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Tag Archive: fitness testing

  1. Getting to grips with infographics and data visualisation.


    “Sometimes Excel just has to be beaten into submission”

    After many hours of staring at screens and wrestling with Excel, I have finished my final work on the “Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization” course.

    What started as interest in infographics turned into an understanding of how data should be presented in order to clarify and educate, rather than to obfuscate.

    Not knowing what you don’t know

    Do you know much about defence spending as part of GDPs, tax rates around the world for incomes over $300K, or the Eigen factor? Neither did I before this course started!

    The sketch to the right shows my idea for an infographics showing how defence spending as a proportion of GDP is correlated with geographical location around the Middle East.

    This is an example of the work we were assigned: look at existing data and how it was presented, then come up with an alternative way of presenting that data.

    Marks were not given according to drawing ability (thankfully). Instead, we were encouraged to start with a blank sheet of paper and start with the end in mind.

    This then lead to storyboarding and telling a story for the reader using images. My first effort on Academic tenure and what it means for University education in the USA can be seen here.

    Thematic mapping and data:ink ratios

    The course started off with reading chapters from Alberto Cairo’s The Functional Art” plus watching video lectures. Extra reading included Stephen Few’s “Data Visualization for Human Perception” which goes through in some detail how the human eye can perceive height and depth, but less able to perceive area.

    Data visualisation simplifiedThis is important when choosing which type of graphic to use to present the data.

    Pie charts are popular but are ineffectual in showing comparisons amongst data sets.

    (The exception being this Yoda pie chart!)

    It is easy to get caught up in what looks cool, rather than what is easy to interpret.

    Pretty is different from functional.

    Once you have chosen the right type of graphic, it then has to be made easy to read. The default option of programmes like Excel is to make things overcomplicated, but pretty.

    A few simple edits and background effects that add little meaning can be removed, such as:

    • gridlines
    • extra words on axes
    • too many different colours
    • text that is replicated in charts

    This increases the data: ink ratio

    Making my eyes bleed

    excel for coachesThroughout the course, Cairo emphasised that design came first, the ability to use the software came second.

    We were given access to adobe illustrator and tableau publishing software to help produce the graphics. However, I thought I would use Excel as I have got continued access to that.

    I designed my Coach’s dashboard, then tried to programme accordingly. I then got sucked into a vortex of functions, formulae errors, circular references and other pop up boxes that constantly reminded me why I avoid spreadsheets.

    I was inspired by this series of videos on Excel Tricks for Sports but was unable to get past the second minute!

    My coach’s dashboard was designed to show an overall picture of work being done in the gym with that on the field and in matches. My experience has shown that often no one sees the overall work being done. (With young athletes factor in different sports and p.e lessons and the result is a shambles).

    Here it is:

    coach's dashboard

    This is the front page of the Excel document, with test data and individual programming on the other sheets. The spin button is designed to scroll through players so that the coach can see how much work is being done by each player.

    I split it into current work and future work. That way the coach can see how things are looking over the next 4 weeks, compared to the last 4 weeks. Pitch and gym time can be planned accordingly.

    Without the overall picture, it is difficult to see what is going to happen.

    excel for coachesThat was the theory: having the programming skill of an amoeba stopped it from working as I had wished!


    The course was well set up with interaction amongst students, practical work, lectures and reading. I learnt quite a bit and in conjunction with reading Dan Roam’s back of the napkin, I think that my ability to use diagrams and portray data has improved.

    This is an essential part of communication which almost every Coach says is important when coaching.

    I absolutely detested getting stuck with Excel, exactly what I had tried to avoid. However, I have come through the other side and whilst no Excel Jedi, I might be an acolyte. (Too much time on Excel will lead to the Dark Side I am sure).

    Thanks to Alberto Cairo for running the course. The opening quote came from Tara Richerson who runs a good blog on excel for educators and gave some great feedback to me. Thanks to Ollie Whitehead for providing some of the data.

    I use a lot of this information now when delivering strength and conditioning qualifications as it helps the coaches present information more clearly to their athletes.

    Previous MOOC: Crash Course on Creativity Next up: How things work 

  2. Good enough is big enough

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    Does size matter in sport?

    talent id height

    Ready to fight

    Two of the athletes I train have recently had selection issues because of their height with new coaches discriminating against them, in 2 different sports. Both athletes are strong, but need to develop more power and quickness. That isn’t the reason they are having difficulty. Both are very bright, with good game sense and are tough.

