Are yo-yo tests the gold standard of cricketers' fitness? Making the case, for and against

For the uninitiated, the yo-yo test is an endurance trial developed by Danish football physiologist, Jens Bangsbo

Austin Coutinho, Jun 23, 2018 13:00:06 IST

The yo-yo test is the ‘in’ thing in Indian cricket now. It doesn’t matter if you can play a scorching cover drive off Billy Stanlake or charge in and bowl a bouncer past Joe Root’s nose. If you can’t beat the ‘beeps’, as you run between two markers placed 20 metres apart, for a few minutes, you can no longer make it to the Indian team — Tests, ODIs or T20s. It is as simple as that!

Ask Sanju Samson or Ambati Rayudu how it feels to perform well in domestic cricket, and in the IPL, and then get dumped because of a ten-minute endurance test. Or for that matter, a discarded pacer like Mohammad Shami who has served India well in the past but has had problems, on the domestic front, which may have led him to be mentally and physically below par during the yo-yo test.

Mumbai Cricket Association — 41 times Ranji Trophy champions — will also now subject potential players to the yo-yo test before selecting the team for the season. I wonder if most of those stalwarts who helped Mumbai dominate the national championships for so long would have ever made it to the Mumbai and India teams if the yo-yo test was in existence in the 1960s and 70s.

Sandeep Patil, India’s former swashbuckler, coach and selector, has strong views on the yo-yo test result being made the sole criterion for dropping of a few, otherwise outstanding performers from the Indian cricket team. And rightly so! “Trainers, rather than selectors, now decide who plays for India,” he recently told Clayton Murzello of Mid-day.

Patil was a naturally gifted stroke-player. Old timers will recall his 174 against the mighty Australians in 1981, after being hit on his left ear by Lenny Pascoe and on his throat by Rodney Hogg in the previous Test. In a Test match in England the following year, he hit Bob Willis for six boundaries off seven deliveries. His commitment to fitness was however questionable, though he regrets it now.

Are yo-yo tests the gold standard of cricketers fitness? Making the case, for and against

Ask Sanju Samson or Ambati Rayudu how it feels to perform well in domestic cricket, and in the IPL, and then get dumped because of a ten-minute yo-yo test. Illustration courtesy Austin Coutinho

Balvinder Sandhu, his Mumbai and India teammate, tells of how Patil would always cite a ‘hairline fracture’ in his shoulder as the cause of his injury and the need for under-arming the ball from the boundary line to the ‘keeper. Sandhu, bored with Patil’s excuse, is said to have even asked him once to check if there was a hair on the x-ray screen at his doctor’s clinic.

Times have changed. Cricket is now more intense, more competitive and more paying. The coming of T20 has further intensified the game, requiring players to be fit and fighting throughout the three-hour game; something akin to a football match. Therefore, the need for football type fitness regimes and fitness testing in cricket!

For the uninitiated, the yo-yo test is an endurance trial developed by Danish football physiologist, Jens Bangsbo. In it, the athlete being tested runs between two cones placed 20 metres apart, turning when signaled by the recorded beeps. After each minute or so, the pace gets quicker. If the cone is not reached in time, the athlete must then run to the cone, turn and try to catch up with the pace within two more beeps. The test ends if the athlete fails to catch up.

This test, according to an evaluation done in 2003, titled: The Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test: Physiological response, Reliability and Validity, and published in the journal — Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise — concluded that the test ‘appears to be useful’ to evaluate match-related physical capacity of a football player. However, it was also noted that factors like tactical limitations, quality of the opponents and degree of motivation too played a part in physical performance during matches.

In addition, the evaluators observed that during the test, aerobic loading approached maximal values, and the anaerobic energy system was highly taxed. Also, that fatigue during intense, intermittent short-term exercise was unrelated to muscle CP (creatine phosphate), lactate, pH and glycogen.

Bangsbo, who was a member of that team, agrees that there are restrictions to the ‘reproducibility’ of the test in actual match play, which can be affected by limitations in the technical and mental capabilities of the players. Further, he also accepts the fact that fatigue only during short-term exercise does not affect muscle CP, lactate, pH and glycogen. The yo-yo test however cannot predict how fatigue will affect muscles after prolonged exercises, over five or six hours.

Most cricket teams, which formerly employed the ‘beep test’ to check the fitness of their players, have now moved on to the more sophisticated yo-yo test. And most of the top football clubs use the yo-yo test or the beep test or even the Cooper test as only a part of their overall fitness programme. Their players are given these intermittent recovery tests in the pre-season, during the season and at the end of the season.

One English Premier League club, for instance, conducts VO2 max tests along with strength, power, balance, agility, flexibility and core stability tests on their footballers. Their physio screening involves biomechanics analysis too. Ruud van Nistelrooy’s move to Manchester United was delayed by a year when he failed a fitness and medical test at Old Trafford. He later became a legend. Demba Ba, the Senegalese star failed a fitness test at Stoke before playing for bigger clubs later. These players were subjected to comprehensive trials and not just the yo-yo or beep tests.

Aerobic capacity or VO2 max is the body’s ability to supply oxygen to the muscles so that they can function. The more oxygen you can deliver to your body, more is the energy stored in the body, which you can burn, so that you run faster. “VO2 max is determined by knowing the number of millilitres of oxygen the body uses per kilo of bodyweight per minute of maximal exercise. World class athletes, in their 20s, have a VO2 max of 70-80 ml of oxygen per kg of bodyweight per minute,” writes Anthony Brandt in Men’s Journal. An average 20-year-old’s VO2 max is 50 ml.

The aerobic capacity or VO2 max of the Indian players who will be in England this summer will be between 70 and 80 ml; the yo-yo tests seem to prove that. But what about their strength, power, balance, speed, agility, flexibility and core muscle stability, besides mental hardiness? Can Team India’s trainers and coaches throw some light on these aspects too? Or are they not as important as aerobic capacity or short-term endurance?

Rohit Sharma, India’s talented batsman was allowed to clear the yo-yo test recently, much after the other players were put through the grind. He even reacted on social media to cricket followers’ raising doubts over his fitness. Surely, the Team India management needs to explain why he was given the concession. And if he was given time to prove his ‘aerobic’ fitness, why were Rayudu, Samson and Mohammad Shami not given a second opportunity?

Sharma had a shoulder injury last season from which he seemed to have recovered. But in the final match of IPL for Mumbai Indians, after wrenching his shoulder muscle again, he had to be helped out of the ground. Is chief selector MSK Prasad sure that the injury won’t trouble him in England? Do yo-yo tests account for upper body fitness too?

A couple of weeks ago, popular cricket mimic and standup comedian, Vikram Sathye tweeted, in lighter vein, that he had endured three end-to-end Honey Singh songs and therefore, he had ‘passed’ the yo-yo test. If fitness tests are not comprehensive, and technical and mental ability are not taken into consideration in future Team India selections, yo-yo tests are going to be just that; a joke!

The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler and coach, he is now a sought-after mental toughness trainer.

Updated Date: Jun 23, 2018 13:00:06 IST

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1 India 4027 115
2 New Zealand 2829 109
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3778 105
5 Australia 2640 98
6 Sri Lanka 3795 95
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6745 125
2 India 7071 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
6 Pakistan 4756 97
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 India 8099 261
5 Australia 5471 261
6 New Zealand 4784 252