Assessing Cardiorespiratory Fitness: Techniques & Resources

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

In this lesson we review ways to assess cardiorespiratory fitness. We describe the resources and techniques utilized to perform these tests and monitor endurance levels. We also elaborate on self-assessment techniques as well.

Assessing Cardiorespiratory Fitness

Who hasn't gone for a nice jog one day and felt great and then gone for a nice jog on another day and felt winded? The human body can fluctuate in its effectiveness from day to day and so it is convenient to be able to monitor one's progress. Fortunately, there are several ways to accomplish this very goal including self-assessment techniques.

Jogger in Bali

Definition of Cardiorespiratory Fitness

Before we discuss how to measure cardiorespiratory fitness, it behooves us to first define the term. Cardiorespiratory fitness is defined as how well the athlete's body can transport valuable oxygen to the muscles during exercise, and furthermore how well the muscles can actually absorb the oxygen. The interesting word combines the term 'cardio' which refers to the heart, along with 'respiratory', which refers to the lungs.

Reasons to Test Cardiorespiratory Fitness

There are a myriad of reasons to test:

  • Assess the athlete's current fitness
  • Create an exercise program
  • Provide feedback on progress
  • Provide information to motivate and educate
  • Identify any health problems the athlete may have
  • Identify disease risk

Which Test

Factors to consider:

  • Expense
  • Ease of administering
  • Ease of comparing results
  • Accuracy
  • Consistency
  • Level of skill required
  • Whether the test starts out gradually

In addition, the tests should be done in a prescribed order:

  • Height, weight, RHR (resting heart rate), and BP (blood pressure)
  • Body composition
  • Cardiorespiratory fitness capabilities
  • Muscular endurance and muscular strength
  • Muscular flexibility

Types of Tests

VO2max Testing

The platinum standard for testing cardiorespiratory fitness is the VO2max test. This stands for maximal oxygen consumption test. There are many variations of the exam but the usually accepted method is to test on a treadmill. It looks like something out of Star Wars! The client stands on a treadmill while two long tubes reach around and attach to his face mask. There are a couple of oxygen tanks and a computer along with some wiring. The tester gradually increases the difficulty of the treadmill and finally measures the maximum amount of oxygen the athlete is able to use.

VO2max Test

Bruce Protocol Treadmill Test

The Bruce Protocol is more commonly known as the dreaded ''run on the treadmill exam''. This is a rather intense test, so it is recommended that no self-monitoring ever be done and that trained medical experts are at the scene lest the athlete have heart or lung problems. The tester uses an electrocardiograph (EKG) with wires taped to the athlete's chest. While the athlete runs, the tester uses a stopwatch and increases the incline of the treadmill every few minutes, thus increasing the difficulty. This exam calculates the athlete's maximum heart rate as well.

Beep or Bleep Test

The University of Montreal Track Test is known fondly as the original beep test. In a beep (or bleep) test, the athletes use a 400m track and a series of orange cones that are placed on the track at 50m intervals. As the test begins, the athlete runs to the next cone and stops until a pre-recorded audio signals a beep. The athlete runs to the next cone, increasing speed as the beeps begin to come at faster intervals. The test ends when the athlete quits or doesn't come within 5m of the next cone when the beep sounds.

The 12-Minute Cooper Test

This is a straightforward exam in which the athlete runs as far as he can in 12 minutes. The only equipment required is a track, a stopwatch, some of those ubiquitous orange cones, and recording sheets.

The 2km Ergo Rowing Test

Who can ever forget those movies with all the cool guys from the university rowing across the water on the crew team? Rowing, or crew, is a demanding test of cardiorespiratory fitness and there is a test to measure it. In the Ergo Test, the athlete sits in an indoor machine known as an ergometer and is timed as to how long it takes him to row 2,000 meters.

Astrand-Rhyming Cycle Ergometer Test

This test uses a device known as a cycle ergometer and the athlete cycles without rest for a period of seven minutes. The tester checks the heart rate every minute. As a general rule, a lower heart rate equates to better fitness.

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