5 Chapter 5: Methods for estimating cardiorespiratory fitness

Melissa Markofski


Estimating cardiorespiratory fitness

To classify cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), we measure maximum oxygen consumption (VO2max). It is well accepted that the gold standard indirect method of measuring VO2max is by using a gas analyses system. However, these gas analyses systems are costly and take time to calibrate for each test. In addition, only one person at a time can be tested.

Field tests for CRF avoid all three of this cons: they are inexpensive, require a shorter time than a gas analyses system test, and more than one person at a time can be tested. There are cons of field tests, the biggest one being that it is an estimation method. Another is that if the method is conducted outside, the environmental conditions can introduce variability into the test.

Another option for  measuring VO2max besides a gas analysis system or a field test method is a sub-maximal VO2max estimation test. These tests are typically completed on a treadmill or bike, are shorter in duration than using a gas analyses system, but usually only one person at a time is tested. One advantage over a field test is that they can be conducted inside in a temperature controlled room.

Estimation methods–whether using a field test or a sub-maximal test–can estimate VO2max because during sub maximal exercise there is generally a linear relationship between oxygen uptake and heart rate. We can use this relationship to estimate fitness because the slope of the line changes with the state of physical fitness; that is, a fit person is able to transport the same amount of oxygen at a lower heart rate than an unfit person.

Because many of the estimation methods rely on the relationship between oxygen uptake and heart rate, it is crucial that the method to measure heart rate (or pulse rate) is as accurate as possible. It is essential to follow the test instructions if the measure is a heart rate, pulse rate, or recovery.


Class activity

Activity 1: The Forestry Step Test

Equipment: Step bench and risers (or a step stool, or sturdy raised surface of approximate necessary height), stop watch, metronome (or metronome app on phone), scale to measure body weight, tables posted on Blackboard

Participant: Everyone will complete this activity, unless someone has an orthopedic or other reason to not be a participant.

Instructions: Prior to starting the test, be sure you can locate pulse rate. Do not use a heart rate monitor, and be sure to count the pulse for the full 15 seconds. 


  1. The participants stands facing the step bench (height = 40 cm for men, 33 cm for women).
    • (A step stool or sturdy surface of approximately the correct height may be used for completing this activity at home. Do not use a chair with wheels or anything unstable/unable to safely support body weight.)
  2. The technician starts metronome, which is set for 90 beats per minute (step rate = 22.5 steps per min)
  3. Start the timer as soon as the participant steps up on the bench. Have the participant continue stepping for exactly 5 minutes (test time 0:00-5:00).
  4. The participant should should straighten back and legs at top of step, and make sure to plant the entire foot on the step.
  5. At the end of the five minutes, the participant stops stepping.
  6. Immediately after ending the test, the participant sits down on the bench or a chair next to the bench for a 15 second rest (test time 5:00-5:15). Use this time to find the participant’s (your) pulse.
  7. Count the pulse rate for 15 seconds, 15 seconds after participant stops stepping. (test time 5:15-5:30)
  8. Record the 15-sec pulse rate. (do not multiply by 4)
  9. Estimate VO2max using the Forestry heart rate tables 13.5 and 13.6. (find tables in the Blackboard folder for this lab)
  10. If the participant is not 25 years ±2.5 years, use table 13.7 adjust VO2max for age.
  11. Use the table 3.2 in your REP textbook to determine CRF classification.
Virtual Lab Activity 1
Perform the Forestry Step Test:
1. Follow the instructions above to perform the Forestry Step Test. You can use stairs, a bench, or other appropriate stable surface (Safety first! Please make sure it is a safe, stable surface)
2. Use the results to determine your CRF classification. The tables are located in your Blackboard folder for this lab.

Note: If you are using a surface of similar, but not exact height for the protocol, the results will be an approximation of the result from using a surface of the recommended height…consider it an “estimation of an estimation” and therefore not as accurate.

