How do I measure my cardiovascular fitness?

Perform 3 min step test by stepping 24 steps per minute on an 18 in. Step for total of 3 minutes or roughly 72 steps. Wait one minute then measure your pulse for 30 sec. Record that # as your recovery pulse. Determine fitness level by:

Duration of exercise (sec) X 100 divided by Recovery pulse X 5.6 = cardiovascular efficiency. Then locate the # in one of following categories:28-38  poor, 39-48  fair, 49-59 average, 60-70 good, 71-100 very good                                                         

There are two forms of cardiorespiratory assessments that I use with clients.  The three-minute step test and the rockport walk test. 

The three minute step test indone by having an individual step up and down using an 18 inch tall box for three minutes.  At the end of the Three minutes we have the client rest for one minute and take their heart rate.  This will give us a recover pulse and can paint a good picture of the cardiovascular efficiency of the individual. This will allow us to chose a starting point for thie client in their cardio program. 

The rockport walk test is performed by having the client walk on a treadmill for one mile as fast as they can control.  We then record the time it takes the client to complete the walk and record their heart rate.  This will give us cardiovascular efficiency score similar to perfroming the three-minute step test. 

Both tests are great tools to determine a cardiovascular starting point and are important tools in designing safe and effective individualized training programs.    

Recovery time.  As improvements are made over several weeks of zone training, the heart rate drops more quickly. The faster the recovery time, the strong your heart is becoming.

Warm up for 10 minutes in Zone 1 then push on to the next level of intensity.  Increase you workload every 60 seconds until you reach the Zone 2 or 3. Once there, stay there for at least 2 minutes before taking a one minute break. If during this one minute break your heart rate drops down to it designated rate, you are becoming stronger and improving your cardiovascular fitness.

So remember, it’s not how hard you can go or how long you can go hard. It’s how quickly you can recover from the workload.

The measurement of your cardiovascular fitness is typically referred to by many as measuring V0-2 max; V0-2 max is the body’s maximal ability to utilize oxygen to perform work. In actuality, there are very few people who can voluntarily work hard enough to reach their V0-2 max... This is because V0-2 max is exactly what it means; Maximal work output, just before complete physiological crash, and not voluntarily sustainable for any meaningful period of time.  

Actual measurement of V0-2 max outside of a clinical setting can be extremely risky,  due to scope of practice issues, as well as the need for the emergency equipment required. In a health and fitness setting, V02 max is typically plotted from extrapolating the results of a much safer sub-maximal test, such as a physical work capacity test on a bicycle ergometer or treadmill. However, a V02 max test is a poor choice for answering the more practical question that people really want to know, which is; What is their maximal sustainable cardiovascular ability to perform exercise?

A term known as V0-2 peak is a more usable measurement of cardiovascular fitness, as it pertains to the body’s ability to perform a maximally sustained aerobic effort. From a heart rate perspective, it is very close to and just prior to something called metabolic acidosis, in which the level of carbon dioxide being produced by the body begins to exceed the amount of oxygen the body can physically take in, which in turn quickly leads to V0-2 Max.

The difference is that V02 peak represents a voluntary maximal effort. Therefore, V0-2 peak is a more usable, real world measurement of cardiovascular fitness. The ultimate goal is more efficient fat utilization by the body over time, which leads to more effective weight loss and a higher level of cardiovascular fitness.

There are many litmus tests to evaluate your cardiovascular fitness. Choosing which litmus test to perform should be based on the individual and goal. The two examples below will illustrate the importance of assessing the individual before choosing a test. Once the score is determined, the score can then be compared to national standard charts.

The Astrand Treadmill Test: This VO2 test requires the individual run as long as they can on a treadmill with varying inclines. After a warm-up the treadmill is set to 5.0 speed at 0% incline. Every three minutes the treadmill is moved up 2.5% on the incline. The test is concluded when the individual no longer can perform the test. 

From the total running time an estimate of the athlete's VO2max can be calculated as follows:

  • VO2max=(Time × 1.444) + 14.99

where "Time" is the recorded test time expressed in minutes and fractions of a minute.


The athlete stopped the test after 13 minutes 15 seconds of running (13.25 minutes).

  • VO2max=(13.25 × 1.444) + 14.99
  • VO2max=34.123 mls/kg/min

Rockport Mile Walk: This test can determine your cardiovascular fitness by performing a one mile walk as fast as the individual can. Once the mile is completed, heart rate is taken. 

The formula used to calculate VO2max is:

  • 132.853 - (0.0769 × Weight) - (0.3877 × Age) + (6.315 × Gender) - (3.2649 × Time) - (0.1565 × Heart rate)
  • Weight is in pounds (lbs)
  • Gender Male = 1 and Female = 0
  • Time is expressed in minutes and 100ths of minutes
  • Heart rate is in beats/minute
  • Age is in years

    You can gage your cardio fitness by your perceived level of exertion. If what you are doing is easy, you don't feel winded, and you can carry on a conversation with ease, you are not working hard at all.  How fast you are moving while talking comfortably will indicate your fitness level. If you are walking slowly and you feel comfortable you should increase your speed and/or incline a little at a time to get your breathing and heart rate up. 

    Say you start at zero percent incline at 3.5 miles per hour and that is easy, increase either your speed to 4.0 or go to 2 percent incline for the next five minutes. If this is still pretty easy, continue to adjust your incline or speed until you feel pretty winded. The faster or higher you go will indicate how fit you are cadiovascularly.

    Cardiorespiratory fitness is the ability to perform dynamic exercise using large muscle groups at moderate to high intensity for prolonged periods . VO2 max is considered to be the most valid measure of cardiorespiratory fitness. It measures the capacity of the heart, lungs, and blood to transport oxygen to the working muscles, and measures the utilization of oxygen by the muscles during exercise. One way to test is using the Rockport Fitness test. This is performed best on a treadmill. Walk as fast as possible and while being safe for one mile, then measure heart rate and time as soon as the mile is complete. You want to make sure you weigh yourself before the test. Then calculate using this formula.

    VO2 max = 88.02 - .1656 (body weight in kg*) – 2.76 (time in minutes†) + 3.716 (gender‡)

    88.02 - .1656 ( _______ kg ) – 2.76 ( ______ min ) + 3.716 ( ____ ) = _________ Your VO2 max

    * Body weight in kg = weight in pounds ÷ 2.2

    Time in minutes: Convert seconds to minutes by dividing the seconds by 60.

    The three minute step test is another way to check cardiorespiratory by stepping up and down on an 18-inch step for three minutes, at a rate of 24 steps per minute. The recovery pulse is then counted for 30 seconds after a one minute rest.

    There are many tests that can be done to evaluate cardiorespiratory fitness (the efficiency of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems during exercise). Two tests include the three-minute step test and the Rockport walk test.
    • The three minute step test involves stepping up and down on an 18-inch step for three minutes, at a rate of 24 steps per minute. The recovery pulse is then counted for 30 seconds after a one minute rest.
    • The Rockport walk test is performed on the treadmill, encouraging the participant to walk as fast as they can control for one mile. The workout time and heart rate are recorded at the mile mark and compared against standard averages.

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    Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.