    Those things are difficult to coach. They are also qualities that are difficult to gauge on first meeting.

    Height is an obvious factor when you first start to coach someone. So the coaches have made snap judgements on an obvious factor, without really analysing the athletes strengths and weaknesses in a game. They can then build judgements to reinforce their own first impression “not strong enough in the tackle” , “needs to work on controlling the middle” are  euphemisms related to lack of height.

    I have seen enough taller players who have been pushed into playing positions, or are the next great white hope who have no game sense, and more importantly no desire.


    Michael Jordan

    Michael Jordan once said “Individuals win matches, teams win championships.

    I would put the two athletes I train into any team I was coaching (although one is female, one male so a bit difficult in practice) because when the pressure was on, I know I could rely on them.

    The NFL combine is an example of fitness testing becoming a game in itself where unrelated activities are measured and players rated accordingly. Better to look at  a player’s tapes in high pressure games against tough opponents.

    Better still, speak to their coaches about their influence on people around them.

    As a coach it is important to continually analyse your players performance objectively, don’t label the athletes early on, and then continue to select based on that. Instead, look with fresh eyes, and see what is actually happening on the field from a neutral perspective.

    Its not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.

  3. What is the difference between the Yo Yo Tests?


    Happy National Yo-Yo Day

    yo yo dayThe Yo-Yo may have been around for nearly 1000 years, but today a new form of Yo-Yo is a regular fixture in Sport’s coaches’ fitness testing toolbox.

    To celebrate National Yo-Yo Day, Matt Durber looks at the 3 different variations of the yo-yo test.

    The Yo-Yo Fitness Tests were designed as a specific means of testing fitness for sports which are intermittent in nature such as football.

     Yo-Yo Endurance Test

    A continuous running test similar to the beep test, designed to estimate an individual’s maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max). Players run continuously between two cones 20m apart at increasingly faster speeds.

    Due to the continuous nature of the test, it is best suited to endurance athletes such as long distance runners.yo yo endurance test

    There are two versions of this test: The Level 1 test is effectively the same as the standard beep test with speeds ranging from 8kph-18.5kph.

    The Level 2 test starts at a higher running speed (11.5kph) and has different increments in speed and is therefore more suited to elite levels athletes.

    The athlete’s score is the total distance covered before they were unable to keep up with the recording. The Yo-Yo endurance test usually takes between 6-20 minutes for level 1 and between 2-10 minutes for level 2.

    Yo-Yo Intermittent Tests

    The Yo-Yo Intermittent Test is designed to replicate the demands of sports such as football where game play is not continuous.

    There are two variations of the intermittent test: The Intermittent Endurance Test and the Intermittent Recovery Test each with two levels of varying intensity.

    The Intermittent Endurance Test consists of similar running speeds to the endurance test but includes an additional 5 seconds (5m) active recovery period in between each 20m shuttle. yoyointermittentednurance

    Recently, a group of Excelsior Athletes completed the Intermittent Endurance test and all reached the benchmark level set by the England and Wales Cricket Board.

    The young cricketers had done no running fitness, only foundation strength and agility work, focussing on braking and turning mechanics.

    The Intermittent Recovery Test is more intense with running speeds beginning at 10kph (level 1) and 13kph (level 2).

    In contrast, there is a longer active recovery of 10 seconds (10m) between shuttles to allow more recovery. The nature of this test would suit itself to sports with many high intensity efforts and short breaks such as Rugby Union or Tennis.



    Yo Yo tests

    Start of a yo yo test.

    These Tests are good indicators of fitness for team sports, as they replicate the demands of many sports.

    The inclusion of shuttle runs within the tests assesses the ability to change direction in addition to running ability.

    They have become more popular in recent years, as the continuous bleep test has fallen out of favour. However, it is important to know what you are testing and why before you start any fitness testing programme.

    Rather than think “beep test vs yo-yo test” think “Do I need  to fitness test my team ?” That is something we emphasise on our coaching courses.

    Matt Durber 

    Further reading

    • Reference

    Bangsbo, J. (1994) Fitness Training in Football: A Scientific Approach. August Krogh Institute: Copenhagen University

  4. What are the 3 stages of fitness testing?


    What is the right fitness test for your sport?

    skinfold test“I test athletes to justify my job” s one reason that fitness testing has become maligned and dreaded by coaches and athletes alike.

