What does your testing battery look like? Part 7 – Energy Systems Assessments

In the previous few posts we have discussed the importance of performing testing for power and strength . In this last post of the series we discuss aerobic testing.

Maximal Aerobic Speed

There are numerous ways in which we can test for energy systems capacity, some of which require more resources (VO2 max, lactate testing etc). One simple test that can provide a useful base for energy systems programming is the maximal aerobic speed (MAS) test. Maximal aerobic speed is the lowest intensity at which oxygen uptake occurs, and is also know as velocity at VO2 max (VVO2 ). Training at an intensity over maximal aerobic speed has been shown to be an effective means of increasing working capacity1.

The traditional MAS test is performed around a 400-meter running track, with the athletes running at gradually increasing speed until they can no longer continue2. The point at which the athlete is unable to make 2 consecutive stations, or volitionally retires from the test, will give you the predicted maximal aerobic speed. Although the MAS test is an Excellent assessment, it is somewhat troublesome to set up. For most of us, a time trial will serve as the simplest way to glean this information, and shows some correlation with results of the MAS test3

Time Trial

Research has found that time trials between 1.5km and 2km running give the closest approximation to the MAS test, with 2km being optimal3. To optimise the reliability and validity of the assessment, it is imperative that this test is an all-out test, and the athlete is absolutely exhausted at completion.

If you prefer other modalities to running, or are unable to run due to injury, similar testing and training programs can be conducted using an ergo rowing machine, air bike or swimming. Cycling may also be used, but I have found that too much variability exists in terms of an athlete’s cycling specific muscle endurance and their aerobic capacity, and it is difficult to know what we are testing. For rowing, I feel the 1.5km time trial still works well. As we want an all-out effort over 5-6min, swimming time trials are best conducted over 300-400 meters. The modality you choose to test on should be the modality used in training.

To calculate the maximum aerobic speed from a time trial, simply divide the length of the test in meters by the time taken in seconds. This will give you the maximum aerobic speed in m/s. To calculate km/hr multiply this number by 3.6, and to calculate miles/hr, multiply by 2.24. If you plan to perform your interval training on a treadmill or rower, this figure will be necessary. If you plan to do interval work over a measured distance in meters, then you can keep your MAS score in m/s.

From here, the MAS score can be used to program training intervals. Having these numbers are extremely useful to set energy systems training intensity, rather than using guesswork and perceived difficulty of an interval. Having these set intensities also makes it easier to focus on particular energy systems (aerobic vs glycolytic vs alactic). For more aerobic intervals, a lower intensity such as 105% MAS may be used, whereas for shorter, glycolytic intervals, intensities for 125-130% may be used.


  1. Dupont, G., Blondel, N., Lensel, G. & Berthoin, S. Critical velocity and time spent at a high level of V02 for short intermittent runs at supramaximal velocities. Can J Appl Physiol 27, l03–15 (2002).
  2. Baker, D. Recent trends in high-intensity aerobic training for field sports. Prof. Strength Cond. 22, 3–8 (2011).
  3. Bellenger, C. R. et al. Predicting maximal aerobic speed through set distance time-trials. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 115, 2593–2598 (2015).

A full framework of energy systems training, including different interval types, is featured in the science of striking, available in both hard-copy and kindle formats (https://www.amazon.com/Science-Striking-Comprehensive-Physical-Preparation/dp/1729586821/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1543575646&sr=8-2&keywords=The+Science+of+Striking+Sam+Gilbert)

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