o2max directly, through the collection of expired air. They found a correlation of r = 0.92 (SEE = 3.5 ml·kg−1·min−1) between the 2 tests. However, Metaxas et al. (37) compared a similar shuttle protocol with an intermittent shuttle protocol, discussed below, and laboratory treadmill tests, and found the continuous shuttle protocol to indicate the lowest o2max (p ≤ 0.05), specifically 10.5% (p ≤ 0.05) lower than the intermittent shuttle run, 11.4% (p ≤ 0.05) lower than a continuous treadmill protocol, and 13.3% (p ≤ 0.05) lower than an intermittent treadmill protocol.

A soccer-specific 20-m shuttle run test, called the Yo-Yo intermittent test, was developed by Bangsbo and published in 1994. The Yo-Yo intermittent test is the same as the test discussed by Ramsbottom et al. (44), but after the subjects run two 20 m lengths (out and back), they then have a recovery period. At the lowest level, the players have 10 seconds to complete one length (8,15,25,30,37,49).

There are 2 versions of the Yo-Yo intermittent test. The Yo-Yo Intermittent Endurance (YYIE) test (15,37) allows a recovery period of 5 seconds, while the Yo-Yo intermittent recovery (YYIR) test (25,28) allows 10 seconds. Two levels of each test have been developed, one for young or nonelite (L1) and an advanced one for elite athletes who have progressed through all the level 1 stages (L2) (30), making there, in fact, 4 versions of the test.

All Yo-Yo intermittent tests assess an athlete's capacity to continually perform intermittent running with regular brief rests. The phosphagen and the glycolytic energy systems are both stressed by the YYIE/R tests, and they require the athlete to conduct exercise intensely and intermittently over a long period that mimics a soccer match, therefore validating the similarity and specificity of the test to the sport (49,52).

Studies have found that the HRpeak reached during a YYIR is not significantly different from (even as close as 98-100%) the HRpeak reached during a graded laboratory assessment (15,28). Dupont et al. (15) found that the HRpeak during their YYIR1 was not significantly different from HRmax obtained during their UMTT, and these values were significantly related (r = 0.88, p < 0.001). This is a justification for the use of a YYIR test to establish HRmax of a soccer player.

Castagna et al. (9) examined o2 during YYIEL1 and found o2peak not significantly different to a graded treadmill test. A recent article highlighted the lack of research that specifically analyzed the o2 during the YYIR tests (15).

In a contemporary study, Castagna et al. (8) compared YYIEL2, YYIRL1, and a treadmill test but did not include directly measured o2 data. They found that the levels achieved on the YYIEL2 and YYIRL1 tests were significantly related (r = 0.75, p = 0.00002) plus YYIEL2 results were significantly related to o2max and both o2 and velocity at ventilatory threshold (r = 0.75, 0.76, and 0.83, respectively; p = 0.00002). MAV on the treadmill was significantly related to YYIEL2 and YYIRL1 (r = 0.87 and 0.71, respectively; p = 0.0003).

According to Krustrup et al. (28), the o2peak estimated from the relationship between heart rate and o2 during a treadmill test was 97 ± 1% consistent with o2max. Dupont et al. (15) found no significant difference between o2peak gathered during the YYIEL1 and o2max determined during the UMTT, and these values were significantly related (r = 0.92, p < 0.001). They also found that o2max and the peak velocity achieved during their YYIEL1 were significantly related (r = 0.61, p < 0.05).

Researchers have validated both the YYIE (8,9,37) and the YYIR (9,15,25,28,30) tests as reliable, sensitive, and reproducible, permitting detailed analysis of the physical capacities of athlete in sports with the activity profile of soccer. The level or type of Yo-Yo chosen would depend on the athlete. YYIE tests are more aerobic related, while YYIR tests are aerobic and anaerobic (9). Younger and amateur athletes would be recommended to undergo the YYIEL1 test and progress through to the level 2. Elite athletes, who run at higher intensities more often (7,30,31), are recommended to be tested with the YYIR level 1 or level 2.

o2peak for modern soccer players in the vicinity of 200 ml·kg−0.75·min−1 (≈66 ml·kg−1·min−1 have been reported (9,54)). This will correspond to different distances covered and levels achieved on the various fitness tests described.

