Sport-specific high-intensity fitness tests

This post analyses some sport-specific high-intensity fitness tests. Many sports are, for the most part, undertaken in an intermittent high-intensity fashion. In preparing for intermittent sports, various forms of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are often used to improve cardiorespiratory and metabolic function as well as physical and sports performance.

We recently ran a poll on our Twitter page @HumanKineticsEU asking what you’d like to learn more about in regards to fitness testing. You chose high-intensity testing, great choice! We will look at three sport-specific high-intensity fitness tests from our new book Laboratory Manual for Exercise Physiology, 2nd Edition. The three fitness tests analysed are:

  • Léger 20 m shuttle test
  • Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test
  • 30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test.

These all involve intermittent running. The tests are widely adopted by coaches and athletes partaking in football (soccer), rugby (union and league), basketball, netball, tennis, hockey and handball. In fact, pretty much any team sport played on a court or a field can no doubt relate to these sport-specific high-intensity fitness tests.

Benefits of HIIT

Before we go into detail about the fitness tests, let’s learn a little more about the benefits of HIIT.

Commonly associated with sports performance, HIIT has begun to be seen as an effective training tool for combating cardiometabolic diseases, improving vascular function and cardiovascular fitness. It has also been associated with reducing insulin resistance and improving metabolic health when compared with low- to moderate-intensity continuous endurance training.

Safety of HIIT

Though HIIT is a useful training tool, it should be used cautiously with clinical populations. The safety of HIIT training is a controversial topic among health professionals who work with clinical patients or at-risk populations. In a study by Rognmo et al. examining the cardiovascular risk of HIIT in coronary heart disease patients, both HIIT and moderate-intensity training exhibited a low risk. However, Halle suggests that the data presented by Rognmo et al. should be interpreted with caution because the rates of cardiovascular complications calculated to the number of patient exercise hours were more than five times higher during HIIT. As such, the risks of adverse effects from HIIT may outweigh the benefits for some clinical populations. To avoid contraindications to HIIT, Weston et al. suggest that careful screening must be conducted when working with clinical populations to ensure that HIIT is used in a safe and appropriate fashion.

Potential contraindications to HIIT include the following:

  • Unstable angina pectoris
  • Uncompensated heart failure
  • Recent myocardial infarction (<4 wk)
  • Recent coronary artery bypass graft or percutaneous coronary intervention (<12 mo)
  • Heart disease that limits exercise (valvular, congenital, ischemic, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy)
  • Complex ventricular arrhythmias or heart block
  • Severe COPD, cerebrovascular disease, or uncontrolled peripheral vascular disease
  • Uncontrolled diabetes mellitus
  • Hypertension with BP >180/110 (or uncontrolled)
  • Severe neuropathy

Adapted from British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Sport-specific high-intensity fitness tests

Two intermittent tests that are often used by practitioners are the interval shuttle run test (ISRT) and the Yo-Yo test. Although these tests are commonly performed, they only provide an index of intermittent aerobic performance and do not yield a maximum running speed (MRS) that can be used for developing HIIT programmes. To address the inability of these tests to yield an MRS that could be used for programming, Buchheit developed the 30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test (30-15IFT-40m), which is tested on a 40 m field. The test has been modified to be performed on a 28 m court and is called the 30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test (30-15IFT-28m). The strength of this test is that it incorporates physiological variables similar to those seen in interval training, including explosive expressions of power when changing directions, aerobic qualities and the ability to recover between efforts. This is accomplished by simultaneously using aspects of intermittent and shuttle tests to establish an MRS.

Léger 20 m Shuttle Run Test

Also known as the beep test! Most people probably remember this from PE in high school. It is also one of the most popular sport-specific high-intensity fitness tests used by sports coaches around the world. The Léger 20 m shuttle run test (20mSRT) was first presented by Léger and Lambert as a method for predicting VO2max from maximal speed. The original protocol was designed to be a continuous running test performed on a 20 m course, typically in a gymnasium on a nonsliding surface.

Léger 20 m Shuttle Run Test

Warm-Up

As with any performance-based test, the subject should perform a structured warm-up to prepare. As a rule, when working with athletes or other fit subjects, devote 5 min to general warm-up activity (e.g., jogging, cycling, jumping rope), and then use 5 min for dynamic activity (e.g., high knees, walking lunges, walking knee tucks, butt kicks, inchworms, power skips). With sedentary or untrained individuals, use less rigorous activities (e.g., leg swings, toe touches).

