Anyone who knows me well knows I love running fitness assessments. In my business, we conduct fitness assessments on soccer players 1 day per week, every week, for 50 out of the 52 weeks of the year. Among the tests we use is the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test, which is still the best and most accurate predictor of aerobic endurance performance in soccer. Simply put, the Yo-Yo test tells players how good their endurance is, and also how much fast running they should be able to do over the course of a 90-minute game (the higher the Yo-Yo score, the more fast running you can do). The other great – and perhaps more beneficial – aspect of the Yo-Yo test is that it is very sensitive to training. This means that the harder you train, the better your score will be on the test.
One of the unique aspects of the training programs I use with all of my athletes is that we frequently schedule re-assessments, typically done at 8-10 weeks intervals, throughout the year. This allows us to consistently and accurately monitor the athletes’ progress, and to determine whether or not they are training at the right intensity.
Yesterday morning, like all Saturday mornings at Soccer Fitness, was a fitness assessment day. Among the group of athletes we tested was a 1997-born (U17) male player doing a re-assessment. This player has been training with us for over 1 year now, so the test we did yesterday was actually the 3rd fitness test we had conducted on him in a 12-month time span. Since the first test (in February of 2013) he went through a 16-week training period with us (to get ready for the 2013 season), did a re-assessment in July (with excellent results), then took a break during the outdoor season, then came back for 8 weeks in the fall of 2013. Around the end of November, he sprained his ankle, thus missing over 6 weeks of training. Finally healthy in January, he resumed training with us for another 8 weeks.
All of this led us to the re-assessment yesterday morning. We had set a target for him, for the Yo-Yo test, of stage 19.1; a decent score for a U17 player, which corresponds to a total distance of 2080 metres of high intensity running. In June of 2013, he had scored 18.5 (1920 metres of high intensity running and very close to 19.1). His actual score on the test yesterday was only stage 17.1 (not good enough for U17 boys, and only 1440 metres of high intensity running). We discussed his results afterwards, and he seemed confused and disappointed by his performance in the Yo-Yo test, especially considering he had already scored much higher on the same test almost 9 months ago, in June of last year. My explanation of his results was that they were not really surprising to me. The only way to ensure consistent improvements in physical performance, I told him, is to do consistent, high intensity training sessions, for the majority of the calendar year. The reason his results on the Yo-Yo test had gone up and down, I told him, is that he simply had not been training consistently. In the past 9 months, he had basically done only 4 months’ worth (16 weeks) of high intensity aerobic training, interspersed between a long break in the summer, and a short break with his ankle injury. Unfortunately, the end result of all this time off is that he had returned almost to the same fitness level he had been at when we started his training program over 1 year ago.
Believe it or not, similar scenarios occur with elite amateur club and university soccer players in Canada all the time. They frequently are unable to maintain a consistent training schedule due to injury, busy periods of school and work, or social/family commitments. The problem is that it is extremely difficult – almost impossible – to achieve improvements in aerobic fitness (and Yo-Yo test scores) with inconsistent training, no matter how hard or intense the training may be. Many players in will frustratingly end up spending long periods of time training just to maintain their present fitness levels, often slightly decreasing their fitness and rarely showing any sustained improvements. The take-home message from all of this is simple: to improve aerobic fitness, you need to train all year. It may be acceptable for a high level soccer player to have intermittent breaks of 2-3 weeks throughout the season (during off season, or holidays, for example) but other than that, the rest of the time must be spent doing consistent, high intensity aerobic training. Otherwise you too may be left asking yourself the question “where did my Yo-Yo go?”.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.