by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
A teammate from my early years in rugby contacted me the other day to say he was still involved in rugby as a coach of a Midwest high school team. He is implementing an off season conditioning program for the first time and asked what aerobic fitness test should be conducted and how often should he test his team’s fitness levels? I thought I would share with our www.rugbyrugby.com readers my thoughts on this topic.
I strongly believe in the honest objectivity testing data can provide a team and it’s coach. Although fitness testing data is just one of several pieces of information a coach takes into consideration when building a team, it is a substantial dimension of any team’s success. It makes little sense to select a player on fitness scores alone though. A player who scores well but has poor skills or who has a poor understanding of the game can hurt you as much as an unfit player. Coaches need to appreciate that some of their best players will not always test as well as they play. For example, Dan Lyle was an automatic selection on the national teams I coached based on his exemplary performances, but never won a fitness test we conducted.
At Cal we perform both strength and fitness tests at the start and end of our preseason training. This testing data provides the coaching staff with an assessment of the planning and execution of our fitness work, and amount of improvement we have earned. I don’t believe that it is productive to perform fitness tests too frequently during a training cycle, so we limit the testing to the front and back ends of the our preseason program, which coincides with academic calendar.
The two questions to ask when deciding on which fitness test to conduct are; 1). Is the test valid to our sport? 2). Can we easily replicate and administer the test to dozens of athletes?
One of the more popular rugby aerobic fitness tests is called the Bleep Test. The Bleep Test is an audiotape used to perform multi-stage shuttles over a 20 meter distance. By design this test is progressive and maximal, which means it begins very slowly and gradually increases in speed until an athlete fail to keep pace with the audio bleeps on the tape. My experience with the Bleep Test tells me that it is difficult to administer to large groups and testing data is often flawed due to challenges in accurately recording where an athlete has failed within the test shuttles.
We use a 1,000-meter shuttle run for our aerobic fitness test. Although no one test is perfect, I believe this aerobic test meets the stated criteria previously mentioned. All that is needed to administer the test is a stopwatch and an accurately marked rugby pitch.
The test is performed by players running a series of shuttles between the two try lines on the field. Players begin on one try line and then shuttle to the near twenty-two meter line, and return, the halfway line, the far twenty-two meter line and the opposite try line. Athletes repeat this shuttle twice in succession for time. Depending on the size of your team, you might be able to run as one group, or if necessary, the team can split into smaller, more manageable groups. Even if you conduct the test in more than one group, the time required to test a large number of players is negligible.
The performance criteria for the 1,000 meter run would be as follows:
Elite performance: 3:30 to 3:45 minutes.
Competitive performance: 3:45 to 4:00 minutes.
Recreational performance: over 4:00 minutes.
Give the 1,000 meter shuttle a try and let me know how you and your team score.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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