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SPEED AND SPEED ENDURANCE/ANAEROBIC RECOVERY TESTS

Soccer is characterized, particularly at the highest levels, by brief periods of intense activity followed by short periods of active or passive recovery (7,30,31). These brief periods can be the action that decides the winner and the loser of a match (18,33,41). Sprinting over a short distance, accelerating, decelerating, changing direction, and performing technical skills during these actions have face validity in soccer (38). Players must be able to perform these intense tasks repeatedly. When performing repeated sprints, for example, in an attacking movement immediately followed by a retreat into a defensive position, the effectiveness of the player to restore depleted adenosine triphosphate, the more maximal the subsequent sprint will be (3,49), thus the ability to recover quickly needs to be assessed.

Measuring the time taken to cover a set distance is a valid measure of speed and sprinting ability. Ideally, electronic timing gates should be used to conduct all speed tests (11,14,19,38,49). Stopwatches can be used for these tests, but human error reduces the reliability and validity (49) and can lead to times up to 0.24 seconds faster (21).

Sprinting ability is constituted of the rate of increasing velocity (acceleration) and the maximal velocity achievable by the player (33). Bangsbo (5) found that players sprint between 1.5 m and the full length of the field, around 100 m, during a match but average about 17 m per sprint. This agrees with literature stating that 96% of sprints are less than 30 m, with an average duration of less than 6 seconds, which occur every 90 seconds, and almost half are less than 10 m (38,51). Maximal sprints are often begun when the player is already in motion, so maximal velocity is achievable quicker than time and distance would usually permit (33,49).

The time taken to complete 5- to 10-m sprint from a stationary start is well accepted as a valid and reliable test to measure acceleration (26,32,33,35,38,47,49,50,54,58,59) and is specific to soccer, as stated above. See Tables 1 and 2 for statistical analysis of this test.

Table 1

Table 1

Table 2

Table 2

Different protocols have been used to analyze maximal speed, but most involve linear running over a distance of between 20 and 40 m (11,32,33,38,49,53,58,59). Those not concerned with acceleration have been measured from stationary (59), but that is not specific to field sport activity, so most measured maximal speed from a “rolling” start (11,32,33,38,49).

For efficiency, if the equipment is available, it is best to measure acceleration and maximal speed during the same trial by taking split times at 10 m and at the end of the sprint (11,32,38,49). Gates should be placed at the start, 10 m and end lines. Alternatively, a pedal switch can be placed behind the start line, which the subjects place their rear foot on after positioning the pedal in-line with their natural start stance (11). The subjects voluntarily begin the test when they either break the start line with any part of their body or their foot leaves the switch (11,38,49).

Three repetitions of the sprints (11,38,49) should be administered, with at least 5-minute rest between each (14). The best times for both acceleration and maximal velocity should be recorded (33). Tables 1 and 2 reproduce the statistical analysis done by Mirkov et al. (38) and Jullien et al. (26), respectively, for their speed tests.

Norms for sprint times, to the authors' knowledge, have not been established for elite adult players; however, Jullien et al. (26) found young, adult, male soccer players averaged 1.85 seconds for 10-m sprints (Table 2). le Gall et al. (32) analyzed 161 male players (14-16 years), grouped according to whether they achieved international, professional, or amateur status. Average times for 10-m sprint were between 1.96 ± 0.10 seconds and 1.82 ± 0.10 and 20-m sprint (moving start) between 2.57 ± 0.15 and 2.34 ± 0.13 (32). Refer to le Gall et al. (32) for a full breakdown of the times achieved for 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds over 10, 20, and 40 m and the competitive level they subsequently achieved.

