How to Run A Successful Conditioning Test

By Sam Breslin, CSCS, Co-Founder Of PLT4M.com | Twitter: @PLT4M

The goal of a preseason conditioning test is simple: motivating your athletes to show up to camp in-shape and ready to roll. A physically well-prepared squad spends less precious practice time conditioning and more time becoming better at the game.


In order for an athlete to be prepared, he has to follow your conditioning program for the weeks or months leading up to the test. What you are really ensuring is that your athletes will dedicate themselves throughout the summer. When push comes to shove, the result we coaches are looking for is a team that commits together and comes prepared to work. A well-planned conditioning test can provide just the right type of incentive.

When Should I Test?

Now that you’ve decided to motivate your guys via a preseason test, timing becomes everything.

Many programs run their test as the first official order of business at the start of preseason practice. This can ruin that first day of official team work – wasting time for the test itself, and slowing the athletes down for the rest of practice. Even the committed athletes that pass will be fatigued, or worse – if the test is truly demanding, may now be susceptible to muscle strains and other injuries if the test is immediately followed by field work.

Additionally, how do you handle athletes that fail? Often times coaches will institute punishments for athletes that miss the prescribed goal. While this may seem to provide extra motivation, it can become an unnecessary risk. You are placing added physical demand on the athletes which have already proven to be unprepared, while also wasting even more valuable practice time and coaches’ effort.

Ideally, you would find a way to perform this test as a team without jeopardizing your preseason goals. Perhaps you incentivize athletes by allowing dedicated athletes (those who worked out with the team all summer) to take the test a week early, while forcing those who didn’t buy in to grind through the test during the first practice. The test then becomes a reward for the athletes who have bought in all summer, while simultaneously acting as punishment for those who chose not to sacrifice for the team.

What Test Should I Use?

Remember, it’s the incentive to commit to summer training that is the true value of the test, not the test itself. Personally, I’ve seen and experienced all of the usual suspects: the timed mile or 2 mile, 110s, 300 yard shuttles, etc. Any of these, if “scary” enough, can motivate your athletes to show up prepared as opposed to slacking all summer long.

That being said, if it’s going to direct your training, it may as well be designed with the specific metabolic demands of football in mind. Lucky for us, football is well defined in terms of average work duration, work to rest ratios, etc. Consider the following:

  • An average play lasts 6-7 seconds.
  • On Average, there are roughly 30 seconds of downtime between plays.
  • One quarter contains 11-15 minutes of “playing time”, depending on level.
  • Each play demands almost max effort from each player on the field.
  • Football is a change of direction sport, it is not played exclusively with linear movement.

Considering such, one could create a conditioning test that demands short bursts of high-intensity, non-linear work, over 11-15 total minutes with a work to rest ratio of about 1:5.

For example, here’s a test I have used the past few years with my own team:

Each athlete must complete 20, 50-yard shuttle runs (25 and back). Each rep needs to be finished within a prescribed time limit based on position (9 seconds Skill, 10 Hybrid, 11 Line, for example). After each rep, the athlete gets a 30 second rest. To pass the test, the athlete must complete all 20 reps, each within the correct time-limit.

By no means is this the only way to approach your conditioning test, but hopefully it provides you with some direction while you plan yours in the coming months.

Co-Founder of PLT4M.com, Sam Breslin is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and has programmed for thousands of high school and college athletes in person and through his company’s online platform. A former Division-1 football athlete at Colgate University, he has since coached professionally abroad, as well at the high school level for the last seven years.

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