August 21, 2009

    Athletes shouldn’t stress over fitness tests

    With the summer coming to an end, several SPARTA athletes are returning to their sports teams in preparation for their upcoming seasons. Before sport training begins, coaches like to assess the fitness levels of their athletes. At SPARTA, we often get questions about fitness tests such as: “why should I run for 1 mile continuously when my sport never requires me to run more than 20 yards at a time?” or “Will I get shin splints if I run 2 miles straight?” So, let’s talk about common pre-season fitness tests. 

    The 1-2 mile run test requires an athlete to run continuously for 1 or 2 miles with the total amount of time used as the test score. This test has several problems, especially for athletes that are not accustomed to running these distances. One of the major problems is the ability of each athlete to set their own pace. Some athletes start too fast and fatigue during the latter phase of the test, while other athletes will start too slow and the test will be over before they are ready to give a maximum effort. Furthermore, several studies have shown that 1 to 2 mile test times are not good markers of physical fitness for athletes (i.e. not a valid test). Instead, various shuttle runs have been proposed as alternatives.

    The 300 yard shuttle run is the standard shuttle fitness test. The test involves running back and forth between two cones (25 yards apart) for a total of 300 yards. The total time taken to complete the 300 yard shuttle is used as the test score. Throughout the 300 yard shuttle run, the athlete is required to accelerate, decelerate and change directions several times. So the 300 yard shuttle run reflects the demands of most team sports better than the 1 to 2 mile continuous run test. However, a recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has suggested that the 300 yard shuttle run is not a valid test (i.e. does not measure what it is supposed to measure) when factors such as age, gender, weight, body fat and training level are not considered. Total times for this test should not be compared across sports, genders or ages.

    Many of the sports trained at SPARTA do not require continuous running efforts, instead requiring unpredictable, sporadic and maximal running efforts. Such sports include soccer, volleyball, basketball, football, etc. Successful performance in these sports has been related to speed, agility, strength, power, and the ability to repeat maximum efforts. One of the more successful tests for estimating athletic potential in these sports is the pro-agility test. The pro-agility involves three sprints (5 yards, 10 yards and 5 yards) and two direction changes. This test requires athletes to perform well during several athletic movements. For example, athletes need to be able to come out of their starting stance quickly and forcefully, and then are required to accelerate, decelerate and change directions. If athletes struggle in any phase, the total time will suffer. The pro-agility is a very good test for predicting athletic success, and is often used in professional sports (e.g. NFL combine).

    We always encourage athletes to give their best efforts. However, athletes that participate in sports requiring unpredictable or sporadic running efforts should not feel too bad if they do not perform well on continuous sub-maximal running tests (e.g. 1 or 2 miles runs). Although these tests may be required for participating on sports teams, the 300 yard shuttle and 1-2 mile run do not test overall athleticism or predict superior sports performance.

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