Field Test for Aerobic Capacity
By Joe Kessler, CSCS, RSCC*D, FMS
There are a number of treadmill and bike tests that can be used to assess aerobic capacity in a laboratory setting when you have a few players to test and unlimited time to perform the assessments. When you have a one-week pre-season developmental camp with 20 or more top prospects or spring training camp with 50-60 or more players and 1-2 days to complete testing, a field test is often a better option. While there are several field tests that provide reliable and valid results to choose from, many high school and college and some professional teams have had success using the Beep Test. Meta-analysis of 57 research studies indicates that the Beep Test has a moderate-to-high criterion-related validity for estimating maximum oxygen uptake and is a useful alternative for estimating cardiorespiratory fitness when it is not feasible to measure maximum oxygen uptake using a laboratory-based test2.
The Beep Test, sometimes referred to as the pacer test, 20-meter test or shuttle run test, is a multi-stage field test used by coaches in different team sports, including baseball, to estimate aerobic capacity. Aerobic capacity (VO2max), the maximum amount of oxygen that an athlete can consume per unit of body mass, is derived from test results and expressed in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min). The test requires minimal equipment and space and can be used to test several athletes at once. The test is challenging and can be used by coaches to quantitatively assess individual and team fitness and make team, group and individualized exercise prescriptions.
Test overview. The test has 21 levels. Each level lasts approximately one minute and is comprised of a series of shuttles between two cones placed 20-meters apart. Running speed starts at 8.5 km/hr (5.28 mph / 11:22 minute mile) and is increased by 0.5 km/hr (.31 mph) at each level.
The player runs back and forth between the two cones every time he hears a beep from an audio recording that has been installed on a lap top or recorder that plays beeps at set intervals. Every time the player hears a beep, he runs to the opposite cone. As the test advances, the time interval between each beep is reduced, forcing the player to increase speed and reduce rest time. The progression from one level to the next is signaled by three rapid beeps. The test continues until the player is unable to keep up with the recording. The player’s score is the highest level and number of shuttles attained before failing to keep up with the recording.
How to perform the test:
- Measure a 20-m section of the field and mark each end with a cone.
- The player starts behind one cone and, on the beep runs to the second cone.
- The player must be even with or behind the second cone before the audio beeps again.
- If the player arrives at second cone before the beep, he must wait for the beep before running back to the first cone.
- The player continues to run for as long as possible until he can no longer keep up with the speed set by the audio recording.
- If the player fails to reach the next cone before the beep, the level and number of shuttles completed is recorded and used to estimate aerobic capacity.
How to score the test:
The player’s score is the level and number of shuttles (20m) reached before he was unable to keep up with the recording. The last level completed, not necessarily the level stopped at, is the score. The norms table below is based on scores reported for athletes in a variety of sports and provides a general estimate of the level score for adults participating in team sports. Aerobic capacity (ml/kg/min) can be estimated by entering the players sex, age, level and number of shuttles into an on-line calculator at https://www.topendsports.com/testing/beepcalc.htm
Norms by age for males in sports other than baseball are presented in Table 1. The first number, e.g. 11/4, is the last level completed and the second number is the number of shuttles completed in that interval. Baseball coaches can test and use the results to determine team norms for players of different ages, positions and levels of play.
Research indicates that the average aerobic capacity among professional baseball players is approximately 50 ml/kg/min, which is the energy cost of running a mile in about 7:00 minutes1. A beep test of 11/1 yields a predicted aerobic capacity of approximately 50 ml/kg/min.
Table 2. presents a quick look at fitness classifications for male athletes based only on work level. Players who work into level 9 (43 ml/kg/min), for example, would be of average aerobic fitness. Those who achieved level 11 (50 ml/kg/min) would be above average, those who work into level 12 (54 ml/kg/min) would very good and those who work into level 13 (57 ml/kg/min) would be excellent.
- Coleman, G. 52-Week baseball conditioning. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL: 2000.
- Mayorga-Vega, D., et. al., Criterion-related validity of the 20-m shuttle run test for estimating cardiorespiratory fitness: A meta-analysis. J Sports Med. 14(3): 536-543, 2015.
Joe Kessler, CSCS, RSCC*D, FMS, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Cleveland Indians.