There are many ways to measure athletic performance, such as testing speed, agility, strength and stamina. And while you can get an idea of your fitness capabilities from workouts or sports, the most accurate way to judge is by using specific athletic tests to measure markers of performance or skill.
One test in particular is the Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test, which measures the ability to “stop and go” during training and sports games. Basically, it tests how well you recover from conditioning work, so you can keep going at the same efficiency and level until the very end. “The Yo-Yo intermittent test shows coaches how their players will hold up and maintain speed in the late stages of a match, when fatigue builds and rest is rare,” says Vince Sant, CPT and the co-founder of of V Shred. (Think of a soccer player who bolts around the field in the first half of a game; will she be just as speedy as the second half wraps up, or will she be gasping for air? That’s what the Yo-Yo test aims to find out.) Ideally, athletes will be able to recover quickly when training and maintain that same stamina they had from the start, even after fatigue sets in.
How the Yo-Yo test works
Performing the Yo-Yo test is simple. All you need is an open space that is 20 meters long, cones or another item to use as markers, a stopwatch, and an audio track that can beep to guide the athlete throughout the test. “You can find free versions of the audio online for convenience, or you can buy them from coaching-specific websites,” Sant says.
While there are several different versions of the Yo-Yo intermittent test, they all share the same basic structure—so the version you choose isn’t super important. Here’s how the test works.
When you hear the “beep” in the audio, run to a set of cones 20 meters away. Next, turn around and run to another set of cones, and then lastly, run back to the first set of cones—all before the audio beeps again. “[Participants] get a short break of five to 10 seconds, depending on the version of the test they are taking,” Sant says. “Then, they will run again, with the speed of the beeps gradually increasing,” he says. Once you can’t keep up any longer and miss a beep, the test is over.
What Yo-Yo test results mean
Essentially, Yo-Yo test results measure your performance when you’re tired and have been exercising for a while. “The Yo-Yo test is a good indicator of how an athlete can perform in a fatigued state,” Sant says. If someone scores well on the test, then it means they can recover quickly while training to avoid losing the same momentum, speed and efficiency—despite how tired they are. “Occasionally implementing this simple, difficult test in a team’s training is a good way to ‘keep them honest’ about their conditioning level,” Sant says. Still, he calls the test “taxing,” so it isn’t a regular training technique—just a helpful and revealing test.
How to improve your Yo-Yo test scores
If you’re testing low on the Yo-Yo intermittent test, you’ll need to work on specific training methods and speed manipulation to build your skills. “They likely need a one-two punch of base-building aerobic work and anaerobic speed-building work,” Sant says. For example, he suggests doing long runs of two to six miles or a one-mile run at no higher than 70-75% of maximum speed.
Sant also recommends doing hill sprints, or repeat sprints, of around 10 seconds. “Push the speed on these, but don’t try to match the work/rest ratio of the Yo-Yo test,” he says. “I recommend starting athletes out at a 1:5 ratio—basically, sprinting for 10 seconds at the top of each minute—and then gradually working down to 1:3, or even 1:2, over a few weeks,” he adds. This will be a good pace for improvements without taxing the body too much or pushing limits. Next stop: a better Yo-Yo test score—and even stronger performance.
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