Soccer / Football Fitness Testing

In order to truly understand and manipulate an individual’s performance
in football, one must first study and have an in depth knowledge of the energy
systems incorporated over the duration of a match, and during different training
sessions. Only then can a sport scientist prescribe effective training programmes
and diets, in an effort to enhance performance.

There are three major systems available for the production of energy in the
muscles. The ATP-PC system is utilised during high-intensity short bursts.
ATP is a phosphate compound from which the body derives its energy. The ATP-PC
system, is a simple anaerobic energy system that functions to maintain ATP
levels through the breakdown of phosphocreatine (PC). The breakdown of PC
frees a phosphate molecule, which then combines with ADP to produce ATP.

The anaerobic glycolysis system is called upon in order to fuel intermediate
bursts of relatively high intensity. This system is powered by the break down
of glucose, and produces the by-products of lactate ions and hydrogen ions.
Finally, there is the aerobic system for long efforts of low to moderate intensity.
This energy system uses glucose or fat in order to produce ATP via a number
of metabolic reactions that utilise oxygen.

Games such as football are characterized by variations in intensity, and so
incorporate every energy system. Within a football match, short sprints are
interspersed with periods of jogging, walking, moderate-paced running and
standing still. This kind of activity has been termed ‘maximal intermittent
exercise’. This makes training for the sport extremely demanding, when
one considers that endurance training hinders adaptation to strength training
and vice versa. It is extremely difficult to train and improve every aspect
of fitness, recovery becomes extremely hard and muscles and energy systems
struggle to adapt to several overloads at once.

Each individual action that is performed during a game, required a specific,
highly ‘functional’ level of fitness and conditioning. For example,
a 10m sprint draws upon different energy systems and motor units to different
extents, then a diving header towards the opponents goal. Both are explosive,
but draw upon different muscle fibres, and require a separate pattern of muscular
contractions and co-ordination. With this in mind it can be seen that in order
to maximise a team’s potential, training should be designed in accordance
with the objective of developing the body’s physiological capacity to
cope with and perform each match activity as effectively and specifically
as possible.

In order to do this, a coach must first accurately determine the extent to
which each energy system is taxed during a game. This will be specific to
each individual, in accordance with their playing style and position. Research
conducted by Reilly and Thomas in 1976, concluded that a player would change
activity every 5-6 secs, and on average he would sprint for an average of
15m every 90 seconds. They found the total distance covered varied from 8
to 11 km for an outfield player – 25 per cent of the distance was covered
walking, 37 per cent jogging, 20 per cent running below top speed, 11 per
cent sprinting and 7 per cent running backwards. Another study conducted upon
football in Japan, reinforced the findings of Reilly and THomas, showing 70
per cent of the distance was covered at low to moderate pace below 4 m/s,
with the remaining 30 per cent covered by running or sprinting at above 4
m/s. Thus, for example, if a football player covers 10 km in total, around
3 km will be done at fast pace, of which probably around 1 km will be done
at top speed.

It is important to incorporate data that is specific to the level and country
that a certain team play in, as the style of play will differ. The data should
also be as recent as possible, due to changes in physical fitness, tactics,
systems of play and data collection over the years. In 1952, Winterbottom
found that players covered a total distance of 3361m much less than the average
of 8700m found by Reilly and |Thomas in 1976.

The pattern of football play has also been expressed in terms of time. Bangsbo
(1993) studied Danish football players, and the time spent during a match,
in each running activity.

Rresearcher by Peter Apor describes football as comprising sprints of 3-5
secs interspersed with rest periods of jogging and walking of 30-90 secs.
Therefore, the high to low intensity activity ratio is between 1:10 to 1:20
with respect to time. However, knowing the ratio of time in which a player
is utilising different energy systems is not enough information to form a
conditioning programme that will lead to footballing success. One energy system
may only be utilised for a short period of time, however, it may prove to
be a limiting factor in performance.

When one considers the fact that players can cover over 10 km in a match,
it is obvious that the aerobic energy system is crucial to optimal performance.
In addition to this, Reilly found heart rate to average 157 bpm. This is the
equivalent of operating at 75 per cent of VO2max for 90 minutes. The importance
of aerobic fitness is reiterated by the fact that various studies have shown
footballers to have VO2max scores of 55-65 ml/kg/min; representing moderately
high aerobic power.

Research by Reilly and Thomas (1976) demonstrated the importance of aerobic
fitness in football, by showing a high correlation between a player’s VO2max
and the distance covered in a game. This theory was supported by Smaros (1980)
who also showed that VO2max correlated highly with the number of sprints attempted
in a game. These two findings show that a high level of aerobic fitness is
very beneficial to a footballer, and the research from Smaros also indicates
that aerobic fitness in football may provide a foundation for anerobic fitness.
Having a high level of aerobic power, helps players to recover from powerful
sprints and jumps, by removing waste products such as lactic acid.

