Andrew Stemler from Crossfit London UK, debates the controversial recommendation by Sir Liam Donaldson The Chief Medical Officer to bring the “bleep test” into all schools
According to fitness geeks, the bleep test developed by Leger & Lambert is quite fun, and a useful exercise tool in its own right. The test is pretty much established as both reliable and easy to stage, and is used by schools, clubs, some emergency services and armed forces to determine fitness levels. All you need is this: some stolen road traffic cones placed 20m apart, a million-pound sports hall, or park with not too many potholes/muggers/paedophiles – and a sound system loud enough to hear a “bleep” over the wheezing of other children (or adults and motivators).
Victims run between markers while the bleep intervals become shorter and shorter. The longer they continue, the higher the level they reach (like a very interactive computer game) the fitter they are. For comparison, here are some of the standards that some organisations use.
Royal Marines, 11
British army 10.2
English police force 5.4
Fire brigade 9.6
If (like grant-greedy sports scientists) you get swept away by extrapolation, it is possible to conclude that the test is to monitor the development of the athlete’s maximum oxygen uptake – the infamous vO2 max. Back in the real world, the results can be used to predict (sort of) future performance (through correlation rather than causation), indicate weaknesses, measure improvement, assess the effectiveness of training programmes and motivate participants.
However, this shy test, beloved by generations of rugby players, runners, police recruits, (and hated by just about everyone else) has been pushed into the limelight and has now been proposed by the Chief Medical Officer (in the 2009 Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer) for mass introduction to schools. It is based, as you might have guessed, on a Californian experiment which brought an 8.2% improvement in fitness. In spite of the fact that the benefits of improving fitness in children lowers the lifetime risk of various nasty diseases, builds an active habit, leads to better educational standards, helps maintain a healthy weight and improves mental and social well being – some commentators are up in arms.
It is quite true that running and back and forth can be boring – but so is most of life. But isn’t this part of the real lesson – it doesn’t have to be fun to be fun?
However, the more convincing criticism is that the overweight kids get to a few levels, give up, and are, of course, put off exercise for life. The average kids get to do a few more levels, and give up. The super-competitive kids work really hard and collapse:
This negative overview overlooks the benefits of properly constructed sports and team training.
This not a test scored by a teacher. Trying to score 30 kids is a near impossible task. Each child needs their own (child) scorer, and ideally their own (child) motivator. So, for a class of 30 everyone gets to score and motivate and run. Hmm, recording and motivating others, that’s a good lesson. And who gets the prize for being the most enthusiastic motivator? Who gets the prize for stealing the traffic cones?
The future tests – well if the poor, fat kid got to level 2, they get a whopping 100% improvement and a “Good job!” when they get to level 4. Then you can be really crafty – you can match up the super-performer with the “fat kid” as a team, and score improvement. The reality is that it will be the overweight child who will get the points.
All tests can be driven into the ground and turned into abusive and awful experiences. The reality is that the better coach or trainer is quite capable of making even the toughest test “fun”, although in honesty, based on my own experience, most PE teachers are genetically incapable of importing fun into the serious business of “fitness”.