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How fit are footballers?
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Steven Gerrard in action for England
Steven can clock up 10km during a match
Another long hard football season is now well underway.

Dr Greg Whyte, Head of Physiology at the English Institute of Sport, explains how today's stars need to be at the fitness peak to see them through.

So, are players fitter now than they used to be?

The game has changed significantly since the first European Championships in the 1960s.

New materials are being used to manufacture footballs, boots and kits.

The quality of pitch surfaces have changed too.

These variations mean that what is required of players physiologically has also changed.

In what way?

The nature of play is more dynamic and mobile these days.

The need for aerobic conditioning and speed is greater than strength.

So how can a coach tell if a player is up to it?

David Beckham shows his agility
Agility is one aspect

Fitness is made up of a number of components such as:

  • Endurance
  • Speed
  • Strength
  • Agility
  • Power

    Each can be assessed using a multi-stage fitness test usually carried out at club level.

    On England duty during Euro 2004 the players maintained their fitness levels they built up over the season.

    How is fitness tested?

    Clubs continuously monitor their players and keep records of their progress.

    Heart rate is a simple way of monitoring how hard the body is working.

    Specific tests can be carried out for each aspect of fitness.

    For example, speed can be assessed by recording maximum sprint speed over short bursts of 30-35 metres, while endurance is the ability to maintain speed over repeated sprints.

    One popular way of assessing fitness is the bleep test. This involves shuttle runs done in time to bleep sounds on a pre-recorded audio cassette

    The test usually consists of 23 levels with the time between the bleeps decreasing every minute.

    Only elite athletes can expect to reach the top three and footballer David Beckham is one of the few people who can manage it.

    Strength can be tested in the gym using standard weight measures.

    The T test assesses agility

    Agility is important because football doesn't require players to run in straight lines. They need to be able to change direction without losing speed.

    The T-test, pictured left, carried out with and without a ball, can reveal how agile a player is.

    Power - such as a player's ability to head the ball - can be measured using standing jumps for height and distance.

    Do different positions require different types of fitness?

    Yes, it's all about being fit for a purpose.

    For example, a midfielder like Steven Gerrard can run up to 10kms during a game. So he needs to have a very high endurance capacity.

    Michael Owen in training with the England team
    It's all about speed and power

    For the up-front striker like Michael Owen it's all about speed and power output. He needs strength to jump for headers and battle with defenders.

    Defenders may not rely on the same traits as their other team-mates but must be strong and powerful.

    A goalkeeper will need strength and power but also agility to reach those far corners.

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