Short bursts will be fuelled by the ATP-PC and anaerobic glycolysis systems.
Then, during rest periods, a large blood flow is required to replace the used-up
creatine phosphate and oxygen stores in the muscles and to help remove any
lactate and hydrogen ion by-products. The quicker this is achieved, the sooner
a player can repeat the high-intensity sprints, and thus cover more distance
and be able to attempt more sprints. It can be seen therefore that the aerobic
system is crucial for fuelling the low to moderate activities during the game,
and as a means of recovery between high-intensity bursts.

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“I like RegEx!”


A coach is employed to ensure continued development of his squad, and to
improve the teams’ ability to produce winning performances. This involves
the development of physical and cognitive skills, and the improvement of a
player’s physiological fitness. Fitness is often misinterpreted as meaning
simply cardiovascular fitness or endurance; however, fitness is sport specific
and involves a number of subcategories, utilising different energy systems.
Football players require speed, power, strength, CV fitness and muscular endurance.

If a coach wishes to improve each aspect of fitness, he must first further
subdivide each aspect into their constituent parts. For example, for speed
development a coach may have to address cadence, stride length, arm action,
muscular tension and acceleration. Before a training structure is implemented
a coach may also wish to assess a player’s acceleration, speed endurance
and maximum speed, using a variety of tests. Ideally, each player should have
a specific training schedule, tailored in accordance to his/her individual
strengths and weaknesses.

Training regimes must prepare players for the specific demands of a football
match, and as such should take into account the many distinguishing features
of football:

1. Most runs are made without the ball
2. Most runs tend to be straight and vary from 5 to 45m
3. Average sprint distance is 30m
4. Ratio of 3:5:1 for walking, jogging, sprinting
5. Running backwards and turning at speed
6. Getting up from the ground quikly
7. Ballisitic stretching
8. high impact
9. HR is above 85% of maximum fro over 60% of the match.

In order to address the specific demands of football, a training regime may
call upon many different forms of training, including plyometrics, resistance
training and even Olympic lifts.

The demands of football can be divided into four components: technical, tactical,
social/psychological, and physical. The ideal football player should have
good tactical comprehension, be technically skilfull, mentally strong, function
well socially within the team, and have a high physical capacity.


Type of Training Benefits

Stamina Ability to run around the field for 90 minutes.
Muscular endurance Ability to twist & turn, jump & head the ball,
control, pass & shoot throughout the game.
Strength More powerful shooting, higher jumping, harder tackling, longer throwing,
injury avoidance, stronger on the ball.
Sprinting Extra speed and acceleration to reach the ball faster, beat opponents,
stay with your opponent or avoid your marker.
Stretching Stretching is vital before football matches or training for injury
prevention. Improves agility that can benefit skills, especially for goalkeepers.

Reactions Improved response times benefit all parts of your soccer game.
Diet or Nutrition Improved overall fitness and performance. Reduced recovery
time after exercise. Better health & resistance to disease.

Fitness Testing

In order to monitor the effectiveness of this training, specific fitness
tests should be implemented to assess each element of football specific fitness.
If technical ability is equal between players, fitness assessments may prove
a valuable instrument for determining team selection and in turn may serve
as an important motivation tool.

Testing should be done with a purpose, so clear objectives should be defined
before selecting a test. These are several good reasons for testing players:

1. To study the effect of a training programme
2. To motivate players to train harder
3. To give players objective feedback
4. To make players more aware of the objectives of the training
5. To evaluate whether a player is ready to play a competitive match
6. To plan short and long term training programmes
7. To aid team selection

Team selection, players need speed, power, agility and endurance to different
extents, according to their position and style of play. A player’s physiological
development and current fitness level can be determined using a combination
of the fitness tests. These tests should be used before players begin a training
program and at 6-8 week intervals. Players should first warm up thoroughly,
and avoid training the day before the fitness tests.

Speed and Power Tests

30m Sprint – Short Term Power Test

1. Set 2 cones 30m apart and start at one cone.
2. On a signal of “Marks – Set – GO” sprint to the other cone as
quickly as possible.
3. Have a training partner record your time with a stop watch.
4. Perform 3 trials and take the best time.
Any time less than 5 seconds is good. Less than 4 seconds is excellent.

30m Sprint Fatigue – Power Maintenance Test

obtain 12 cones or markers and a stopwatch.

1. Sprint from A to B between the cones deviating 5m sideways in the middle
of the sprint. Have a training partner start you off and time your sprint
from A to B.
2. Jog slowly for 10 meters after point B and then back to the start taking
30 seconds to do so.
3. As soon as you reach the start repeat the sprint.
4. Complete a total of 10 sprints and have your training partner write down
all the times.