Speed endurance is usually assessed using a repetitive sprint test (RST) with limited recovery duration. Subjects are asked to run as fast as possible for each repetition. Different authors have proposed different test distances, ranging from 20 to 40 m, and number of repetition, between 6 and 15 (3,14,36). Balsom et al. (3) found that recovery periods of longer than 30 seconds decreased the validity of this test to measure all components of sprint performance, particularly acceleration. These tests produce data that can be analyzed for various measurements of fatigue including fatigue index (FI) (49) and performance decrement (PD) (36).

Fatigue index is best determined by the difference between the best time of the first 2 sprints and the slowest time of the last 2 sprints. A low FI indicates greater speed endurance ability (49). PD is calculated by dividing the sum of the sprinting times for each repetition by the best possible total score and then multiplying by 100. The best possible total score is calculated as the best sprint times multiplied by the number of repetitions (Fitzsimons et al., cited in Meckel et al. (36)). See Table 3 for hypothetical FI and PD calculations.

Table 3

Table 3

The reliability of the RST is 0.942 for total running time (36). Meckel et al. (36) found a reliability of 0.75 for the PD; however, recent opinions have questioned this, reporting values between 0.11 and 0.50 (42).

Meckel et al. (36) found a significant correlation (r = −0.602, p < 0.05) between the PD in a short RST (12 × 20 m, 20-second recovery) and o2peak but not a longer RST (6 × 40 m, 30-second recovery) (r = 20.322, p = 0.09). This indicates that the increased number of repetitions increased the aerobic system involvement.

Bangsbo developed a similar test to the above, consisting of 7 sprints separated by 25 seconds, but introduced a change of direction of 5 m to the side between 10 and 20 m (49). Wragg et al. (56) established this as a reliable test with a coefficient of variation of 1.8% and 95% confidence intervals. This test does appear to be a valid test, but the side movement does incorporate an element of agility. Young et al. (59) found that the correlation decreased and that the common variance increased with number of direction changes, but because Bangsbo's test only has one, not complicated directional change, it is still a valid speed test (r > 0.92, p < 0.01).

Sayer et al. (49) found an FImean of 0.415 ± 0.213 for national level collegiate athletes, whereas Meckel et al. (36) found a PD of approximately 5.0 ± 2.0 with first division youth league soccer players.

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AGILITY TESTS

Agility tests are speed tests that involve deceleration and changes of direction (21). The results of these tests in juxtaposition with linear speed tests give a comprehensive overview of an athlete's speed capacity (33,49). Identical to sprints, the less time taken to complete a circuit of the agility test, the better the performance.

There are many field agility tests including the pro agility, T-Test, and hexagon test (21). Taşkin (53) proposed a four-line sprint as a measure of speed and acceleration. The player lies prone behind line A; on a verbal signal, the player stands, then runs forward 10 m to line B, touching it with his foot, then turns 180° and runs 20 m back through line C. The time taken to travel between lines A and C was measured with a stopwatch. The activity pattern replicates soccer, although this is not a valid speed and acceleration test, as suggested, because the changes of direction make it applicable as an agility test. Although related, agility and speed have weak coefficients of determination (33).

Mirkov et al. (38) mentioned a speed test during which participants run 10 repetitions between 2 parallel lines located by 5 m apart. They are required to step 1 ft over each line each repetition. The test's intraclass correlation coefficient is 0.94. See Table 1 for further statistical analysis of the reliability of this test.

More soccer-specific agility tests have been developed. A popular one is the Zigzag test for its simplicity (33,38). This test involves running a zigzag course of four 5-m sections, which requires the subject to turn through a 100° angle. Mirkov et al. (38) proposed measuring the time taken to complete the course with and without dribbling a ball. The ratio of the time taken with the ball compared to without the ball would give a skill index. The higher the skill index, the more control of the ball the player justifiably has. Table 1 shows statistical analysis of Mirkov et al. (38) of the tests they presented.

