What Is a Yo-yo Test and Why Do Cricketers Need It?
A yo-yo test involves a player shuttling between two cones that are set 20 metres apart on flat ground. He starts on a beep and needs to get to the cone at the other end before the second beep goes. He then turns back and returns to the starting cone before the third beep. That is one “shuttle”.
A player starts at speed level 5, which consists of one shuttle. The next speed level, which is 9, also consists of one shuttle. Speed level 11, the next step up, has two shuttles, while level 12 has three and level 13 four. There are eight shuttles per level from 14 upwards. Level 23 is the highest speed level in a yo-yo test, but no one has come close to getting there yet. Each shuttle covers a distance of 40 metres, and the accumulated distance is an aggregate of distance covered at every speed level.
The player gets ten seconds to recover between shuttles. At any point if he fails to reach the cone before the beep goes, he gets a first warning. Usually a player gets a few “reminders” to keep to the pace, but three official warnings generally marks the end of the test.
As a player moves up the levels, the time available to complete each shuttle diminishes, which means he needs to run quicker to reach the next cone before the beep. The player runs until he gets his three warnings, and the level achieved at that point is the test result.
Teams have different speed levels as qualifying marks. India have set 16:1 as the qualifying speed level, which means it is mandatory for their players to finish the first shuttle of speed level 16, which in terms of accumulated distance is 1120 metres. Pakistan’s minimum level is now 17:4; West Indies are at 19, and New Zealand probably have the highest level, 20:1. As for “civilians”, the simplest way to know if you are fit for a yo-yo test is to run two kilometres in eight minutes.
The yo-yo test is mainly derived from the Leger Test, created by Luc Leger of the University of Montreal, which was popular till the turn of the century. The Leger multi-stage test, where an athlete would run non-stop 20-metre shuttles for 12 minutes, was not considered suitable for sports like cricket, which are marked by bursts of activity separated by recovery periods.
“You bowl, you throw, you hit, you run, you have about 30 seconds before the next ball starts,” Andrew Leipus, who was till recently the head physiotherapist at the NCA, says. “So you’ve got to get your heart rate down, your breathing rate down for the next delivery.”
Leipus says that the yo-yo test is not simply a fitness test, in that it also helps players improve their fitness while testing it. He used it as such when he doubled up as strength and conditioning coach at the Darren Lehmann Cricket Academy in Adelaide earlier this decade. “I used to actually run it back to back after 10-15 minutes’ recovery time. Alternatively, I would get the players running at a set level.”
The intention behind the yo-yo tests and the “beep tests” of old (similar to the Leger tests, where a player shuttles between cones without taking breaks), Leipus says, was and is to establish a “baseline fitness”, showing the players were fitter than the common man. “It is going to mean less injuries because the guys are fitter. It is going to mean high level of performance, because guys are going to recover better out on the field. The turnaround time between matches is shorter now, so they are going to recover quick between games.”
Also, once a player gets into shape to routinely pass the yo-yo test, Leipus says, “he will find it will improve his batting ability, because you recover better between runs running ones, twos, threes”.
A yo-yo test also helps measure the aerobic capacity of a player. “We use it to show them how fit they are,” Chris Donaldson, the New Zealand strength and conditioning coach, says. “The major physical components of cricket are based around aerobics, strength, speed, so how fit, fast and strong they are are the components we train for a cricketer so that they don’t break. This way, they can play the game for longer and faster and they can do things like stop the ball, take a miracle catch or run between wickets faster.”
With a level of 20:1, New Zealand’s cricketers are probably the fittest in the sport. For good measure they have Donaldson, a former New Zealand Olympic sprinter, as their strength and conditioning coach.
In New Zealand, all cricketers, international and domestic, are subject to yo-yo testing. Like Luden, Donaldson too arrived at 20:1 based on the average scores of New Zealand players. Passing a yo-yo test is not a prerequisite for selection in New Zealand, however.
Still, the best New Zealand players, Donaldson reveals, have gone past 22. Not that that means they line up for the test. “They always dread it,” he says. “They are always a bit scared of it, probably because they want to do well. It is a tough test because you push yourself to the absolute limit to know where you are at.”
What is Donaldson’s own level? “I have never done it,” he admits with a chuckle. “Thankfully it wasn’t around when I was running. Too hard.”