Results :
5. Subtract your fastest time from your slowest time. This is your sprint
fatigue. For example if your slowest sprint was 7.8 seconds and your fastest
sprint was 6.9 seconds your sprint fatigue is 0.9 (7.8 – 6.9).

Another useful tool to use with your results is to find the average speed
of the first three trials and divide it by the average speed of the last three
trials. So if your times were…
7.1s, 6.9s, 6.9s, 7.0s, 7.2s, 7.1s, 7.3s, 7.3s, 7.4s, 7.5s

The average of the first 3 times is 6.97s, the average of the last 3 times
is 7.40s.
6.97 ÷ 7.40 = 0.94 X 100 = 94%
Compare you score with the table below…

Power Maintenance
Level Category % Top Speed Maintained
1 Excellent +90%
2 Good 85-89%
3 Average 80-84%
4 Poor <79%

Illinois Test – Agility


8 cones are required and a stop watch. The diagram below to shows how to set
the cones out.

1. Sprint the course from start to finish and have your training partner record
your time.
2. Rest fully and repeat the test for a total of 3 trials.

Take your quickest time and compare to the chart below.

Power Maintenance
Classification Males Females
Excellent <15.9 secs <17.5 secs
Good 15.9 – 16.7 secs 17.5 – 18.6 secs
Average 16.8 – 17.6 secs 18.7 – 22.4 secs
Below Average 17.7 – 18.8 secs 22.5 – 23.4 secs
Poor >18.8 secs >23.4 secs

Standing Long Jump – Explosive Power


1. Stand at a mark with your feet slightly apart.
2. Taking off and landing with both feet, swing your arms and bend the knees
to jump forward as far as possible.
3. Measure the distance, rest fully and repeat a total of 3 times.
Take the longest of the 3 trials as your score. Compare your results with
the table below…

Standing Long Jump Test

Poor Below average Average Good Excellent
Males <2.0m 2.3m 2.5m 2.7m >3.0m
Females <1.7m 1.9m 2.2m 2.5m >2.8m

Standing Vertical Jump – Explosive Power


1. Chalk your hand and stand next to a wall. Reach up with your hand closest
to the wall and make a mark. Remember to keep your feet flat on the floor.

2. Bending your knees at right angles, jump as high as possible to make another
3. Measure the distance between the two marks and repeat a total of 3 times.


Take your best score of the 3 trials.
Jump height can be converted into a power using the following formula…
Power = Body mass(kg) x (4.9 x height jumped in meters)2
So for example if you weigh 80kg (multiply your weight in lbs by 2.2) and
jumped 50cm (0.5m) your score would be…
80 x (4.9 x 0.5)2
= 80 x (2.45 x 2.45)
= 480kg-m
Going back to your original score (the height you jumped) compare it to the
graph below…

Vertical Jump Test

Poor Below average Average Good Excellent
Males < 46cm 50cm 55cm 60cm >65cm
Females <36cm 40cm 45cm 50cm >55cm

Hexagon Drill – Quickness


1. Mark out a hexagon on the floor with tape or chalk. Each side should be
24 inches long with a 120 degree angle. Avoid hard surfaces such as concrete.

2. Stand inside the hexagon opposite one of the sides. Keeping your feet together,
jump across the side you are facing and then immediately back into the middle
of the hexagon.
3. As soon as you land jump over the next side of the hexagon. Continue until
you have completed 3 full revolutions of the shape. You can go either clockwise
or anticlockwise.
4. Have someone time you. There is no data to compare this test to so keep
a note of the time to beat on your next testing day.


20 meter Shuttle Run Test/bleep test


This test involves continuous running between two lines 20m apart in time
to recorded beeps.
The time between recorded beeps decrease each minute (level).
There are several versions of the test, but one commonly used version has
an initial running velocity of 8.5 km/hr, which increases by 0.5 km/hr each
· scoring: The athletes score is the level and number of shuttles reached
before they were unable to keep up with the tape recording.

Sit and Reach Test


Sit on the floor with legs out straight ahead. Feet (shoes off) are placed
flat against the box. Both knees are held flat against the floor by the tester.

lean forward slowly as far as possible and holds the greatest stretch for
two seconds. Make sure there is no jerky movements, and that the fingertips
remain level and the legs flat.
The score is recorded as the distance before (negative) or beyond (positive)
the toes. Repeat twice and record the best score. The table below gives you
a guide for expected scores (in cm) for adults
men women
super > +27 > +30
excellent +17 to +27 +21 to +30
good +6 to +16 +11 to +20
average 0 to +5 +1 to +10
fair -8 to -1 -7 to 0
poor -19 to -9 -14 to -8
very poor < -20 < -15

Aswell as testing energy systems, coaches should also monitor the body composition
of his players. The most accurate way to do this is vai hydrostatic weighing,
however, this is far from practical. Skin fold callipers are a good compromise.


