Fitness tests, aims of training and other Pre-Season thoughts

There is no particular ‘issue’ or ‘topic’ as such we are looking to cover here, just a few thoughts and important things to remember as clubs, and in-particular individual players, start preparing for next season. But the general sort of theme is topics regarding to players getting too hung up on physical conditioning, where they lose sight of what they are actually training for in the first place. There are plenty of people who get surprised when this topic is discussed on a site that is all about physical preparation for the game. However it is always important to put this element of football into perspective. So lets share a few thoughts.


Fitness qualities are a means to an end – not an end in themselves

As you set your sights on next season, and look to prepare with your physical conditioning in your own time, it is important to have a clear picture of what you are doing and what you aim to get out of the extra training that you are doing. In other words, have clearly defined goals (first footy focused, then the physical goals that you believe will assist with this – e.g – more explosive acceleration for inside midfielder, or higher vertical leap if you are a ruckman), then map out a specific plan with how exactly your training will result in these goals. This is extremely important, because it ties in very closely with a key thing to remember with all the physical fitness related training – this training is all supplementary. Or to put it another way, the strength and power training, as well as the running related work, are a means to an end – not an end in themselves.


“Remember the purpose of the program is to reduce injuries and improve performance. We are not trying to create power lifters, Olympic lifters, bodybuilders or strongmen. We are trying to create athletes. Strength training is simply a means to an end.”

Mike Boyle


Don’t let the strength and running become the central focus of your training

This is a very easy trap to fall into – guys start doing the strength work and/or running work, and simply becoming bigger and better in these 2 disciplines becomes more and more the focus – as the true end goal of improvement in physical capacity for footy, becomes less and less relevant. The most common example of this is when young players begin doing bodybuilding style split routines, where they are training 5 days a week, and measuring the ‘success’ of the training by how much size they are putting on, or how much extra weight they are gradually able to lift. This certainly isn’t a recipe for success – and indicates the losing of focus on the end goal. Having said that, if you love pumping iron in the gym, and footy is merely an after-thought, then great, there’s no problem with training like this. But if footy is genuinely the reason for hitting the gym, don’t lose sight of the fact that this training is supplementary, it must complement your specific physical goals for footy, and be a means to an end, not the primary focus of all your efforts.


Similarly with the running work, it is all well and good to run quicker times when setting off on runs, but what is the specific end goal? Are you aiming to be quicker in the contest? Is it your acceleration, or the ability to evade and change directions more efficiently that you would most like to improve? Or would you like to be able to do these things well, but also consistently well, with the specific kind of endurance required to do them repeatedly throughout a match? These are important questions to ask yourself, as they will (or at least should) impact the way you train. Otherwise, you will end up in a similar trap to the guys whose weights training/strength work becomes the central focus, where your goals or focus gradually switches to simple running quicker times in your 3km or 5km runs or whatever, rather than more specific improvements for more specific footy related goals.


“Trainers who separate strength and its programming requirements from other physiological characteristics of their sport make a mistake that over time may affect their rate of success.” 

Tudor Bompa           


Remember, the end aim isn’t just to be bigger and stronger or to run better

These things help, but they are the baseline that the real physical goals are built on top of – footy specific expressions of power – the ability to jump higher, the ability to takeoff quicker, the ability to decelerate and change directions efficiently, the ability to be light on your feet, but explosive and strong at the same time, the ability have the leg and core strength to push an opponent off (notice I didn’t even mention chest strength here – it helps, but bench press on its own will not translate.)


“We do a little bit of testing, but there’s not a huge focus.

We do some basic strength testing in the gym which is very good for motivation, but doesn’t do much for anything else. It certainly doesn’t tell you if they are ready to play a season of AFL football or whether they are actually getting stronger out there on the field or not. It’s really just a motivational tool.”

Andrew Russell
Hawthorn High Performance Manager at the time


So when strength training, we are first building a baseline of functional stability, functional movement and functional strength – for expressions of power to be built on top of – jumping off 1 leg or 2, tackling, changing direction, accelerating and decelerating. Then these are tied in with quality running training (based on intense efforts, changes of direction, and rest and recovery periods) so that the running and strength work together for the end goals – rather than be trained separately.


This ties in with fitness testing

Clubs will love tests – and if yours does them and has some extra equipment to do them great.


