How to Hack Team Sports Conditioning Tests


Over the past couple of years, team sports conditioning tests have become the bane of my existence.

Well, let me preface that – bane of my existence along with early sports specialization, everyone being a nutrition expert, and a host of other things.

But I digress…

First and foremost, these tests are often stupid and in no way, shape or form specific to the sport.

As Buddy Morris (physical preparation coach for the Arizona Cardinals) often states, football is an alactic-aerobic sport.

But I’ll go one step further – almost every team sport is alactic-aerobic in nature!

In other words you tax the alactic system (or creatine-phosphate system) on the bursts of high-intensity work, and then rely on the aerobic system to provide and refuel energy over the course of 30, 60 or 90 minutes.

These tests are even more infuriating at the professional level, where athletes are still forced into some of the same ridiculous tests as a high school or college age athlete.

My good friend Bill Hartman has a saying: “Pro athletes are paid to show up in shape.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The big issue here is that most team conditioning tests are very glycolytic in nature. You’ll see athletes running continuously for 25, 30, 45 or even as long as 60 seconds with very little rest in between bursts.

With extensive glycolytic training, you create training adaptations in the heart, mitochondria and capillaries that are often the exact opposite of what helps you on the field or court.

Unfortunately, many coaches still use their archaic energy system/conditioning tests to determine if someone is “fit,” or worse, if they even make the team!

Therefore, one of my jobs as a coach it to help my athletes game the system.

Quite simply I want them in sport-specific shape when it comes to training camp and excelling at their sport, but I also have to give them enough juice to beat the test.

The outline below is one way you can set-up a training block to beat most standard conditioning tests. Good luck!

Read This First!

What I’m going to give you today is a very high-intensity, glycolytic focused training block.

It’s going to suck for your athletes – no doubt about it.

But before you dive head first into this block, please understand this:

Aerobic training is the foundation, and really, the show when it comes to energy production for team sports athletes.

The aerobic energy system is what underpins everything, will help your athletes recovery from those high-intensity bursts, and will ultimately help them become better athletes.

To get maximal benefit from a block like this, you need to have spent time developing the aerobic system via cardiac output work, high intensity continuous training, oxidative lifting, etc.

Once the aerobic system is up and running, then it’s time to “go glycolytic.”

If you look at research such as the Tabata study, you’ll see that the participants’ anaerobic development topped out at 6 weeks, but the majority of the gains are actually made in the first 3-4 week!

Therefore, the reason we’re going to keep this block short is two-fold:

  1. It’s the 80/20 principle – I want to do as little work as possible, while getting maximal results, and
  2. We don’t want to push our athletes too far in the anaerobic direction. I’d rather get enough of a change to pass a test, while maintaining the primary adaptations in the alactic and aerobic systems that will actually benefit them in their sport.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s talk about how to set-up the training block.

Building the Glycolytic Block

When it comes to lactic or glycolytic training, there are essentially three “types” of training methods I’ll pull from:

Lactic power – Very high intensity work in the 25-35 second range. This is followed by a full recovery (10 minutes is best, but 5 minutes may be more practical due to time constraints).

Lactic Capacity – This is still high intensity, but longer in duration (90-120 seconds). These can be done on full recovery OR as repeats.

Lactic Repeats –  These are typically in the 30-60 second range on, with 30-90 seconds off, and are repeated several times.

With that being said, I’ll typically prescribe three lactic sessions per week, at the conclusion of the strength/power session.

  • Monday – Lactic Power
  • Wednesday – Lactic Repeats (test-specific)
  • Friday – Lactic Power

Lactic capacity training is rarely needed. Not only is it awful for your athletes to go through, but it creates a training adaptation that will give them almost no return on investment in their sport.

Instead, most of the tests involve shorter periods of work, in the 25-35 second range, so lactic power training is far more specific. The goal here is to push your athletes to work at a pace that is truly maximal, so that the test becomes submaximal.

Think about this in strength-training terms: If one guy can bench 315 and one can bench 250, who is going to be able to do 225 more reps?

The application with regards to energy system testing is no different:

The goal is to use lactic power work to push the athlete to work harder and/or faster in training than they need to during the test. As a result, the bouts of work during the test itself become submaximal.

So we have two days dedicated to lactic power work, and one day dedicated to training for the test.

This is really critical as well, because some tests (such as repeats 120’s) are straight-ahead and require more pure speed. On the other hand, a cone drill where there’s repeated change of direction may use the same energy system but is totally different with regards to tissue loading.

A cone drill will absolutely crush the quads, so don’t forget to make your test-specific day test-specific (or at the very least, tissue specific).

Now here’s one other cool thing you can do to mitigate the negative side-effects of lactic training:

Put your athlete on a heart rate monitor and measure their heart rate while going through the test. I’ll run them until their heart rate is at anaerobic threshold, and then shut the test down.

And if they struggle to get the kind of volume you want, run them up to their anaerobic threshold and then give them a 5-7 minute break before doing so again. This way you’re getting the volume in, while not absolutely killing them in the process.

So we’ve got our three training days, now let’s see how we’d put put this into a 4 or 5 week training block.

The Training Weeks

Keep in mind that this training block is going to be very taxing, and intensity must be kept high to derive maximal benefits.

As such, you need to plan for a detraining or deloading period before sending your athletes off to camp. I definitely do not want them going into camp tired or fatigued, so plan to “freshen them up” before shipping them out.

Here’s what an ideal training block might look like:

Week 5 – Lactic Week #1
Week 4 – Lactic Week #2
Week 3 – Aerobic Mini-Block*
Week 2 – Lactic Week #3
Week 1 – Lactic Week #4 (half-week)
Week 0 – Report to Camp and Dominate

(*If you follow the work of Vladimir Issurin, he states that the training residual for  aerobic development is 30 days +/- 5 days. As such, I like to throw in an aerobic mini-block in the middle of this phase to keep the aerobic system “online.” In this mini-block consider more alactic work {8 seconds or less},  cardiac output, high-intensity continuous training, or extensive tempo runs.)

This final block will get you somewhere between 9 and 12 glycolytic sessions, depending on the exact layout. Assuming you’ve done all of the lower intensity work up front to build a robust aerobic energy system, this should be more than enough to prep your athletes for the test at hand.


In a perfect world, every sport (and physical preparation coach) would have a sound understanding of not only exercise physiology, but of sport-specific needs and demands as well.

But until then, we’re going to have to suffer through some pretty awful conditioning tests.

As a physical preparation coach, it’s our job to prepare out athletes, first and foremost, for the needs and demands of their sport.

But if you have to hack a team sports conditioning test, the layout above will definitely help.

Good luck and good training!

All the best


P.S. – If you’re interested in learning more about smart energy systems training, check out all of these posts, and definitely consider attending the 2015 Physical Preparation Summit where I’ll be talking about this at length!

(Lead Photo Courtesy of Jarrett Campbell)

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  1. It seems like this 4 week block is not bad training for the actual sport too. In terms of conditioning, what’s the biggest difference you would make in training for the test vs training for competition?

    • I generally give my athletes 2 weeks of this training just to prep them for camp, but rarely 4 unless they have to pass a conditioning test.

      The 2 week intro gives them some exposure to lactic work, but not so much that you start to see massive shifts in which pathway they choose to produce energy

  2. You mentioned the work of Vladimir Issurin – are you referring to his two books on Block Periodization? Is one better than the other or is there another source you were talking about?

    Great article – cheers!

    • Chris – They’re both great books, and yes, I refer to both of them constantly. Awesome stuff, especially with regards to the thought process behind block periodization and training residuals

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