Skinfold Measurement

description / procedure:

The tester pinches the skin at the appropriate site to raise a double layer
of skin and the underlying adipose tissue, but not the muscle.
The calipers are then applied 1 cm below and at right angles to the pinch,
and a reading taken 2 seconds later.
The mean of two measurements should be taken. If the two measurements differ
greatly, a third should then be done, then the median value taken.
the sites: the following descriptions are for the common sites at which the
skinfold pinch is taken. The caliper is then applied 1 cm below and at right
angles to the pinch. I have added some lay terms (in brackets) that may help
the non-medical users to find the correct sites for taking the skinfold measurements.

TRICEPS A vertical pinch at the level of the mid-point between acromial process
(boney tip of shoulder) and proximal end of the radius bone (elbow joint),
on the posterior (back) surface of the arm.

BICEPS The pinch position is at the same level as for triceps, though on the
anterior (front) surface of arm.

SUBSCAPULA The pinch is made 2 cm below the lower angle of the scapula (bottom
point of shoulder blade) on a line running laterally (away from the body)
and downwards (at about 45 degrees). The fold is lifted in this direction.

AXILLA The pinch is made at the intersection of a horizontal line level with
the bottom edge of the xiphoid process (lowest point of the breast bone),
and a vertical line from the mid axilla (middle of armpit).

ILIAC CREST The pinch is made at a site immediately above the iliac crest
(top of hip bone), at the mid-axillary line. The fold is directed anteriorly
and downward.

SUPRASPINALE The pinch is made at the intersection of a line joining the spinale
(front part of iliac crest) and the anterior (front) part of the axilla (armpit),
and a horizontal line at the level of the iliac crest. The pinch is directed
anteriorly and downward

ABDOMINAL The vertical pinch is made 5 cm adjacent to the umbilicus (belly-button)

FRONT THIGH A vertical pinch is made at the mid-point of the anterior surface
of the thigh, midway between patella (knee cap)
and inguinal fold (crease at top of thigh).

MEDIAL CALF A vertical pinch is made at the point of largest circumference
on medial (inside) surface of the calf.

CHEST A diagonal pinch is made between the axilla and nipple as high as possible
on the anterior axillary fold (males only).
results: Because of the increased errors involved, it is not appropriate to
convert skinfold measures to percentage body fat (%BF). It is best to use
the sum of several sites to monitor and compare body fat measures. Below are
a number of equations for calculating body fat % from a number of calliper
sites. There are hundreds of equations available, and it is best to use one
that is based on a sample that most closely resemble the population being

Some of the following equations give a measure of body density (D), which
then needs to be converted to %BF using the Siri equation: %BF = (495/D) –

D = 1.10938 – (0.0008267 x sum of chest, abdominal, thigh) + (0.0000016 x
square of the sum of chest, abdominal, thigh) – (0.0002574 x age), based on
a sample aged 18-61.
Jackson, A.S. & Pollock, M.L. (1978) Generalized equations for predicting
body density of men. British J of Nutrition, 40: p497-504.
D = 1.1043 – (0.001327 x thigh) – (0.00131 x subscapular), based on a sample
aged 18-26.

Sloan AW: Estimation of body fat in young men., J Appl. Physiol. (1967);23:p311-315.

%BF = (0.1051 x sum of triceps, subscapular, supraspinale, abdominal, thigh,
calf) + 2.585, based on a sample of college students.

Yuhasz, M.S.: Physical Fitness Manual, London Ontario, University of Western
Ontario, (1974).

D = 1.0994921 – (0.0009929 x sum of triceps, suprailiac, thigh) + (0.0000023
x square of the sum of triceps, suprailiac, thigh) – (0.0001392 x age), based
on a sample aged 18-55.

Jackson, et al. (1980) Generalized equations for predicting body density of
women. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 12:p175-182.

D = 1.0764 – (0.0008 x iliac crest) – (0.00088 x tricep), based on a sample
aged 17-25.

Sloan, A.W., Burt A.J., Blyth C.S.: Estimating body fat in young women., J.
Appl. Physiol. (1962);17:p967-970.
%BF = (0.1548 x sum of triceps, subscpular, supraspinale, abdominal, thigh,
calf) + 3.580, based on a sample of college students.

Yuhasz, M.S.: Physical Fitness Manual, London Ontario,University of Western
Ontario, (1974).

By conducting these tests a coach can monitor the effectiveness of a football
conditioning programme, to ensure that all energysystems are being overloaded
and then players are recovering fully and adapting accordingly. It is important
to remember however that fitness is extremely specific, and the only true
way to monitor the effectiveness of a programme is by directly analysing a
player’s performance during a game. Football players require a high
level of overall conditioning; strength, power, flexibility and aerobic power
are all crucial components of a top player. A periodised exercise programme
is the best way to tackle this challenge. See my next football article for
more information.

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