    Others include “to look professional” or “to use my new bit of kit” or “to identify talent”.

    Yesterday I ran a CPD workshop with a group of Strength and Conditioning Coaches and sports coaches. The theme was fitness testing and we covered these three areas:

    1. Choosing the right test.
    2. Testing accurately and reliably.
    3. Analysing and giving feedback.

    The coaches were all prepared when they arrived thanks to a reading list, a video to watch and a written task on test selection. This meant that the workshop could be participatory, rather than passive.

    When you get a group of minds together it is important to share and experience. Otherwise you may as well record the presentation and everyone can watch at home. This is the format of the Excelsior CPD programme, with the subject changing for each workshop.

    Choosing the right test

    strength testingDo we need to test? Is it more measurement and monitoring rather than “testing”? This was the first discussion. My default position is Monitor rather than test. I need a good reason to test and it could be:

    • To see if what we are doing is working.
    • To measure progress.
    • To evaluate the players so that we can cluster them for training.

    We set off by dividing the tests into health, general and specific. Health tests include biomarkers that could be considered as monitoring or measurement. Height, weight, sleep, mood, skinfolds, heart rate, sympathetic nervous system can all be monitored regularly with little effort, just consistency.

    Some physical competency could also be included into this category. An overhead squat or single leg squat could be included into every warm up and observed.

    fitness testingGeneral tests would give us information about the specific fitness parameter being trained. These might include most strength tests, field endurance tests, agility and speed tests.

    We know how good our athletes are at performing these tests.

    Again, we are measuring what the athletes are doing in training, so we could conduct this in our training sessions.

    Specific tests would be relevant to the sport and replicate specific actions. The tennis fan drills, countermovement jumps or medicine ball throws, the rugby union endurance test that requires down and up movements. Theses tests should be able to isolate one component of performance that is extremely applicable to that sport.

    Agility tests that last 30 seconds, treadmill incremental VO2 max tests for Judoka, shuttle runs for 800m runners are example of tests that either measure more than one thing, or are the wrong test for that athlete.

    Measuring accurately and reliably

    fitness testingOne of my pet hates (there are many) is watching athletes get inaccurately tested by “pseudo scientists”.  Athletes want to get the best scores, so will find ways to cheat and take shortcuts. This might be stopping 2cms short of each line on the yo-yo test, or going over cones rather than around them.

    To make the test reliable, strict warm up protocols need to be observed, as does the order of testing. If you change the warm up before each testing day, or change the order of tests, then they are unreliable. The data becomes invalid.

    Carrying spare batteries, masking tape, spare pens and stopwatch are essential tools for the tester.

    I split the coaches into small groups and asked them to choose three tests for their sport and to deliver one of those three. They had to come up with a rationale for each of the tests, plus a protocol on preparing and delivering.

    The delivery was interesting, with errors being found by each other, plus good points. What appears to be”common sense” or “obvious” is often forgotten in the maelstrom of big groups of athletes and pressure.

    Lots of mistakes and errors were found: which was excellent because everyone was learning. 

    Everyone was open to feedback and constructive in giving it. This “critical friendship” is important for developing coaching skills.

    Analysing and giving feedback

    Another pet hate  (I told you I had a few) is athletes being subjected to tests by pseudo scientists who then go off with the data and use it for their “research” projects.

    If an athlete as worked their nuts off in testing, the coach has allocated time aside for it, then it is imperative that the information is analysed and used.

    I then looked at some of the lessons learnt from the data visualisation and infographics course I am currently doing.

    Look at the difference between these two graphs:

    Fitness test results fitness test results

    Which one is clearer? Can you see why that is?

    It is quite easy to get sucked into a trap of designing graphs and charts that look pretty in 3D colour. However, as with all aspects of coaching, it is our job to make the information as clear, relevant and understandable as possible.

    The workshop finished with specific lessons learnt and some ideas to help share information and data analysis.

    Once again, I was delighted to see the coaches share ideas, challenge their own thinking (and mine) and come up with practical solutions to problems we all encounter.

    Previous CPD workshops included In season training” and “agility training”

    If you would like to discuss fitness testing for your team then please contact James 

  5. NFL Draft and the combine

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    Does the NFL combine predict future playing performance?

    The NFL draft happens later this month- for geeks like me it is quite exciting to see who the Green Bay Packers recruit.

    As a coach it is amazing to see how much emphasis is put on the combine results and the fitness scores that happen there.

