If you're an athlete, or were one growing up, you're all too familiar with the beep test. The apex of your athleticism may very well be thanks to this assessment. Have no idea what the hell a beep test is or why you should care? Keep reading.
WHAT IS IT?
Since the 80s, the beep test has served as a multidimensional fitness test—used in the UK, Australia, and U.S.—across sports like basketball, soccer, rugby, tennis, and more. While there are different programs, all have a beep that plays at a certain cadence (hence, the name 'beep test'). Think of it as an anti-metronome. Rather than keeping steady, consistent measure, the device increases its pace as time passes.
"In the beginning, the beeps start off very slow," says Drew Little, CSCS, a performance specialist at Michael Johnson Performance in McKinney, Texas where he coaches athletes training for the NFL, MLB, MLS, NBA, and more. "When you hear the first beep, you’re cued to go out to a line or cone set at the standardized distance (20m), and you have to match that distance before you hear the next beep go off. As you go through the stages and start accumulating reps and distance achieved, the beeps between begin to quicken and the test becomes increasingly difficult."
At the start of the test, in the first level, 9 seconds will elapse per shuttle and you'll cover 140 meters; by the end, in the 21 level, you'll have just 3.89 seconds per shuttle and you'll cover 320 meters. But cumulatively, you'll have gone a total distance of 4,940 meters.
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT?
Your pace is easy in the beginning. You might run out to the point, then jog back and have a beat or two to rest before going again. Then, as the beeps hasten and the time it takes you to get from point to point shortens, your effort increases. "Man, when that thing starts to tick, it's almost continuous—but it never turns into a high-velocity sprint," Little says.
Your perceived exertion, though, is going to make you feel like you're pushing as hard as you can as you muscle through fatigue. It’s feels like the tail-end of a marathon or the last 10 seconds of a 45- or 60-second sprint; you’re under fatigue and grinding it out, feeling like you're giving everything you've got, but you’re not really going anywhere, Little explains.