Summary: Fitness testing is all the rage in the AFL and state leagues around Australia. But are they relevant at the community level? And if so, what tests should community coaches use and when should they conduct them? This article aims to answers those questions and more. Includes important comparisons between professional and amateur clubs.

Background

With pre-season training comes the inevitable testing sessions to ensure our players are meeting required targets in order to be prepared for the season proper. Players hate these session but they are done with the bigger picture in mind.

At professional levels of sport, testing is vital to ensure there is suitable progress within the group. Much is at stake. With professionalism, comes resources, and the ability to use the data for comparisons and for amendments to an individual’s program. With resources and budget comes the ability to purchase equipment such as timing lights and platforms to measure leg strength and power.

But for community footy, is there a benefit to testing?

Why Test?

My view is, why test just for testing sake? Like any aspect of training, there needs to be an underlying objective behind your fitness testing. What will you use the data for? How will you analyse it? How will it be of benefit to your players? What resources can your club afford?

For most community clubs, the only resource available may be a stop watch, cones and some weight equipment. But with these simple items, it is still possible to track the improvements of your players and provide some feedback to ensure they are working hard enough. The main goal of testing is to help your team train more effectively and to guide the coaching staff in the areas that need improvement.

A reliable testing program is as simple as start training, test, train for a month or so and test again to see if there is improvement. The results can be posted publically within the club to inspire those to do better or keep up the good work.

What Types of Fitness Testing Should You Use?

This can then lead to the question, what sort of tests can I do? Before you can answer this question, you need to have some understanding of the areas in a conditioning program that need to be monitored. These are:

  1. Aerobic Capacity – This is the foundation for the development of the other conditioning components. Aerobic capacity is generally testing by measuring VO2 Max, which equates to how much oxygen is transported to the muscles during exercise.
  2. Anaerobic Capacity – This includes both Alactic Acid and Lactic Acid.
  3. Strength – A common form of testing for strength is known as Maximal Strength Testing.
  4. Agility

There are numerous tests that can be done in the areas of conditioning, strength and agility. Here is a sample list that you may use (note – a quick google search for these tests will reveal a more detailed explanation on what these tests are and how to run them):

#1 Aerobic Capacity

  • 1km Time Trial
  • 1.6km Time Trial
  • 2km Time Trial
  • 3km Time Trial
  • Beep Test
  • Yo Yo Test
  • 12 or 15 minute Fixed Time Run (Measure distance travelled)

#2 Anaerobic Capacity

  • 10m / 20m / 30m / 40m sprint
  • Illinois Test

#3 Strength

  • Vertical leap
  • Max Push ups (in one minute)
  • Max Sit ups (in one minute)
  • Max weight leg press

#4 Agility

  • Illinois Test

With these tests, is it as simple as seeing improvement, or should there be an acceptable level to be reached based on some science?

In my view, this is the preferred method as a player can simply run slow in the first test, and slightly quicker in the second, commonly referred to as “Foxing”. Does this prove anything? Also, players of differing sizes should not be expected to reach the same levels. Can a ruckman cover the distance in the same time as your midfielders? Can a person of shorter stature cover the ground as quickly as a six footer? The answer is simply no!

The distance run is a simple method of testing, but there must be some parameters around it to ensure the data can be analysed fairly. Firstly, ensure you are completing the test at the same location. Be sure the surface is comparable to the first test and that the weather conditions are similar. Completing the test at the same time of day will also eliminate another variable.

For me, I have chosen the 1.6km time trial and the Beep Test for my testing as they are easy to set up and collect the data. I also look at setting benchmarks for each part of the testing phase so the players have a goal to work to.

1.6km Time Trial

Players under 178cm
1st Test – 5 mins 40 secs
2nd Test – 5 mins 25 secs
Players 178cm to 188cm 1st Test – 5 mins 35 secs 2nd Test – 5 mins 20 secs
Players above 188cm 1st Test – 6 mins 20 secs 2nd Test – 5 mins 50 secs

Beep Test

Players under 178cm 1st Test – Level 11.0 2nd Test – Level 12.0
Players 178cm to 188cm 1st Test – Level 12.05 2nd Test    – Level 13.05
Players above 188cm 1st Test – Level 10.02 2nd Test    – Level 11.05

These numbers are guides only, but they may assist you in developing a testing program that you can manage in the limited time community footballers spend at training and with limited resources available. Remember when planning testing sessions to ensure there is reliability and specificity.

I should also add that these tests shouldn’t be run on the same night. Rather, they should be run separately on concurrent sessions (one night after the other). The break will give you a more accurate measurement of your players’ fitness levels and also reduce the chances of injury, particularly during the early stages of your pre-season.

When Should You Test?

At the AFL and state league level, coaches typically start their fitness testing on the first day of training. They then test again pre-Christmas (before the players break for Christmas) and post-Christmas (when the players return) to make sure fitness levels haven’t dropped and see if players continued with their Christmas training programs over the break. Fitness testing is then continued throughout the season.

Community football is of course very different.

Firstly, AFL and state league players are expected to arrive at pre-season fully fit and ready to go – amateur players are not. Testing an amateur player on the first day of training could therefore expose them to injury if they are physically unprepared.

Secondly, community coaches only have their players for two nights a week. They have neither the time, nor the resources to conduct the same level of testing as a professional club.

For these reasons, it makes sense that a slightly different approach to testing should be taken by community clubs.

  1. To begin with, fitness testing should be conducted 2-3 weeks into a pre-season program. I like to do it on our 5th and 6th sessions. This allows players to dust out the cob webs and prepare themselves physiologically for testing, which in turn will reduce their chances of injury.
  2. Testing should then be conducted later in the pre-season to get a comparison. I like to do it approximately 4 weeks after the initial testing. This allows me to see how much improvement my players have made during the preseason and gives the players specific fitness goals to work towards after their initial testing.
  3. Finally, I recommend testing again three quarters of the way through the season. Fitness levels are often highest at the end of the preseason, before clubs transition to the in-season phase of their training. Once the season proper begins however, fitness levels can slowly drop off. Testing at this time of the season shows you whether you need to top up your fitness levels again leading into the finals.

Conclusion

It’s easy for community coaches to read media reports about what AFL and state league clubs do with their fitness testing and blindly follow their lead. After all, to be the best you should follow what the best do, right?

But comparing professional teams to amateur football is like comparing apples to oranges. Studying what teams do in the AFL is great, but you need adapt their strategies to the unique demands of community football to fully benefit – different horses for different courses.

There are a number of fitness tests and strategies available to community coaches. Whatever method you choose, don’t do it because everyone else is doing. Make sure both you and your players get something valuable from the data collected.
Title photo by Kerrie via: freeforcommercialuse.org.

Posted by David Johnson

David “Johnno” Johnson is our chief football researcher and writer. With over 20 years of coaching experience in all grades of football David was also a prominent footballer himself, having played at Teal Cup level and was even recruited by the Essendon Football Club. The pinnacle of David's coaching experience saw him as the assistant coach of the East Fremantle Shark Football Club in the WAFL for a number of years.

Leave a reply