    The furore around the NFL combine bench press record is an example. Physical tools can be trained and developed, Players who are winners and make great plays under pressure at college level are harder to find. I know who I would rather have in my team.

    There is a lot of money to be made from camps and workshops to help improve combine scores – this is the physical equivalent of “cramming for the test“.

    What is worrying is how many of these draft choices become “busts” despite a massive amount of research going into their background, video tape analysis and interviews. Remember these are 20-22 year olds with an extensive playing background, and it is still difficult to predict who is going to make it.

    Now, try telling me that as a regional coach you can safely say that the 14 year old in your squad is, or is not ever going to make it.

    I doubt if Brett Favre has ever scored highly on any fitness tests, but it does give the S&C coaches something to do and to justify their position within an organisation.

  6. Heart rates, wattage and VO2 max testing.

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    “Heart rate should be an indicator not a dictator”

    Bryan Fish ski coachsays Bryan Fish the Development Coach for the US cross country ski team.

    This nugget of information came out at a breakfast conversation at GAIN. I know very little about the long endurance sports, so was fascinated to hear what Bryan had to say.

    He expands further here.

    Using Heart Rates

    We have gone up and down through the trials and tribulations of heart rate, lactate, and RPE testing.

    Our challenge is that our sport is so dynamic that we can’t use pace like running and swimming.  The stop watch is ultimately the “tool” best utilized if we could but variability is too great from one day to the next.

    The wattage meter in cycling is ultimately where our sport would like to go.

    The cool thing about wattage is it demonstrates a consistent physical output that is effective in the direction of travel.  I can put forth a lot of energy but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is down the track or down the road. Output plus pace provides that.

    GPS has become popular because of that.  As you know our mantra for tools – “indicate not dictate” is key.  We encourage athletes to use and NOT use them at times.  The goal is to learn pacing and energy output without having a monitoring unit all the time.

    Some workouts are about speed and need not be monitored, since the neural system is the target.  Other times we want athletes “individually controlled” but the heart rate still remains a guideline and remain in a general output.

    An athlete needs to push, hold back and explore pacing strategies and technique modifications to become ever more efficient.  The heart rate monitor can mindlessly dictate a session OR be a mindful tool to make an athlete more independent and more efficient.  The devil is in the details.

    VO2 Max Testing for skiiers

    ski fitness testsWe have a high tech facility with 2 skiing treadmills and the ability to provide athletes oxygen supplementation to simulate a variety of altitudes.  We do all max VO2 tests at sea level conditions.  We test our athletes rollerskiing for specificity.

    That being said – our coaches and athletes look at how long they last on the treadmill as probably the most significant factor of success from the test.  Why – because the length of the test means you are going the fastest.  Our athletes have high VO2’s.  There is a baseline amount of capacity that is necessary to be a World class endurance athlete.

    Our sports science coined it the “cloud of success.”  Many of our developing athletes are in this “cloud.”  That being said, you wouldn’t be able to point out the most successful to lesser success by looking merely at VO2 results.  This is true both with our World Cup & development athletes.  There are many capacities that make up an athlete.  

    Another important point is that VO2 CAN and DOES change slightly throughout the year and it CAN improve like any physical capacity.  There is certainly diminishing return with World class athletes.  It takes A LOT to move a LITTLE, but we can all improve.

    I have been involved with or personally administered over 450 VO2 tests.  I am suspicious with anyone who uses averages.  Each athlete is unique and responds in a unique way.  I could explain this but my fingers would be bloody from typing so long.  Bottom line – if you are going to test then make it personalized and repeat it looking at the personal results from the past tests.

    Other fitness tests for skiiers

    heart rateWe have tests that compliment and verify one another.  For example, we have VO2, hemoglobin mass and blood testing.  A low VO2 might be due to low ferretin.

    The hemoglobin and blood testing will catch that and a lowering VO2 will likely result in lowering performance in this specific situation.

    The basic premise is, like the heart rate monitor, VO2 testing is a tool that can be effectively used or grossly abused.  The latter is often the case unfortunately.  There is no ONE validating test.  The test should be utilized to track and steer training for the individual.  FMS, strength, etc testing should not be substituted for VO2 testing.  They are different tests and should be considered important factors as well.  Secondly, testing is limited in its capacity, so know what it tests and know what it does NOT test.

    Vern’s presentation nailed in on the head.  What is your objective for the test? Bryan Fish.