If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of a good warm-up have a read of Warm-up advice from Aurélien Broussal-Derval.

Protocol

The original protocol for the 20mSRT started at 8 km ∙ h−1 and increased by 0.5 km ∙ h−1 every 2 minutes until the athlete was no longer able to maintain pace with a prerecorded audio signal. The maximal speed achieved at the cessation of the test was then placed into a regression equation to predict VO2max (ml ∙ kg−1 ∙ min−1):

VO2max (ml ∙ kg−1 ∙ min−1) = 5.857 (maximal speed in km ∙ h−1) − 19.458

The original test was later modified by Léger et al., reducing the time allotted for each level to 1 min while maintaining the starting speed of 8 km ∙ h−1 and increasing it by 0.5 km ∙ h−1 every minute (level). This continuous running test requires the athlete to complete as many levels as possible and is only stopped when the athlete is unable to maintain pace with the audio recording or is unable to reach the 3 m zone in front of each 20 m line for three consecutive times in accordancex with the audio signal. Upon completion of the shuttle test, the level and number of shuttles are recorded.

Normative data

Norms for 12-17-year-olds

Age/Sex 12 M 12 F 13 M 13 F 14 M 14 F 15 M 15 F 16 M 16 F 17 M 17 F
Percentile
95 10.5 8.7 11.5 8.8 11.4 8.5 11.9 8.9 12.2 8.9 12.5 9.9
90 9.8 7.9 10.7 8.0 10.8 7.6 11.1 8.0 11.3 8.3 11.7 8.9
70 8.1 5.8 9.1 6.4 9.5 6.3 9.9 6.4 9.9 6.6 9.8 7.1
50 7.0 5.1 7.8 5.2 8.4 5.3 8.5 4.9 8.7 5.2 8.6 5.7
30 5.5 4.0 6.4 4.3 6.8 4.3 6.8 4.1 7.5 4.3 7.5 4.4

Level.shuttle; for example 10.5 = 10th level, 5 shuttles.

Norms for various sports

Sport Sex Squad Level Age/position Mean score
Aussie Rules Football Male AIS ~18 Years 13.5
Hockey Female National Striker 11.9
Hockey Female National Midfielder 12.0
Hockey Female National Defender 12.6
Hockey Female National U17 10.8
Hockey Female State/Club Open 10.7
Hockey Male National Striker 14.9
Hockey Male National Midfielder 14.12
Hockey Male National Defender 14.11
Hockey Male National U21 14.4
Hockey Male State/Club Open 12.2
Tennis Female AIS/National 16+ 11.2
Tennis Female National Academy 15-16 10.1
Tennis Female National Academy 13-14 10.2
Tennis Male AIS/National 16+ 13.4
Tennis Male National Academy 15-16 13.2
Tennis Male National Academy 13-14 11.9

Anything over 13 for men and 12 for women is generally classed as ‘excellent’. Average is between 7-9 for men and 6-8 for women.

Reliability

Sport-specific high-intensity fitness tests Beep-TestOverall this test has been shown to be very reliable for children and adults. Buchheit suggests that the 20mSRT yields a MAS score but notes the final velocity could be considered an MRS score (MRS20mSRT).

Regardless of the age group used with this version of the 20mSRT, the subjects’ VO2max (ml ∙ kg−1 ∙ min−1) can be estimated from the MRS20mSRT and the subject’s age using the following equation:

VO2max (ml ∙ kg−1 ∙ min−1) = 31.025 + 3.238 (maximal speed in km · h−1) − 3.248 (age) + 0.1536 (age \x\ maximal speed).

The book Laboratory Manual for Exercise Physiology, 2nd Edition goes into further details explaining that in 2011, Mahar and colleagues re-evaluated the 20mSRT in an attempt to improve the fitness classifications and the VO2max (ml ∙ kg−1 ∙ min−1) predictability for children between the ages of 10 and 16. This study resulted in the following quadratic prediction equation:

VO2max (ml ∙ kg−1 ∙ min−1) = 41.76799 + (0.49261 x laps) − (0.0290 x lap2) − (0.61613 x BMI) + (0.34787 x sex x age)

where boys = 1 and girls = 0. This new equation has a lower standard error of the estimate (SEE = 6.17 ml ∙ kg−1 ∙ min−1) compared with the classic estimation method (33).

