Fitness Tests – Bleep, Harvard and Step

a silver stop watchWhether you are looking to improve your athletic performance or more effectively manage your weight, getting fitter is vital to your success. Here we provide a few popular ways to test your fitness levels. Some of these tests require some equipment and all are best done with a friend or coach to improve the accuracy of the readings.

When you ask us how to lose weight, we always suggest that you work on getting fitter and stronger while eating a healthy diet. But, how can you ensure that you are getting fitter? If you stop progressing in fitness then it may be time to review your health plan. You should test your fitness once a month. Testing weekly is unlikely to provide any clear indication as from week to week, or day to day, our energy levels can fluctuate. A bad day can make it look like you are not getting fitter, when in fact you are.

Multistage Fitness Test

The multi-stage fitness test is the classic cardiovascular fitness test, also known as a bleep test (or beep test). For this you need a bleep test recording and to mark out a 20 meter length to run along. In a bleep test you must run the 20 meter distance before the next bleep sounds. Every minute the bleeps speed up. A good bleep test recording will announce the level you have reached after each bleep. Your fitness level is determined by the bleep level that you reach.

The bleep test will start with a jog pace and increase to a sprint. The initial speed is generally 8.5 km/h, and increases by 0.5 km/h for each level. Level 1 has 7 stages (8.6 seconds between bleeps) and level 10 has 11 stages (5.45 seconds between bleeps). The whole test can take up to 20 minutes and cover almost 5 km if you reach level 21. However,  this is only possible for the super fit. The test stops when you miss the bleep 3 times, then your best level is recorded. By allowing 3 attempts you have the chance to push yourself harder.

The test is designed to predict the VO2 Max score for an individual. This is an accurate method for testing cardiovascular fitness levels.

As a guide, the British Army requires that men reach level 10.2  and women level 8.1. For men the average score for 21-30 year olds is Level 9, shuttle 3, or 9.3. For women of the same age it is Level 6 shuttle 6, or 6.6.

You can order a bleep test CD from Amazon and other stores. If you search Google for “bleep test MP3” you should be able to find some free versions. There are also some on iTunes.

Harvard Step Test

The Harvard step tests records heart rate recovery. The fitness test is done by bench stepping at a rate of 30 steps per minute for 5 minutes, or until exhausted. The step should ideally be 50.8 cm high, although for measuring your own progress the exact height is not so important as you will really just be measuring your progress.

After the bench test your heart rate is measured for 30 seconds after 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes and 5 minutes.

You should record your results on a table like this:

Name HR at 1 min HR at 2 min HR at 3 min
Joe Fit 70 65 55

To calculate your fitness you then use this equation:

100 X test duration in seconds (500 max) / 2 X total heart beats in recovery period

So in the example above, assuming that Joe Fit completed the full 5 minutes, the calculation would be:

= 100 x 300 / 2 x (70+65+55)

= 30000 / 2 x (190)

= 30000 / 380

= 78.9

Your score is then compared to these results:

  • > 90 = excellent
  • 80-89 = good
  • 65-79 = high average
  • 55-64 = low average
  • < 55 poor

This makes Joe Fit high average, almost good.

The Step Fitness Test

Resting Heart Rate

There are several ways to test your fitness. The first is to measure your resting heart rate. All you need is a timer (watch with second hand etc.). Simply find your pulse on your wrist, and then count how many beats there are in 60 seconds. You could measure for 15 seconds and then multiply by 4, but counting for a full minute is more accurate. The best time to measure is first thing in the morning before you get out of bed.

Everyone is different, and women generally have about 5 beats per minute more than men, but this gives a rough guide:

Over 90 beats pere minute and you are unfit. Around 80 beats per minute is average, 70 beats per minute is fit, and 50 beats or below is very fit. Remember, this really is just a guideline.

The Step Test

A much better way to test your fitness is to measure your recovery speed. For this, the step test is ideal. You can use either an aerobics step, or the bottom step on your staircase. The test is simple, just step up onto the step with one foot, follow with the other, and then step down with the leading foot. Repeat leading with the other foot. Do this fot three minutes, and then rest for 30 seconds. After the rest, take your pulse again.

Results are approximate for men under 40:

72 bpm – excellent fitness
78 bpm – good fitness
82 bpm – average fitness
90 bpm – acceptable fitness
100 bpm – unfit

Men over 40 can add 3 bpm to these figures. Women under 40 can add 5 bpm, and women over 40 can add 7 bpm.

These methods are by no means the only way to measure your fitness. If you are a runner then the best and easiest way is to simply record your time over a set distance. You can also test your sprint fitness and endurance fitness by timing yourself over 200 meters and 1 mile on a regular basis.

Keeping track of your fitness progress is a great way to stay motivated. Compete against yourself and try to beat your personal best to make yourself as best as possible!

As mentioned this is just a guide. However, if you plan on getting fitter (which you should!) then it is a good idea to monitor your fitness levels each week. This can act as a good motivation for carrying on with your fitness plan, as even if you do not lose much weight one week, you may still be fitter.

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