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So you think you can skate?

Jets' version of the dreaded beep test pits players' legs against the clock

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/1/2016 (502 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Everybody hates the beep test.

And with good reason.

Dr. Jeff Leiter at The Rink designed the on-ice beep for the Winnipeg Jets.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dr. Jeff Leiter at The Rink designed the on-ice beep for the Winnipeg Jets.

It is, quite simply, one of the toughest, most excruciating ways of evaluating your fitness.

Cyclists, runners, basketball players and racquet-sport athletes, plus many school-age students, use the 20-metre shuttle runs -- which need to be completed at a faster pace the longer the test goes on -- to gauge how fit they are.

Hockey players do it, too. The Winnipeg Jets fitness team has created an on-ice version of the beep test.

In this case, the players have to do eight separate skating sprints in 64 seconds, followed by a 56-second rest. Each successive level is three metres further, but with the same time limit. As soon as a player can't reach the finish line on two consecutive sprints, his test is over.

The top performer among the Jets this season is centre Mark Scheifele, who made it all the way to level 8.6. The 22-year-old said he takes pride in being in top physical condition.

Of course, Roger Bannister didn't break the four-minute mile without having a few rabbits to push him and Scheifele had just that-- his beep-test partner was fellow speedster and right winger Blake Wheeler.

"I found a good pace and was able to keep it up," he said.

When I told Scheifele I was going to take the test, he was quick to offer some advice.

"Don't give it all at the start. You have to gauge the waters and see how it's going to feel. You have to test out the first few levels. Once it starts to get tough, you've got to throw it all out there," he said.

Dr. Jeff Leiter, executive director of the Pan Am Clinic Foundation, designed the test for the Jets. He participated in a feature a couple of years ago, showing me a range of the fitness tests the Jets are put through in training camp each year. I ran into him a few weeks ago and he told me about the on-ice beep test.

"It will kill you," he said. "You should try it."

With a wave of his hand, his Jedi mind trick worked and I found myself at the MTS Iceplex, wearing a heart-rate monitor and staring at a series of orange cones placed strategically at the other end of the rink.

"It's an aerobic test to see what speed the players can skate at and how long can they maintain that speed for," he said.

"A lot of trainers don't want their players on the bike all summer training for the VO2 max (maximum oxygen uptake). They'd rather they be on the ice, running, or weight-training."

This is one of those tests where there's simply no cheating.

When you hit the wall, no matter what your level of fitness, your legs are burning and your lungs are screaming. When you skate to absolute failure, which is what you're supposed to do, there's no gutting out one more sprint.

Leiter's advice was simple. Relax during the rest period, try to get your breath back and stay as fluid as possible when skating.

"And stop on both sides. If you just stop on one side the whole time, your legs are going to burn out," he said.

The first round was pretty much a warm-up. I felt pretty good at the end of it. In Round 2, I started thinking about the pain that awaited and that I'd better enjoy this while I can.

Round 3 was tougher and I found it more difficult to catch my breath during the break. I was still huffing a bit as I began Round 4.

Luckily, Leiter was skating alongside me, shouting encouragement.

Not so luckily, during the last few shuttles of Round 4, I could feel lead seeping into my legs and sensed my skating stride -- never the smoothest in the first place -- starting to falter. My heart rate wasn't recovering nearly as quickly as it had been a couple of minutes earlier, either.

"This is an all-out sprint," Leiter said to me as I started Round 5.

I got a half-second jump on the first sprint, but when I started the second one, I knew I was about to smash into the wall. My legs ached like crazy on the third one and when I heard the beep a couple of strides away from the line, I knew I needed a miracle -- or maybe a couple of decades taken off my birth certificate to make the finish line. Alas, I heard the beep early again before the end of the fourth shuttle, and the test was over.

As the machine gun in my chest started to slow down, I remarked to Leiter that I'd noticed he had put out enough cones to measure up to Stage 9, further than Scheifele had gone.

"One of the things I've noticed about you over the past couple of years is you work well under pressure," he said with a smile. "So I thought, 'The camera's on, you might do something superhuman and get to Stage 6.' "

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Monday, January 11, 2016 at 8:06 AM CST: Video added.

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