In my search for a better conditioning test, I found one that is too good to keep to myself. The athletes I work with begrudgingly know this test as 220s because that’s the distance I ask them to sprint each rep. Before I get into the nitty-gritty about this test, I’ll pass along why I decided to use it.
Despite what my athletes might tell you, I did not introduce the 220s as some form of sadistic enjoyment—rather, I’ve never found a conditioning test that gave me the information I was looking for. Yes, the foundation of every conditioning test comes down to a way to access a person’s fitness level. I don’t know about you, but no sport coach I work with understands what it means to make it to level 6.7 on the Pacer test. Is this a good score or bad score? How does that 6.7 relate to the way we should use an athlete during games?
Let’s also not forget about the mental side of most conditioning tests. In the classic Beep or Pacer tests, the athlete can essentially quit the test whenever they choose by failing to cover the distance in the decreased time. I’m not a fan of telling people simply to go as long as they can. I looked at the 300-yard shuttle as a decent alternative, since there is a change of direction component, but again it fell short for me. After all, is taking two attempts five minutes apart really that good a measure of an athlete’s conditioning level?
A Testing Model
After trying all sorts of drills and not getting much helpful information from them, I put a list together of what a conditioning test must have:
- The test has to have a definitive end. No more go until you can’t.
- The test has to be appropriate for stop and go sports. No more aerobic-based tests.
- The test has to be something groups of 60+ people can do at the same time.
- The test has to be taxing enough to test fitness levels but realistic for people to complete fully.
- The test has to provide multiple useful data sets.
- The test has to provide data that sports coaches can look at and easily “get it” without a lengthy explanation.
It took some time researching journals, talking with other strength and conditioning coaches, and listening to sport coaches about what was important to them, and the following is what I came up with.
We had a football field available and lined, so that was the logical place to hold the test. I live in Northern Wisconsin, so I had to concede that I would not be able to test athletes from November to March due to winter weather. But the plus side of using a football field meant I had a giant stopwatch we could use.
If the athletes start on the north goal line, sprint to the south end line, move around a cone, and sprint back, they would cover 220 yards. At three feet per yard, 220 yards equals 660 feet, which happens to be ⅛ of a mile. If we did eight reps, that would be one mile, so it was an easy decision to end the test with eight attempts.
Since I was not interested in information about aerobic capacity—and testing the ATP-PC energy system is easier to do in the weight room and lab—all that remained was the glycolytic energy system and using a 1:3 work-to-rest ratio for the test. Lastly, the information collected would look at fatigue resistance, the maximum aerobic speed (ok, ok, I know it’s not quite the correct term, but it makes sense to sports coaches), and we would have a quantifiable data set showing which athletes push themselves and which ones don’t.
It seemed like we might have a winning idea. After a handful of experiments with some football players—to whom I’m very grateful for volunteering to try this out—we made some adjustments, and I finally had a tool that did everything that I wanted it to do.
Remember we’re talking about a conditioning test for stop and go sports which will stress the glycolytic energy system, which means that the athletes will be uncomfortable for the duration of the test and sometime afterward. I talked with the athletic trainers at my school, explained to them the point and purpose of the 220s, and asked for their help during testing. It’s been great having the staff on the field, providing coverage and supporting the athletes. Here is my last suggestion if this is something you want to try: remind the athletes to bring their inhalers if they have asthma, water bottles, and go to the bathroom beforehand.
How to Administer the 220s
After an active warm-up, the athletes get into a line of four (1:3 work-to-rest ratio) on a football field’s goal line. On the opposite side, place a cone on the end line (the line is at the back of the end zone, 110 yards away). The first group will start on the coach’s command following a countdown as someone starts the game clock counting up from zero. All other runs will use the game clock at the top of the new minute as the start signal.
The athletes have to run as fast as they can, get around the cone, and return to the start line. When an athlete breaks the plane of the goal line returning from their 220-yard run, a coach records their time to the nearest second. Continue for eight reps.
Video 1. In this video, the first group of athletes run one attempt of the 220s conditioning test.
Interpreting the Data
In the first example, the athlete has a relatively fast Max Aerobic Speed (MAS). As the test continues, they are getting fatigued and their times are getting slower, which is exactly what I expect. I use this drop in speed to calculate their fatigue resistance: 100 X (1-(their best rep X 8)/sum of all reps). In the first example, this is 100 X (1-(30*8)/266) = 9.8%. The lower the percent drop, the more that athlete can handle doing repeated high-intensity bouts, which means they can stay in the game longer without needing a substitution for rest. On the other hand, the greater the fatigue score, the more an athlete will need substitutions to enhance their recovery.The greater the fatigue score, the more an athlete will need substitutions to enhance recovery, says @CarmenPata. Click To Tweet
This is how I interpret the second athlete’s results. If this were the first test of the season, I’d say the athlete didn’t do any running before the test. But since these results were from the end of an eight-week off-season training program, the situation is different. Now it’s a matter of having a conversation with the head coach about the substitution strategy with this athlete and adjusting their workout to keep their speed and try to improve their glycolytic capacity.We can adjust an athlete's workout to keep their speed & try to improve their #glycolytic capacity, says @CarmenPata. Click To Tweet
The third example is the type of player that makes me mad as a coach. Either they don’t understand the test, they don’t care about it, or they’re simply lazy. The third athlete just paced the test. While historically the last rep is faster than the 7threp for most people, it should never be the fastest if the athlete gave great effort during the entire test.
If you believe that the culture of the team determines the success of the season and that culture starts in the weight room, then the third person is not someone I’d want around the rest of the team. Assuming the head coach still wants this person with the team, I would at least surround that person with strong-willed teammates to push, encourage, and demand great effort. The positive thing about finding this out before the first game is that you know the athlete’s mindset and can develop a plan to get past it.
As you can see, the 220s test is a powerful tool. For strength coaches, it gives us a way to look at the relative fitness or conditioning level of our athletes. And we can test large groups at once (my current record is 145 football players).
Since we know total time and distance, we can generate feet per second, which gives us a way to personalize a conditioning program. For example, the first person ran 5280 feet in 266 seconds, which is 19.8 feet per second. In 15 seconds, we can expect the first person to cover 297 feet, the second person to cover 220 feet, and the third to cover 295 feet. Set up some cones and have them run to the cone, let them rest for 45 seconds, and then start rep two to bring them back to the start line.
The last, and one of the most important, things the 220 gives is is evidence to predict how we can use each player in competitions. For all of these reasons and more, the 220s has become an important tool in my testing battery and can become one for you as well.
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