Research Review By Kevin Neeld©

Date Posted:

Aug 2009

Study Title:

An On-Ice Aerobic Maximal Multistage Shuttle Skate Test for Elite Adolescent Hockey Players


Leone M et al.

Author's Affiliations:

Université du Québec à Montréal, Montréal, Canada; Université de Montréal, Montréal, Canada

Publication Information:

Int J Sports Med, 2007, 28: 823-828.

Background Information:

VO2Max is commonly assessed in athletes of all sports as a measure of aerobic performance. While VO2Max may more accurately describe aerobic capacity than performance, it is still the most frequently used marker in athletic testing. About 1/3 of energy metabolism utilized during an ice hockey competition is thought to come from aerobic pathways. As a result, the authors make the argument that VO2Max testing is a worthwhile measure for the hockey population.

VO2Max is known to be modality specific. For instance, if someone performed a VO2Max test on a bike, treadmill, swimming pool, and track, it is likely that they would receive different outcome measures. When assessing VO2Max , it is most appropriate to use a testing modality that best matches the movement pattern of the athlete’s sports. Ideally, ice hockey players could perform an on-ice VO2Max test, as even skating treadmills may provide less accurate results due to the increased skate-to-surface friction of the treadmill surface.

The aim of the current study was to design and validate an on-ice intermittent maximal multistage shuttle skate test to accurately assess VO2Max in elite hockey players.

Pertinent Results:

  • The skating multistage aerobic test (SMAT) was shown to be highly reliable (r = 0.92, SEE = 0.56 stage).
  • The SMAT was shown to be a valid assessment of VO2Max (r = 0.97, SEE = 3.2 ml O2/kg/min).
  • The most accurate regression equation determined by the authors was: VO2Max = 18.07 x (skating velocity) – 35.596.
  • Compared to a 20-Meter Shuttle Run Test, the SMAT resulted in significantly higher VO2Max values for the boys (~5 ml/kg/min, p < 0.01), but not the girls (p > 0.05). When the data was further broken down by age, this significant different was only present in Bantam- (age = 14.0) and Midget-aged (age = 15.7) players, but not PeeWees (age = 12.6).
  • The correlation between the 20-Meter Shuttle Run Test and the SMAT was modest for both boys (r = 0.69) and girls (r = 0.47).

Clinical Application & Conclusions:

The primary finding of this study is that the SMAT appears to be a reliable and valid assessment of VO2Max in elite ice hockey players.

This study provides further evidence that a more “sport-specific” testing protocol may be most appropriate. The fact that differences were not found in VO2Max for younger male and female ice hockey players is likely due to the fact that they have undergone less training overall. As a result of this finding, using an on-ice test may be increasingly necessary for more advanced hockey players.

The greatest benefit of this test is that it can be implemented with a large number of athletes (the authors reported that it can be used with up to 20 players at a time). Since most youth programs carry 20 players or less, this means an entire team can be tested succinctly. As an added plus, the only materials needed to complete the test are cones to demarcate the starting, middle and end lines, and a playback tape recorder or CD Player. The ease of implementation and accuracy of the test makes it well-suited for ice hockey coaches/trainers that are looking to assess aerobic capacity in their players.

Study Methods:

Thirty elite male youth players (age = 14.7) participated in the first part of the study. The multistage skating test was designed as follows:
  1. Lines were set at 0, 22.5, and 45 meters.
  2. An audible signal sounded to denote when the athlete should start and reach each of the points of the test (beginning line, middle line, far end line, middle line, beginning line, etc.) as used to help the athlete.
  3. An initial skating velocity of 3.5 m/s was chosen for the first stage of the test.
  4. Subsequent stages were incremented by 0.2 m/s, which corresponded to ~1 MET.
  5. Each stage lasted 60s, and players were given 30s to rest between stages.
  6. The test was terminated when the player was unable to maintain the pace set by the signal (~3 meters from a marker after the sound).
Expired air was collected into custom-made balloons at the end of random stages and a gas analyzer was used to quantify fractions of O2 and CO2. This information, along with a retroextrapolation technique, was used to quantify oxygen consumption.

To examine the specificity of the test, 112 elite male (age = 14.2) and 31 elite female (14.0) hockey players were tested on the SMAT and 20-Meter Shuttle Run Test.

Study Strengths/Weaknesses:

The study was well conducted but had a few limitations:
  • There was an unequal distribution of male and female hockey players. The observed gender differences could be a result of a sample size discrepancy and not a true indication of differences between male and female hockey players.
  • Similarly, gender differences could be explained by differences in playing experience. It would have been useful for the authors to report years of skating and playing experience.
  • Lastly, there are mixed reports on whether VO2Max is truly indicative of better on-ice performance. While it may be a valid measure to assess training progress, someone with a higher VO2Max will not necessarily perform better on the ice (or in any sport for that matter).

Additional References:

  1. Daub WB et al. Specificity of physiologic adaptations resulting from ice-hockey training. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1983; 290-294.
  2. Dreger RW & Quinney HA. Development of a hockey-specific, skate-treadmill VO2Max protocol. Can J Appl Physiol 1999; 24: 559-569.
  3. Leger L et al. Comparisons among VO2Max values for hockey players and runners. Can J Appl Physiol 1979; 4: 18-23.
  4. Montgomery DL. Physiological profile of professional ice hockey players – a longitudinal comparison. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2006; 31: 181-185.