But on your own in your own time, is it worth it? If you are training functionally/specifically, and measuring/and recording what you are doing – like how much distance you are covering on intense bursts in interval running, or the weight you are pushing etc, you will know if you are improving. There is more and more of a trend developing that ‘training is testing.’ In other words, constantly evaluating how you perform and how you feel as a means to guage how you are progressing, rather then one-off set days or times to run ‘tests.’


And that is a key point right there – with tests, they are a one-off on a selected day and time. There is no guarantee that you will be in a peak state that day. Were you to have tested yourself 2 days earlier, or the next day, results would have likely been different (better or worse in either direction.) A one off test doesn’t really tell you all that much – whereas the general trend and performance of your training does. I think that David Gray who is the head of Strength & Conditioning at Hurricanes Rugby said it perfectly;


“These guys (the players he works with) are human. I come to work – I can’t honestly say every day is a 10/10. Some days you are a bit flat – everyone is like that. So I don’t think that it’s a surprise that we do a test, that not everyone is feeling great that day.”


That is not to say that various fitness tests in your own time don’t have some value – as Andrew Russell highlighted earlier, they do have a great deal of value largely from a motivation point of view. Having said that, a similar degree of motivation can be achieved by merely recording every single thing you do. Many people will read this and think ‘yeh ok.’ But its true, the simple act of measuring and recording every little thing consistently just adds something – all of a sudden it becomes more important. (This doesn’t just apply to training – virtually anything that you start recording and measuring consistently in your life will all of a sudden be more motivating and get more attention and effort.)


So is it worth doing your own individual fitness tests

As we mentioned, by and large you will know if you are improving on certain parameters based purely on your training performance. But what if you do want to add 1 or 2 tests into your own training?


The first important part of this quick discussion is to have specific and measurable goals – we have had this discussion before. It is important to set specific goals in terms of both footy itself, but then also physical improvement with both strength/power and work capacity training. This is because without an intended destination, it’s pretty hard to set off and do the work, as you aren’t clear on what exactly you are working towards. This is important in terms of fitness testing too, because the tests must measure something that is important to you and your goals. There is not point measuring something that isn’t important. So any fitness test you do must have a clear purpose.


As well as a clear purpose, the tests should be simple and easy to perform on your own or with a friend, with the less equipment required the better – as this is what you will be doing. Tests need not be technical to be very useful for measuring and tracking progress. Importantly, and relating to this point of being simple – is being easily repeatable. That is, the exact same test can be performed again at various intervals in the future, and all the variables will remain exactly the same, so that you are performing he same test again.


So which tests?


There are literally hundreds of variations of basic tests that you could incorporate.


“We’ve got a basic shuttle test that we use. A change of direction based test that’s around 5 minutes in length.”

And we also just do a 15-minute max run.”

David Watts
Strength & Conditioning
Geelong Football Club


I think that quote gives a pretty good snap shot of just how simple it can be. A short and basic change of direction/shuttle run test, and a max effort longer aerobic based one. But you can set, adapt and adjust the parameters anyway to suit what your individual goals are. The yoyo intermittent recovery test (Level 1 and 2) has become very popular in team/field based sports now (doing away with the old beep test) as well, although chances are you will end up doing something similar at club training already.


As far as strength testing on your own, once again, unless you are highly experienced in this area with many years of lifting under your belt, (and even still once you are experienced too,) you can glean all the information you need by how your numbers are trending from training alone. 1RM based tests in particular are very advanced, and again, the more inexperienced you are the less relevant such measurements are. Another discussion for another day relating to this is the growing trend in moving away from absolute maximum numbers once you have reached a certain level, to different related qualities (say velocity.) But suffice to say that maximum numbers testing especially if inexperienced or even intermediate level is perhaps missing the point in what you are really aiming to do, especially when you can gain plenty of information from the training itself.


“Don’t forget there’s no medals for vertical jumps, there’s no medals for lifting a weight. So trainings always a means to an end.”

Mike Boyle

Please don't let this discussion be taken out of context. Yes strength and conditioning is important, and yes certain tests will have their place. but don't fall into the trap of letting training and raining variables become your primary focus - and especially don't let fitness tests become what you train for.

A similar discussion we had that sort of relates to the topics we covered here – with getting too carried away with things like strength/conditioning and fitness related qualities as well as fitness testing was ‘Is team fitness overrated to team success.’

If you would like more detailed and personalised direction, checkout our personalised online programming, or if you would prefer even more personalised and detailed in-person coaching (for those lucky enough to live in the beautiful city of Adelaide), check out our Athletic Development Coaching and Junior Athletic Development Coaching.

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