Additionally, Mahar et al. (33) created another linear prediction equation:

VO2max (ml ∙ kg−1 ∙ min−1) = 40.34533 + (0.21426 x laps) − (0.79462 x BMI) + (4.27293 x sex) + (0.79444 x age)

where boys = 1 and girls = 0. This new equation has a slightly higher standard error of the estimate (SEE = 6.29 ml ∙ kg−1 ∙ min−1) compared with quadratic prediction equations.

The 20mSRT has also been modified for use with adults. In 2003, Stickland et al. came up with two equations one for males and one for females aged 18 to 38:

Males

VO2max (ml ∙ kg−1 ∙ min−1) = 2.75 x (last half − stage complete) + 28.8

Females

VO2max (ml ∙ kg−1 ∙ min−1) = 2.85 x (last half − stage complete) + 25.1

Both equations resulted in accurate predictions of VO2max and were more accurate than the ones created by Léger et al.

Equipment

  • 23 m court or field (20 m needed for the test).
  • Measuring wheel or 50+ m tape measure.
  • Cones (12 cones, 6 in one colour and 6 in another).
  • 20mSRT audio file.
  • Audio system.
  • Datasheets (these can be found in the book Laboratory Manual for Exercise Physiology 2nd Edition).

The 20mSRT audio file is available for purchase at Experience AIS.

Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test

The Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test (Yo-Yo IRT) evaluates the ability to repeatedly perform high-intensity exercise. The Yo-Yo IRT Level 1 (Yo-Yo IRT1) examines the ability to perform intermittent exercise leading to activation of the aerobic system, while the Yo-Yo IRT Level 2 (Yo-Yo IRT2) evaluates the ability to recover from exercise with a large contribution of the anaerobic system. During each version of the Yo-Yo IRT, heart rate (HR) progressively increases, reflecting increasing oxygen uptake (VO2). While both tests display this general trend, the Yo-Yo IRT2 demonstrates a more rapid increase in (HR) across the test. Regardless, both tests can be used to evaluate maximal HR, maximal distance covered and the physical capacity of people involved in intermittent sports.

Both versions of the test require a 25 m area containing a 20 m running zone and 5 m recovery zone. Two 20 m shuttle runs are performed at increasing speed interspersed with 10 seconds of active recovery, which consists of jogging in the recovery zone.

Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test

For the Yo-Yo IRT1, the test is initiated at 10 km ∙ h−1 and consists of four running bouts between 10 and 13 km ∙ h−1 (0-160 m) and another seven bouts between 13.5 and 14 km ∙ h−1 (160-440 m). From this point forward, the speed is increased by 0.5 km ∙ h−1 after every eight running bouts until exhaustion.

Warm-Up

As with the Léger 20 m shuttle run test, the subject should perform a similarly structured warm-up to prepare. 

Prior to performing this laboratory activity, determine the overall fitness of the subject. If the subject is not well trained, choose level 1 of the test. If the subject is well trained, choose level 2.

Yo-Yo IRT1 Protocol

Stage Speed Bouts (2 x 20m) Split distance (m) Accumulated distance (m)
1 10 1 40 40
2 12 1 40 80
3 13 2 80 160
4 13.5 3 120 280
5 14 4 160 440
6 14.5 8 320 760
7 15 8 320 1,080
8 15.5 8 320 1,400
9 16 8 320 1,720
10 16.5 8 320 2,040
11 17 8 320 2,360
12 17.5 8 320 2,680
13 18 8 320 3,000
14 18.5 8 320 3,320
15 19 8 320 3,640

Yo-Yo IRT2 Protocol

Stage Speed Bouts (2 x 20m) Split distance (m) Accumulated distance (m)
1 11.5 10 200 200
2 12 11 220 420
3 12.5 11 220 640
4 13 11 220 860
5 13.5 12 240 1,100
6 14 12 240 1,340
7 14.5 13 260 1,600
8 15 13 260 1,860
9 15.5 13 260 2,140
10 16 14 280 2,420
11 16.5 14 280 2,700
12 17 15 300 3,000
13 17.5 15 300 3,300
14 18 15 300 3,600

Which Yo-Yo?

