Maximal Aerobic Speed

As discussed previously, developing the aerobic energy system is massively important for effective performance. When developing the aerobic system, a valuable metric for planning conditioning sessions is the player’s maximal aerobic speed (MAS). MAS is defined as the minimum speed required to elicit maximal oxygen consumption or VO2 max. It has been shown that a key training factor in the development of the aerobic system, is training time spent at or above VO2 max. Using MAS to guide the conditioning protocols for players, the coach can ensure the players spend enough of the training time at or above VO2 max which will lead to performance enhancements in the aerobic system. Swaby and colleagues in 2016 looked at the relationship between MAS and distance covered in a game in professional players. They found a strong relationship between MAS and distance covered which indicates that improving MAS through training may enable a player to cover more distance in the games thereby increasing their work rate.

Figure 11. It has been shown that the greater a player's Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS) capacity, the more distance is covered during match-play (Swaby et al 2016).

There are many tests to measure MAS and it can be measured using a variety of different exercise modes (running, cycling, or rowing). While cycling and rowing MAS could be useful to know, the running MAS is most specific to game performance. There are several different ways to measure MAS, the best being a treadmill VO2 max test with a gas analyser to find the exact minimum speed at which VO2 max was reached. This however is not feasible for most teams and it would take a long time to test every player. A simpler, user friendly, method which can accommodate larger numbers is a set distance time trial. The players simply cover the set distance as fast as they can and from this MAS can be calculated. The coach should set a distance that will take between 5-7 minutes to complete. This may be influenced by playing level and the fitness level of the players.

In a study of Australian Football League (AFL) players by Bellenger and colleagues in 2015 they examined if MAS measured over various time trial distances correlated with the MAS from a separate field test. They found that distances of 1200, 1400, 1600, 1800, 2000 and 2200m all correlated well with the separate field test for MAS but 2000m was the best option for the time trial distance. In rugby the running demand is less than that of AFL and therefor the lower distances may be the better option, 1200-1600m depending on fitness level and perhaps position. Swaby and colleagues’ study in 2016, mentioned above, tested for MAS using a 1200m time trial and this was with professional rugby players. These test distance time trials can be done on a treadmill or if the coach has access to a running track or field of known proportions the test can be performed there.

Calculating MAS from a set distance time trial is quite simple and is worked through in the following example:

  • The player runs 1200m in 5:03
  • Change the 5:03 to seconds = 303 seconds. Divide 1200 by 303
  • This equals 3.96 meters per second, this is the players MAS
  • To calculate meters per minute multiply 3.96 by 60 (seconds) to get 237.6 m/min
  • To calculate kilometres per hour multiply 237.6 by 60 (minutes) to get 14,257.4 meters per hour and then divide by 1000 (a kilometre) to get 14.3 Km/h
  • The coach now has the players MAS in m/s, m/min, and km/h all of which can be used in prescribing conditioning protocols.

Baker and Heaney in 2015 identified and average MAS for rugby sevens international players of 4.26 m/s while Swaby and colleagues identified a range between 4 and 5 m/s for professional rugby players.