Fitness Testing

Yes, when you work on fitness, you want to know how effective your program is….

Every coach needs to assess the fitness level of his players, you can of course look at their play, does it fall apart in the last 15 minutes, or put players to a test program. Here is an overview of fitness tests and how they relate to each other.

When subjecting your athletes to any test, take care of the following:

  • Reproducibility: do not simply pace the distance on a speed test, you can not compare an indoor result with an outdoor result. Think about calibration and standardisation. For example: using calipers for skin fold measurements: let the same person do all the tests.
  • Tell your players why they are tested, what the consequences of the outcome might be. Otherwise the results of the tests will be poor.
  • Organise yourself (record keeping and so), publish the outcome of the test as quickly as possible. This motivates your players.
  • Take care in comparing results between athletes.
  • See if an experienced exercise physiologist can help you to interpret the results.

Test Overview

The table below gives you the pros and cons of most used tests.

Body Composition or AnthropometricsHeight/weightSimpleTakes no account of muscle mass
Body mass indexSimpleLacks accuracy
Body fat - weight scale Quick and accurateNeeds special scale - now more reliable
Body fat - calipersQuick and accurateTechnique needs practice.
Interpretation of results needs care.
Endurance or Aerobic CapacityCooper testEasy to administerNeeds a track.
Pacing of run can be difficult.
Shuttle run or bleep testLarge groups can be tested.
Pacing and warm-up no problem.
Accuracy of measurement, and calibration of tape/tape recorder a problem.
Better use the beeptest software.
VO2maxAccurateNeed equipment
Step testSubmaximal

Small inaccuracies in measurement of recovery heart rate give large variations in results.
Wingate testAccurateNeeds study and equipment
A.R.U. fitness test

Large groups can be tested
Related to rugby skills = more fun
Difficult to reproduce results
Execution of skill can become sloppy.
Strength / PowerSargent jump Basic vertical jump testStandardizing technique, needs equipment
Curl-ups / Sit-upBasic test
Needs standardizing using a mat
Medicine ball throw
Measures arm and upper body strengthScores influenced by technique
Multi gym measurementsMeasurements can be made on a variety of muscle groups.Need equipment.
Anaerobic thresholdMaximum heart rate monitorsBasic test
Empirical, not accurate. Needs equipment
220 - ages rule Quick, easy Empirical
Conconi test better than above Needs track and equipment
Lab testsaccurateComplicated
Needs lab (...)
De-hydrationUrine color test Easy to do Gives only indication
SpeedHand-timed sprintsEasy to administer.
Distances should be 10, 20 & 40 meters
Not accurate enough to reflect any changes in performance
FlexibilitySit and reachSimple measure hamstring and lower back mobility.Need to standardize technique.
OtherMeasurements quite gross and influenced by other factors

Original table compiled by John Brewer, later additions by Don de Winter and Martin Slagt

Test sets

You can combine these tests to a representative set and even mix in rugby specific elements:

  • Speed (10, 20, & 40m)
  • Vertical Jump (Power)
  • Phosphate Decrement
  • Anthropometrics
  • Aerobic Capacity (Beep Test)

And a number of identified core rugby skills:

  • Catch and pass
  • Defense: tackle

As you can see, also rugby specific tests. Would be interesting to see all the test results they have and the opportunity to put your results against that database. Download an overview of the test here.

Dutch Under 18 program

While working with the Dutch National Under 18 team we used fitness testing to create awareness amongst our player of their responsibility for their physical fitness. We discussed the fat measurements to get a focus on loosing weight but decided against it, we had a big fear that mixing loosing weight in the selection process might lead to all kind of wrong ideas (=pills).

Related information

  • VO2max values: the VO2max tells you something about the amount of oxygen your body is using. Originally performed on a bicycle, the test has also been performed on a treadmill. Look here to compute VO2max values from Cooper test results;
  • More info on the Cooper Test here;
  • The Beeptest software also gives you an indication of VO2max, though the value of this is still debated. The Wingate or the bicycle/treadmill test are still the best;
  • More in the urine color chart;