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What’s the best aerobic test?

What’s the best aerobic test?

Testing your aerobic fitness is a fantastic way to determine your cardiovascular health, but with varying levels of reliability and accuracy, it can be difficult to decide which aerobic test would be best for you.

The Chester Step Test

The step test is a sub-maximal assessment of aerobic fitness, requiring you to step in time to a recorded and calibrated metronome until your heart rate reaches a pre-determined value, usually 80% of your assumed maximum heart rate. The time you take to recover from the test then determines your estimated VO2 Max value.

Its’ a cost-effective and accessible test, with approval from the Home Office it’s now the standard test of physical fitness for the emergency services. The Chester Step Test can offer you a choice of step heights for an appropriate and personalised test, high levels of accuracy and reliable results with each testing. Disadvantages of the step test include the need for an honest representation of recovery time, and when taking this test with a peer it can be tempting to want to appear, fitter than you are. It’s also important to ensure the right height of equipment is used, or the readings may become skewed.

Shuttle/Bleep Tests

Shuttle tests or bleep tests are also a brilliant way to measure your aerobic fitness, with a standardised protocol and a wealth of normative data to see how you measure up when compared to the general population. Participants are required to run between markers placed 20 metres apart in time with recorded and calibrated beeps, gradually picking up speed.

The Shuttle or Bleep Test results correlate highly with the actual VO2 Max values of participants and give accurate results across individuals. It’s suitable for a broad range of ages and abilities and has been used in professional sporting and military assessments, with a lot of people able to be tested at once at a low cost. However, the Bleep Test doesn’t give you a VO2 Max value automatically, but there are equations and online calculators that can determine this for you without any trouble. Performance in the test can also be affected by other factors, such as running and turning technique and cognitive ability, especially in children.


Measuring your aerobic capacity on a Bicycle Ergometer uses the Astrand Maximal Test Protocol, where an individual cycle at a regular rate wearing a heart rate monitor and more resistance is added until the participant cannot keep pace. The Ergometer usually features an option to calculate your VO2 Max value using your steady heart rate after 6 minutes of exercise.

This is a straightforward and quick test and providing you have the equipment there’s little mathematical effort required. The test yields results that are fairly accurate, with a measured correlation of 0.8-0.9. However, when measuring cyclists’ aerobic capacities on a bicycle ergometer, they would be favoured above other athletes and the general population, as their skill overrides their actual aerobic abilities. The test also overestimates fitness of older participants and underestimates younger individuals, as the maximum heart rate lowers with age. With the possible variance in an ergometer protocol, if you or your clients are outside ages 20-50 or keen cyclists, it may be wise to administer another test of aerobic fitness.

Deciding on your Test

Finding the most appropriate Aerobic Test for you hinges on your needs and preferences. A maximal test (using ergometers or a shuttle test protocol) will push you to exhaustion. This can be uncomfortable and disliked, whereas the Chest Step Test doesn’t force you to the point of fatigue and is just as effective an indicator of aerobic fitness, and with an adjustable height to cater for all heights and fitness levels, the test is a firm favourite in health clubs, gyms and industrial assessments across the UK.

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