The beep test is widely regarded as one of the most physically demanding cardiovascular workouts there is. Used within a variety of different sports — tennis, basketball, athletics, and more — it's a versatile type of physical test that suits a number of purposes. But probably the sport that is best known for implementing this training technique is soccer.
As teams across Europe launch into their pre-season schedules with an eye to an August return to league football, coaches will be putting players through their paces on the training ground. And while things have come a long way since the days when it was all heavy-duty running and sweating away the holiday excesses, intense fitness work is still generally seen as a key concern during pre-season work. In reflection of this reality, a popular routine during this phase of preparation for the new campaign is the famous beep test.
In this article, we'll be exploring the role of this difficult fitness test in soccer. We'll explain what the beep test is and outline how it's used to calculate and enhance the performance of elite soccer players. We're going to look at what the average beep test score for soccer players is, and we'll end up by offering some practical guidance on completing this test during a training session — so if you're a budding football coach, stay tuned for everything you need to know about the beep test.
A maximal running aerobic fitness test that can be referred to using a number of different names, from the "20 metre shuttle run test" to the Multi Stage Fitness Test (MSFT) and even the "yo-yo test", the beep test (or "bleep test") is a phrase that can strike fear into the hearts of sportspeople of all kinds.
Most professional and amateur athletes have completed this test at some point in their lives, whether it's in a school gym class, a college soccer programme, or an elite pro sports training session, and it's an exercise that can prove divisive. While some people excel at this kind of interval training, others find it extremely difficult. But what exactly is the beep test?
The beep test was first developed in the 1970s by Professor Luc A. Leger at the University of Montreal. Designed as a way of determining a person’s aerobic capacity (measured as VO2max), the test is structured around a simple premise: participants will run back and forth between two points positioned 20 metres apart. Throughout the session, a pre-set audio recording will play a "beep" sound at intervals, dictating the required running speed that participants must stick to. As the test progresses, the frequency of the beep sounds will increase, causing the runners to increase their speed or pace progressively.
Beep tests begin with a "triple beep" audio tone, after which participants will run to the opposing 20 metre end point. When they get there, they will have a chance to recover their breath as they wait for the tone to sound again; at the start of the test there is a fair amount of recovery time, but as things get gradually tougher the pace of the running increases and participants will have to keep up a moderate speed pretty much at all times.
We've mentioned how the beep test moves up gradually in speed — but where does it stop? When things get tough, it can seem as though this intense interval routine is never going to end, but in reality there are 21 levels on the full beep test, after which any remaining players will have the proud accomplishment of having completed the test.
Each of those 21 levels has a set amount of shuttles, or stages within it (this refers to the number of times participants are required to run back and forth between the two endpoints). The amount of stages increases as the fitness test progresses, with Level 1 having 7 stages, while up at Level 21 (the final level) there are a total of 16 stages. Anyone who manages to get up this point is in for a pretty gruelling ride, that's for sure.
In terms of timings, each level takes approximately one minute, but because the speed at which the beeps are occurring gradually increases, the number of shuttles required in each level also goes up. As such, the longer the participants stays in the test, the faster they have to run, and the further the cumulative distance they cover. Scoring is done in relation to the level a participant reaches, with the objective being to remain in the test until they're either unable to reach the end line in two consecutive beeps, or they stop taking part in the test voluntarily.
When amateur soccer players return to training after a summer off, those first few sessions can be hard work. In order to gauge fitness levels and get some miles in the tank, many coaches will opt to put players through their paces with some 20 metre shuttle running (aka the bleep test). But does this really happen in the professional game, where players' fitness levels are already far higher than the average person?
According to many reports, the simple answer is yes. Upon his mid-season arrival at Everton last season, English manager Sean Dyche received criticism from some quarters for conditioning his players using the beep test. For some, it was seen as an old-school method, one that could hardly be of much benefit to elite-level players who are already in peak physical condition. However, Dyche defended the appropriateness of this soccer fitness test, telling BT Sport that "It's not lack of fitness. It's a measure. I've got years of facts and stats on what the body needs to deliver. We've got measures, we'll do others this week. Gauge how our style fits their body's capabilities."
His comments came in the run-up to a clash with Arsenal in which the Toffees triumphed 1-0 — a result that dampened any controversy surrounding the footage that emerged of Dyche overseeing his new charges with the bleep test at their Finch Farm training ground. And Dyche's Everton isn't the only top-flight environment in which this intense fitness test has been part of the schedule.
According to the Daily Mirror, Manchester United's star teams of the 1990s and 2000s owed a lot to their impressive amounts of stamina, with Gary Neville recently praising the fitness of former Manchester United trio Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Dwight Yorke. "We used to do this form of the bleep test, I know Yorkie, Giggs and Becks completed the bleep test when we were at United," Neville told Sky Sports. "They were doing loads of high-intensity running but also were equally good at endurance stuff as well. It’s a midfield player’s mentality."
In more recent times, Scottish international and fellow United player Scott McTominay has been praised for a blisteringly quick running time — but what is a typical score for a top-flight player?
Premier League players are some of the fittest athletes on the planet, so it's no surprise to hear that over the years, a number of top players have been known to complete the beep test. David Beckham has reportedly completed the test on multiple occasions, as have fellow former United stars Ryan Giggs and Dwight Yorke. Another ex-Prem player who has reputedly completed the test more than once is former Norwich City playmaker and Republic of Ireland international Wes Hoolahan.
However, you don't have to get right to the very end to be considered a seriously impressive athlete. According to the Hindustan Times, the world standard score for soccer players is 13.09 (meaning a player has reached the 9th stage of the 13th level of the test). Generally speaking, any score above 15 is considered excellent. Some other high-performing footballers over the years include Blackburn and Australia's Brett Emerton, who scored a Level 15 just before the 2006 World Cup, and South Korea international Lee Gong Dook, who reached Level 17 during his time at Middlesbrough, according to reports.
Ultimately, even amongst professional footballers levels of fitness and stamina can vary enormously. While GPS tracking of soccer players has revealed that some athletes can regularly run over 10km during a match, others won't cover as much distance. It's all about the individual; however, the beep test can be the ideal way of judging who the high performers in a squad are.
If you're a coach looking to implement shuttle run training into your upcoming sessions, or a player hoping to improve your stamina and gain a competitive edge on opponents going forward, we've got you covered. Below is a simple guide to running the beep test.
You'll need a few things to be able to run this test, but none of them are particularly complicated:
Once you've ticked off everything on this list, things become pretty simple. Here's a basic step-by-step guide:
The beep test is ultimately a pretty simple drill in principle. But that doesn't stop it being one of the most difficult cardiovascular workouts in sport. It can be a killer, but it's a part of soccer that seems like it's here to stay.
Want to find out more about how training ground work can improve fitness, strength, and conditioning amongst top-level players? Check out our guide to tactical periodization, a game-changing coaching philosophy that has had a massive impact on the Premier League in recent years.