The main difference between the two levels is that the Yo-Yo IRT2 is initiated at a higher speed (i.e., 11.5 km ∙ h−1). After the first stage, the speed is increased 0.5 km ∙ h−1, resulting in increased distances being covered. In general, the Yo-Yo IRT1 lasts 10 to 20 min for a trained person, but it can also be used with less trained individuals because of the slower starting speeds. The Yo-Yo IRT2 lasts 5 to 15 min and is generally used with more advanced athletes.

Regardless of which Yo-Yo IRT is performed, the test is terminated if the subject is unable to reach the front line in time for two consecutive trials or is unable to cover another shuttle. The total distance covered is the primary performance measure, and the speed attained at the end of the last 2×20 m bout is considered the maximal velocity (Vmax).

The results of either test can also be used to estimate VO2max from the distance covered using the following formulas:

Yo-Yo IRT1

VO2max (ml ∙ kg−1 ∙ min−1) = IR1 distance (m) x 0.0084 + 36.4

Yo-Yo IRT2

VO2max (ml ∙ kg−1 ∙ min−1) = IR2 distance (m) x 0.01364 + 45.3

Although VO2max can be estimated from the test, the results are generally not very accurate because they are also examining the anaerobic response to exercise and the recovery process. However, both Yo-Yo IRT tests are rapid, low-cost ways to estimate VO2max with large groups; up to 30 people can be tested in <20 min in a field-based setting.

Reliability

Overall, both the Yo-Yo IRT1 and Yo-Yo IRT2 are highly reliable. For example, the Yo-Yo IRT1 typically displays a high correlation between repeated trials (r = .93-.95) and relatively low coefficients of variation (CV% = 4.9%-8.7%). The Yo-Yo IRT2 typically displays high correlations between repeated trials (r = .97-.99) and relatively low CV% (7.1%-10.4%). Both test levels are highly dependent on effort, so in order to ensure accurate results, subjects must be encouraged to reach the highest possible level before ceasing the test.

Equipment

  • 25 m field or court (20 m needed for running, 5 m for recovery)
  • Measuring wheel or 50+ m tape measure
  • Cones (16 cones, all the same colour)
  • Yo-Yo IRT1 and Yo-Yo IRT2 audio files
  • Audio system
  • Datasheets (these can be found in the book Laboratory Manual for Exercise Physiology 2nd Edition).

The Yo-Yo IRT1 and Yo-Yo IRT2 audio files are available for purchase bangsbosport.com.

30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test

This test is highly specific to the training sessions performed by athletes to prepare for intermittent sports and thus can easily be used to determine HIIT plans (10). Recently, this test has become popular for athletes involved in multidirectional intermittent team sports such as soccer and rugby.

Warm up

Again, devote 5 minutes to general warm-up activity and 5 minutes for dynamic activity. With sedentary or untrained individuals, use less rigorous activities.

After the warm-up, ensure the subjects clearly understand that the objective of the test is to complete as many 30 second stages of the test as possible. The test ends when they are no longer able to maintain the required running speed or are unable to reach the 2 m recovery zone within the 15 seconds recovery period established by the audio signal for three consecutive attempts. Make sure they understand where the various recovery zones are and what colour of cone indicates these zones.

Protocol

The test consists of 30-second shuttle runs interspersed with 15 seconds of recovery and it is typically initiated at a velocity of 8 km ∙ h−1 and increased by 0.5 km ∙ h−1 for each subsequent stage. Advanced athletes can start at 10 or even 12 km ∙ h−1 and increase velocity in the same 0.5 km ∙ h−1 pattern in order to save time.

The test is traditionally performed on a field that has three lines on it. Line A and line C are 40 m apart and define the extremities of the testing area. Line B defines the middle of the testing area (i.e., 20 m from lines A and C) (see image below). A 3-metre zone is placed at the extremity of the field (i.e., near lines A and C) and around line B.

30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test

A prerecorded beep is used to pace subjects during the test so they can adjust their running speed when they enter one of the 3-metre zones at the middle or end of the field. During the recovery period, subjects walk forward to the closest line, either the end or middle of the running area depending on where they completed their last run. This line is where they will initiate their next sprint. Because the test is influenced by the ability to change direction, 0.7 seconds is subtracted from the running period for each change of direction.