Both Balsom, cited in Sayers et al. (49), and Bangsbo, cited in Julien et al. (26), produced soccer-specific agility tests. Balsom's agility test is a run with changes in direction over 45 m total distance (49). Refer to Sayer et al. (49) for a diagram of this test. Bangsbo's circuit involves a 5.5-m sprint, changes in foot supports, dribbling the ball with changes in direction and over obstacles, and ends with a ball strike into a goal, over a total distance of 31.10 m. Refer to Jullien et al. (26) for a diagram of this course. Up to 3 trials of each test can be performed and the best time used (38).

The author could not source any specific data on the reliability of the Balsom test, although it is very similar to other agility tests, which have been analyzed for reliability, but with movement patterns most similar to soccer, thus its use is justified. Bangsbo's test, although reliable (see Table 2) and specific to soccer, would be a less valid a test of pure agility because of the skill component involved.

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OTHER TESTS

Discussed within this article is not a comprehensive list of all the physiological parameters, which should be assessed with soccer players. This article is limited to tests for aerobic, anaerobic, speed, and agility capacities, which can be conducted outside a laboratory or gymnasium. Other tests that would normally be carried out either outdoors or indoors, within a strength and conditioning setting, would include anthropometric (19,32,45,46,51,57,60), strength (14,19,21,23,26,27,47,49,54,55,61), flexibility (1,57), and power (1,23,27,32,47,49,50) tests.

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HOW TO USE THE DATA

Testing allows the coaching staff and those responsible for player's, team's, or club's performances to develop optimal training programs to address the athletes' strengths and weaknesses, making for more efficient training and, ideally, quicker positive results. Additionally, data can be fed back to the athletes to give them a greater understanding of why they are required to perform certain tasks and how they compare with their peers and norms. This can motivate them to achieve fitness and performance goals (23,49,52). Strength and agility tests can be used to identify and address any asymmetries between these 2 movements, which could contribute to injury risk (2,13,16).

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RECOMMENDATIONS

In general, the most specific valid and reliable test should be used. For assessment of aerobic capacity, the YYIR test best fits this description for elite athletes.

Linear speed (both acceleration and maximal velocity), without any changes in direction, as well as complex agility circuit tests should be administered. This will improve discriminant validity (20) because they are 2 different, although related, components of fitness. Linear speed should be measured over 30 m with times taken at the 10-m (acceleration) and 30-m mark (maximal speed is the time between 10 and 30 m), as these are the most soccer specific (33,38,49). For ease and convenience, speed endurance can be measured using an RST over the last 20 m of the same course, for 6 repetitions with recovery periods around 20 seconds, to minimize aerobic involvement.

Agility can be measured with by means of the Balsom's soccer-specific course. Separate trials of this course can be run with and without dribbling a ball to produce a skill index (38).

The order of tests should go as follows: agility test with ball, agility test without ball, linear speed, RST, and YYIR tests. This follows the recommendations of NSCA (20) that tests, which require the most skill should be administered first, with the most fatiguing tests being done last, to prevent the fatigue from affecting the subsequent tests. The variety of tests taxes various energy systems, which replenish fuel sources in different quantities over different periods, following order from the shortest to the longest: phosphagen, glycolytic, and oxidative. It is essential that adequate intertest intervals be allowed to achieve complete recovery. The proposed ordering of tests should allow this to occur with minimal delays (49). Table 4 provides a list of the equipment needed for each test and the number of assessors required.

Table 4

Table 4

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CONCLUSION

Strength and conditioning professionals, working with soccer teams, need to be able to administer efficient, valid, reliable fitness tests, which are specific to soccer, with minimal amount of equipment. This article has outlined a series of tests that can be administered on a soccer field and given recommendations for their use. All tests can be conducted within one day, thus can be administered repeatedly throughout a season, without too much disruption to the usual training schedule. The resultant data can guide the strength and conditioner, and technical coaches, in program and training planning, leading to more effective and efficient goal achievement.

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Table

Table

Keywords:

soccer; field testing; aerobic; anaerobic; agility; speed; acceleration

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