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How Is Cardiorespiratory Endurance Measured?

By Henry Halse ; Updated December 19, 2017

It's natural to want to know where you stack up against other people — or even your past self — in different fitness tests. Cardiorespiratory endurance tests tell you how fit you are aerobically. Measure your aerobic fitness with complicated laboratory tests or simple walking tests.

Significance of Cardiorespiratory Endurance

If you're an endurance runner, swimmer or cyclist you want to have good cardiorespiratory endurance. It's also a good indicator of health. The better your aerobic fitness, the less likely you are to have cardiovascular problems, notes an article published by the University of California-Davis.

The tests you can do depend on the equipment you have at your disposal. The more advanced technology you have at your disposal, the more accurate assessment you can get. A full physiology lab will have expensive lab equipment that's very accurate. However, you can estimate your aerobic fitness with something as simple as a staircase.

VO2 Max

One of the best ways to measure cardiorespiratory endurance is with a VO2 max test. VO2 max stands for the maximum amount of oxygen that you can consume during exercise.

As you work harder and harder your need for oxygen keeps increasing. Your breathing rate goes up but at a certain point you can't take in any more oxygen. When you hit the threshold where you can't get any more oxygen into your body, your performance starts to suffer and eventually you have to slow down.

A proper VO2 max test is done in a lab on a treadmill. An exercise physiologist or doctor will hook you up to a big machine by putting a big tube in your mouth that is securely fastened to your head with a helmet-like device.

Then, they'll start the treadmill. The speed and incline of the test increase until you hit the point where you have to stop the test. A machine that's hooked up to the tube in your mouth calculates how much oxygen you were using and determines your VO2 max. The higher your VO2 max, the more fit you are.

According to an article from Garmin, a good VO2 max for an 18 to 25-year-old male is around 45. For a female of the same age the number is around 40. As you get older the number decreases, to around 32 for men in their 70s and 28 for women.

Cooper Walk/Run Test

The Cooper walk/run test is one of the simplest ways to test endurance. All you need is a track or another way to measure one and a half miles. Start by measuring your height and weight, then do a 10-minute warm-up with leg stretches and other calisthenic exercises like jumping jacks.

After your warm-up, get ready to begin the test. You should have one and a half miles already measured out, preferably on a route with no changes in elevation. If there are hills it might negatively affect your test score.

You'll walk or run the entire mile and a half as fast as possible. If you're on a track that will be six total laps. You can run, alternate running or walking or walk the entire thing. At the end, record the amount of time it took to complete the course.

After the test, you can use your time to determine your approximate VO2 max. Using this formula, input your gender, age and time to see an estimate of what your VO2 max is.

Rockport Fitness Test

This fitness test is much more accessible to someone who doesn't participate in vigorous exercise because you walk the entire test.

To properly perform the Rockport walking test, use a track or another route that has even ground. You'll walk the entire mile as fast as possible. As soon as you finish, record your heart rate.

The easiest way to find your heart rate is to use a heart rate monitor. If you don't have one, use your fingers to check your pulse. Count the number of beats you feel for 15 seconds and multiply that number by four.

You can use your heart rate to roughly calculate your VO2 max. Take your heart rate, weight, age and the time it took to complete the test and enter it into this formula. The number you get is an estimate of your VO2 max.

Step Test

If you've ever done step-ups in the gym as part of your workout, you know how taxing they can be. That's why they make such a good test for your cardiorespiratory endurance.

To do the step test, start with a 12-inch high box or other surface that you can step up on. Set a timer for three minutes and, once time starts, plant your right foot on the surface and step up with your left foot. Then, step down with the right foot and left foot. Repeat that sequence for the full three minutes, completing as many steps as possible.

When you're done, sit down for one minute before measuring your heart rate. The lower your heart rate is, the better your cardiorespiratory endurance.

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