Exercise fads come and go—anybody remember Tae Bo? Anyone? Anyone?—but some workouts are destined to endure because they’re just so effective. Running a mile in 2015 is no different than it was in 1945—or 1445. And you may now do sit ups and push ups in new combinations with other exercises, but the basic movement of the pushup you do today at The Annex is something a Roman centurion would recognize.
The same is true of running, especially running for soccer. I was fairly pleased when my 13-year-old daughters recently came home from soccer practice and told me about a “brand new” fitness test they must pass next year if they want to make their school’s freshman soccer team. Pleased because it’s the same standard I had to pass as a high school soccer player 35 years ago. Pleased that the old chestnut had endured, and even more pleased as a father that standards once thought exacting for boys were now being applied to even younger girls.
The test is designed to simulate conditions similar to what an athlete would face in a 45-minute half of soccer: standing still, jogging and sprinting. A study of player movement patterns in a soccer game, conducted by the US Soccer Federation, found that two-thirds of motion among men is either a walk or a jog; among women, it’s three-quarters. So the premium ability is to sprint well, achieving maximum speed within as few steps as possible, and then recovering quickly once the effort is over.
The test we used back in the day—and which my girls will subject themselves to—involves a series of 160-yard runs. We’d put a cone on one touchline and call that Cone #1 and mark off 80 yards with another, which we’d call Cone #2. Every minute for the next 30 minutes, we’d run 160 yards; that wouldn’t change. What would change is how fast we had to run the first 80 yards, from #1 to #2, and how much time we’d have to recover while returning 80 yards to the spot where we started.
For the first ten minutes, we had to go from one cone to another in 25 seconds, and had 35 seconds to return to the first cone. That means an easy jog to reach the standard, followed by 10 seconds or so of walking, 15 of jogging and 10 of standing around at the starting line. For each of the next ten minutes, from 11 to 20, the time requirement for the first 80 yards dropped by 1 second while the time for the second 80 increased by 1 second. That means that by the 20th minute, we were sprinting to beat a 15-second time cap but had 45 seconds to actively recover and get back to the starting line. From minute 21 to minute 30, we reverted to the time standards for the first ten minutes. By the time it was over, we had covered 2.72 miles, about the same distance a player covers in a half of a soccer game. It might be easier to understand like this:
Runs 1-10: Finish first 80 yds in 25 seconds, return to start within 35 seconds
Run 11: Finish 80 in 24 seconds, return to start within 36 seconds
Run 12: 80 in 23 seconds, return within 37
Run 13: 80 in 22 seconds, return within 38
Run 14: 80 in 21 seconds, return within 39
Run 15: 80 in 20 seconds, return within 40
Run 16: 80 in 19 seconds, return within 41
Run 17: 80 in 18 seconds, return within 42
Run 18: 80 in 17 seconds, return within 43
Run 19: 80 in 16 seconds, return within 44
Run 20: 80 in 15 seconds, return within 45
Runs 21-30: 80 in 25 seconds, return within 35
My girls are built like me, which is a bummer for a 13-yearold girl: low to the ground and strong on the ball, but not rippling with endurance. They complained mightily about having to take the test, so mightily that I went to the local pitch to give it a try to see if it was as bad as they said or as good as I remember.
The first ten-minute part was just as I remembered: done pretty much at a steady trot, nothing too fast, nothing too slow, with a little bit of standing around. The second group of ten got progressively harder, but provided an increasing amount of rest as the pieces wore on. Hard, but nothing a fit person can’t handle.
The biggest difference came in the final ten minutes. While it was no problem to cover the first 80 yards in the prescribed 25 seconds, I found myself wanting more and more rest, more than the 35 seconds I was being given. I made all the time standards, but definitely have some work to do in building up my endurance to keep moving effectively after sustained efforts. I have no doubt the girls can pass the test; they just need to stop whining and do the work.
Of course, there’s a second part to the test that may be more problematic, certainly for me: after a ten-minute rest, the girls need to run a sub-7-minute mile.
I’m sure they’ll figure out something.