The beep test: An inside look at Minnesota United’s survival of the fittest
It’s a scientific approach to fitness that manager Adrian Heath called, appropriately, ‘the bleep test’
Michael Boxall prides himself on being a consummate professional, but the arrival of a text message still gave him a case of the “Sunday scaries.”
The Loons veteran center back knew preseason training camp was opening in Blaine on Jan. 9, but the message from Sean Buckley, the club’s head of sports science, still gave him a bit of anxiety.
“You know what’s coming, but you just don’t want to get that message to ruin your Sunday,” the 12-year veteran said. “The waiting is always bad.”
Via the Teamworks software, Buckley informed the players in both English and Spanish that their first official day of the 2023 preseason would include the beep test. Or as manager Adrian Heath called it, in a bit of a Freudian slip, the “bleep test.”
It’s a survival of the fittest, with an official name: the 30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test.
The running course is two adjoining 20-meter zones. Players have to pace their run to finish the zone before the beeps are heard. They have 30 seconds to complete the run, followed by a 15 seconds of jogging recovery. The test starts slow at 10 kilometers per hour and gradually increases by 0.5 kph.
Players drop out when they miss three consecutive zones — or when a player’s will breaks. As Buckley said: “They just say, ‘No, no, no. I can’t. I can’t do anymore.’ ”
The fitness test serves as the MNUFC sporting staff’s initial gauge of which players adhered to the offseason workout programs the club gave them when the 2022 season ended in the MLS Cup Playoffs in mid-October.
“It’s final exam of what you did in the offseason,” Buckley said. “When you’re on vacation, that 30-15 (test) has got to be in the back of your mind.”
The Loons did the beep test to start the 2022 preseason as well, but fullback Zarek Valentin was with the Houston Dynamo a year ago, where they did a six-minute run in the Texas sun.
Valentin called the beep test “terrible” but also “validation” of his offseason work. With a new club, the 11-year veteran from Pennsylvania wanted to make a good first impression on his new teammates.
Valentin, 31, was among the final group of the beep test on Jan. 9, along with young and fast attackers Tani Oluwaseyi and Bongi Hlongwane. “I was next to two stallions,” he said. “It was like Seabiscuit and Secretariat next to me, and I was just trying to keep up with them.”
Loons captain midfielder Wil Trapp also was among that final group.
“It’s physical, but it’s a big mental test,” Trapp said. “It’s funny. In that specific test, everyone was amazing — and then one level hit and half the group, or 70% of the group, disappeared. You are not really looking around because you are just trying to zero in on yourself. Then when it’s the last four, I think Zarek was talking about, you are just like, I want to keep going, push them, push myself and then see where we end up. I think the mental aspect and the suffering of it is really important.”
With GPS monitoring, the Loons’ staff can use the data to understand where the team’s fitness is as a whole. Buckley’s Mason-Dixon Line is 20 kilometers per hour. “When I put it in an Excel spreadsheet and sort highest to lowest, 20 was bang right in the middle,” he said.
Oluwaseyi, a first-round pick in the 2022 MLS draft, led the way, completing the 22 kilometer-per-hour portion. Along with Hlongwane, Trapp and Valentin, the elite group also included strikers Mender Garcia and Luis Amarilla.
Oluwaseyi had an injury-plagued rookie season last year, but the club picked up his contract option for 2023. He knows he must make a statement this season. “Anything I can do to stand out,” he said.
Not all players, however, are held to the same standards in the beep test. Goalkeepers are outright excused from running it, and center backs such as Boxall are not asked to be in the top tier because they have bigger body types and play a position where they aren’t asked to run as much as other spots during a match.
When Heath was a standout player in England in the 1980s and ’90s, he said early preseason work didn’t include a ball for two weeks, and that some fitness tests included running up sand dunes. “If somebody was being sick, that was generally the understanding that the lads have worked really, really hard this morning,” he said.
With a modern emphasis on player safety, times have changed. But Loons players could find themselves doing the beep test at the end of preseason camp or during a FIFA break midseason. Valentin sees a purpose for it on the field in games during the 2023 MLS season.
“I think you show your teammates when the going gets tough, if we need to track back in the 90th minute, I’m going to be there” Valentin said. “And hopefully you guys can do the same for me.”
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