For example, an athlete running at 8.5 km ∙ h−1 would cover a linear distance of 70.8 metres in 30 seconds. If using a 40-metre shuttle, the athlete would initiate the test from line A, cross line B to line C and return. This would result in one change of direction (1 x 0.7 s) and a total distance of 69.2 metres during the 30 second time period. The athlete would stop this run 8.5 meters after line B and then walk to line A during the 15 seconds recovery period and initiate the next stage of the test from line A. An athlete running at 11.5 km ∙ h−1 for a total distance of 91.4 metres would start at line A, make one complete round-trip, and stop 9.5 m from line A while moving toward line B. The athlete would then walk to line B during the 15 s recovery period, from which the next stage of the test would be initiated. The athlete should complete as many stages of the test as possible, terminating the test when no longer able to maintain pace with the recording or when unable to reach one of the 3-metre zones in time with the beep for three consecutive times. Upon completion of the test, the velocity achieved during the last stage is recorded as the athlete’s VIFT.

Reliability

Overall the 30-15IFT has been determined to be very reliable, with a typical error of measurement of 0.3 km ∙ h−1 (95% confidence limit, 0.26-0.48). This suggests that a change of about one stage (i.e., 0.5 km ∙ h−1) would represent a worthwhile change. The 30-15IFT has also been shown to achieve VO2max when the VIFT is achieved, which allows the VIFT to be used to estimate VO2max with the following formula:

VO2max30-15IFT (ml ∙ kg−1 ∙ min−1) = 28.3 − 2.15(S) − 0.714(A) − 0.0357(W) + 0.0586(A) x VIFT + 1.03(VIFT)

where S = sex (1 = male; 2 = female), A = age, and W = weight in kg.

Traditionally the 30-15IFT has been completed on a 40 m field; however, it has been modified to be performed in a smaller area such as a basketball court. To accomplish this, the shuttle length has been reduced to 28 metres in the modified 30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test (30-15IFT-28m), which corresponds to the length of a basketball court.

30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test

The main difference between the 30-15IFT-28m and the 30-15IFT-40m is that the 30-15IFT-28m has more changes in direction. Otherwise, both tests are conducted with the same work durations (i.e., 30 seconds), speed increments (i.e., 0.5 km ∙ h−1), and recovery periods (i.e., 15 seconds).

Once the 30-15 test is complete and the VIFT has been determined, the results can be used to establish individualised training sessions. More details about this can be found in Laboratory Manual for Exercise Physiology, 2nd Edition.

Equipment

To get the audio file for this test you can contact the 30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test creator, Martin Buchheit, his details can be found inside Laboratory Manual for Exercise Physiology, 2nd Edition upon purchase.

Final thoughts

To conclude, all three of these sport-specific high-intensity fitness tests are very reliable and are highly recommended. Depending on whether you’d like a bigger focus on change of direction and whether or not you’d like to test on a court or a field and the fitness levels of your athlete(s) may dictate which test is the best for you. For anaerobic tests, Yo-Yo IRT2 is probably the best. To test for sprinting and agility/change of direction then I’d opt for the 30-15 on a basketball court. To test your aerobic maximal speed then go for the Léger.

Other things to note are the temperature and humidity, especially if the tests are taking place outside. Footwear and the quality of the field (length of grass etc) should also be noted.

Regulating tests with large groups can become difficult as it is hard to track which athletes have repeatedly failed to reach the recovery zones before the beep. Therefore, it is strongly advised that multiple assessors officiate the tests.

Read more

For more details on these tests and step by step guides, you can purchase Laboratory Manual for Exercise Physiology 2nd Edition from the Human Kinetics website now.

Also, check out our new for 2018 journal – The Journal for the Measurement of Physical Behaviour and The International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance for all the latest in sports physiology.

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About Ryan Parker

Hi, I'm Ryan, one of the bloggers here at Human Kinetics Europe Ltd. (If you want my official title, it's Marketing Executive.) I've always had a passion for health and fitness, having previously worked in gyms and played a variety of sports all my life. Now (as a somewhat of a washed-up athlete) I find myself working at the world’s biggest independent publisher of sport, health, dancex and fitness resources. Which is amazing! Why? Because I get unrestricted access to all the best, most interesting, scientifically-proven writing on sports science. And what's more, I get to share it all with you!

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