    (More on fitness testing here)

  7. Fitness testing for football: Mladen Jovanović

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    Discussion with Mladen Jovanović

    football fitness testing


    Mladen is the physical preparation coach at Hammarby football club in Sweden. He writes an excellent blog on physical preparation and analysis for football. Some of his ideas led me to produce the work capacity infographic.

    In preparation for the fitness testing CPD workshop, I asked different coaches for their input. Here are the Q&A with Mladen.

    Q: Do you fitness test players? If so, how much of the information that is obtained is actually used to influence your programming? Do the football coaches understand the results?

    (I ask because I see a lot of generic testing for testing sake, and the coaches can’t interpret the data, let alone the players!)

    A:I believe most if not all testing should be “action based” or provide some form of player profile and help individualize the training program, along with showing the effectiveness of the same.

    Testing for the sake of testing is pointless. I suppose when talking about ‘fitness’ you suppose aerobic/anaerobic energy systems – as far as you know there are laboratory and field tests and both has pros and cons.

    I am big fan of Martin Buchheit test 30-15IFT, which is a form of intermittent beep test. I even developed my own version which is still in beta testing called IE20-10.

    The point behind these, and here is where most coaches make mistakes, is to make tests training specific, rather than sport specific. If you plan doing long slow runs, then test them in a similar test or time trial. If you plan doing more short runs with change of direction, like 15-15 or 30-30, well test the guys in similar way (i.e. 30-15IFT or IE20-10).

    I would say that if a pre-school kid can’t understand the test rationale, then one needs to work on his explanation skills 🙂 So, yes, coaches should be able to understand the logic behind it.

    Q: How do you monitor overall workload of the players: including the intangibles like travel, sleep disruption, warm ups, gym work, technical/ tactical work and endurance sessions.

    (I see people monitoring part or some of this, or one staff member measuring endurance, another the gym, with little coordination).

    A: Start with the simple attendance sheet. Training location, time and duration, type, field type, enlist players and their status (full training, part training, sick, etc). This is a starting point.

    After one has this up and running, one can play with tracking couple of parameters as well. If you have access to GPS or Polar Team2 you could track these, if not basic sRPE and short Wellness Questionnaire should suffice.

    Add some performance tracking (like jump power or something simple and similar) and you have decent monitoring system. Using this you can compare what is planned to what is actual workload and how do players react to it.

    Please note that it is not only the workload that affects players readiness – remember the 24/7 concept. Sometimes the recovery and other factors need to be taken into account, and as would Dan Baker say no amount of good planning and monitoring could replace good old professional habits of the players.

    Q: Do you analyse movement quality at all? If so, do you see any strengths and weaknesses according to position, or even by age? (Are the senior players good athletes, or have they limitations?)

    A: We do some basic screening and we plan making things even simpler. What the research has said is that age and previous injury are the best predictors of the next injury. So I believe older players should have more individualized workload. Maybe skip one or two team practice and work on strength and power, since one tend to lose these as they get older.

    One also need to take into consideration normal variability and asymmetry into account, since not all of it is red flag. Same thing with all ‘screening’ test. Take it with the grain of salt IMHO.

    Q: Top 5 books to read? What are you currently reading?

    A: At the moment I mostly read psychology – habit building, managing irrational behavior, communication, assertiveness and some philosophy (big fan of stoics).  When it comes to training related books I am reading the new edition of Physiological Tests for Elite Athletes by AIS.

    Thanks again for your time Mladen. I really am interested in your insights on football fitness testing, it is important to see what is happening with other coaches in the real world, rather then the text books.

    You can follow Mladen on twitter here 

    Further reading:

    How to get faster for football.

  8. NFL Combine Bench Press Record

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    nfl bench press recordIt is NFL Combine time.

    This annual media circus attracts huge coverage in the USA. The bench press record for 100kg was set last week (video and text here) with a massive 49 reps. It will be interesting to see how this transfers to a playing career.  A lot of money is made getting people ready to do well at these tests.

    I am currently training one GB American Footballer who will have to do a mini version in July for College applications. It is getting the balance right for looking after the individual, and making them stand out amongst hundreds of apllicants. for me, the ability to play well is the most important aspect.

    How to Improve your 40m time.

    An essential part of the Combine is the 40 yard dash. This article I wrote a couple of years ago highlights the need for 40 metre sprint training and ways to improve it.