Believe it or not, the Ross County F.C. players return to work this week to begin preparation for the 2012-2013 Scottish Premier League season- the club’s first in the Scottish top flight. The club will have just a few days to prepare for their first pre-season match against Highland League club Brora Rangers F.C. on July 4th. In a brief Twitter exchange with Staggies’ midfielder Paul Lawson I learned that on the first day of training the players will participate in the “Multi-Stage Fitness Test” (check the very end of this post for some bonus information about that!). The MSFT quickly became known as the “beep test” for the tone which directs the participant’s actions, and just as quickly became known as the “bleep test” for the words it makes people say when they can breathe again. Some of you, I am sure, just got a queasy feeling in your stomach reading this. This post is for those who have no idea what special form of Hell this is.
This test, designed 30 years ago at the University of Montreal is used to measure a person’s VO2 Max, or, “maximum oxygen uptake.” In short, it measures your cardio-vascular fitness. The test’s simplicity, reliability, and the fact that it requires almost no equipment has made it very popular with any organization needing to establish a minimum level of fitness for its members and/or as a way of establishing a baseline level of fitness upon which to be built. Over the last thirty years everyone from sports teams, to fire departments, to the French Foreign Legion has made use of it. But, you may be asking, is “it?”
This is what the test involves:
The test involves running continuously between two points that are 20m apart from side to side. These runs are synchronized with a recorded beep which plays at set intervals. The test is structured into 21 levels, each of which lasts around one minute.
As the test proceeds the interval between beeps reduces, forcing the athlete to increase their speed over the course of the test until it is no longer possible to keep up with the recording. The highest level attained before failing to keep up determines the score of the test.
If you do a little math you’ll see that in terms of time and distance this is the equivalent of running a 5K in about 22 minutes- that doesn’t sound too bad, does it? It’s fast, but not overly so. Basically a 7:20 mile pace- something that should be achievable by a young athlete. And yet, while there are certainly rumors floating around about the performance of certain “world class” athletes on this test, nobody, EVER, has been independently verified as having completed all 21 levels. The highest verified score- by a Fijian rugby player- was a 17.1 (the fraction being included because the 17th level contains 14 “shuttles”). I’ve personally administered this test to hundreds of female high school soccer players and have had only a handful of players reach double-digits. The best I’ve ever witnessed from this group was a 13.5 and that player, not surprisingly, went on to play Division 1 soccer.
So, why does this test break the minds and bodies of everyone from high school athletes to Olympians? The answer is simple: the further the participant goes into the test, the harder it gets. First, as the athlete tires he or she is actually required to work harder/move faster. It sounds simplistic, but think about it: as the beeps get closer together the pace gets faster and that means that the distance covered in the minute that the level lasts increases. For example, the distance covered at the 21st level (320m), is more than twice that covered in the 1st level (140m) even though the time is the same. Second, the athlete does not control the pace, the test does. Think about that: there’s no waiting for a “second wind” or slowing down for a few levels and making up for it later. It’s relentless. Take a look:
So, go to the appropriate app store, download the test, set up some cones in the front yard and proceed to embarrass yourself in front of your friends and family.
Did I mention the vomiting?