By: Kayla Knapp
Before the United States men’s national team January training camp began, a few brave members of the media were put through their fitness test – myself included. The test was administered by the USMNT training staff, with head fitness coach Masa Sakihana overseeing the entire experience. And he made sure we knew exactly how the players feel during this grueling test.
The afternoon began with some stretching and a light jog to make sure our poor muscles were prepared for what they were about to endure. As a former player, I had an idea of what to expect – and knowing how out of form I was, I knew it wouldn’t be pretty.
Our first task was the 5-10-5 shuttle run, which tests your speed in short bursts. This tells the trainers if the players need to work on their quickness.
Next up was the 30-meter dash, and as I point out in the video, a set of cleats would have been useful for this one (though, I didn’t fall on my butt as I predicted). This test is just for pure speed – Sakihana told us that the speediest players are usually the forwards (surprise, surprise).
Our final outdoor test was a set of vertical jumps. Disclaimer: I have zero ups. This helps the trainers figure out which players need to work on their leaping ability, a skill important on both ends of the pitch, whether it’s scoring headers or clearing the ball.
After we finished up outside, we faced the dreaded VO2 max test. This is the one I feared the most – and as I discovered, it was for good reason. Have you ever tried running with a giant plastic mask over your nose and mouth? Let me assure you, it is not easy. I didn’t push myself too far beyond my comfort zone (I didn’t quite feel like falling off the dreadmill) but I definitely spent enough time with that mask on to get the feel for it. Sakihana said that Michael Bradley is the master of the VO2 max test – not surprising, considering midfielders cover the most ground in any given match. The trainers use this test to see how “fit” the players are, and use these results, along with a functional movement screening, to come up with specific workout plans for the players while they are in camp.
Every player will always have areas that need improvement – no one, aside from possibly Lionel Messi, is perfect – and these series of tests gives the USMNT trainers the chance to help each individual improve their game.
We won’t talk about which areas I could improve in. I’ll keep those a secret.