Practice interpreting the Forestry Step Test Table:
1. A 29 year old male with a body weight of 200 lbs performed the Forestry Step Test. His 15 second pulse was 36. What is his estimated VO2max?
2. What is his CRF classification?


Activity 2: 1-Mile Jog (or walk) test

Required equipment: stopwatch or stopwatch app, scale to measure body weight, GPS (phone) or known path with distance (i.e. 400 M track or a trail with distance markers placed on it)

Optional equipment: Heart rate monitor

Participant: Everyone who does not have a relevant orthopedic limitation will participate


  1. Measure your body weight prior to the test
  2. Decide if you are going to jog/run or walk the test. Whichever you select you will need to do for the entire distance (i.e. you can not decide to do the jog test with walking breaks, or speed up the walk test with running intervals). If you select the jog/run, it should not be at maximal effort and should be at a pace that takes at least eight minutes.
  3. Run/jog or walk the 1 mile distance in a safe location with safe weather conditions (Safety first! Please do not run in a thunderstorm and/or when lightning is present!). Remember to start your timer immediately before and after the mile is completed.
  4. Record your run or walk time and heart rate immediately after completing the test. If you do not have a heart rate monitor, quickly collect a 10-second pulse count and multiply by 6 to estimate heart rate.
  5. Use either the George et al. (1993) (jog/run), or the Kline 1987 (walk) algorithms to calculate your estimated VO2max. (below)
  6. Use table 3.2 in your REP textbook to determine your CRF classification.


Note: Do not use a treadmill for this test, as the controlled pacing will reduce the accuracy of the test. 

The George et al. (1993) algorithms to estimate VO2max for 1-mile jog/run:

  • Male VO2max = 108.844 – (0.1636 * body weight) – (1.438 * time) – (0.1928 * HR)
  • Female VO2max = 100.5 – (0.1636 * body weight) – (1.438 * time) – (0.1928 * HR)

The algorithm (Kline 1987) to estimate VO2max for the Rockport Walk Test:

  • VO2max= 132.853 – (0.0769 * weight) – (0.3877 * age) + (6.315 * sex) – (3.2649 *
    time) – (0.1565 * HR)

Units matter!

  • Weight is in kg (George et al. 1993) or pounds (Kline 1987)
  • Sex: Male = 1 and Female = 0 (Kline 1987 equation only)
  • Time is expressed in minutes and 100ths of minutes (divide seconds by 60. For example, 9 minutes and 45 seconds is 9.75 minutes)
  • Heart rate is in BPM, measured at the end of the test
  • Age is in years


Virtual Lab Activity 2
Perform a 1-mile test:
1. Complete either the 1-mile jog or 1-mile Rockport Walking test
2. Use the algorithms to estimate your VO2max
3. Use the results to determine your CRF classification.
Practice Calculations:
1. A 25 year old female weighing 60kg performed a 1-mile jog test. Her time was 10 minutes and her HR at the end of the test was 175bpm. What was her estimated VO2max and her CRF classification?
2. A 22 year old male weighing 176lbs performed a 1-mile walk test. His time was 16 minutes and his HR at the end of the test was 165. What was his estimated VO2max and CRF classification?



Activity 3: Two-stage treadmill test

Note: This test frequently appears on the ACSM-EP exam. The metabolic equations will be provided during the test, but conversions are not. Expect the same on your exams for this course. 

Equipment: Treadmill, heart rate monitor, and watch

Participant: Participants who do not have a relevant orthopedic limitations can perform the test. (Note: this test requires multiple people and access to a treadmill to run the test and is not required for you to complete as part of your at-home lab. However, you will need to understand the procedure and calculations used for this lab activity.)

Instructions: It is important to follow the instructions exactly as written. If the heart rates are not in the zones listed, the test will not be accurate and it will be difficult to interpret.

This test consists of two stages of 3 minutes each. The test works best if the heart rate is between about 110 and 150 BPM for both stages, with at least a 20-30 BPM difference between stages, and a 3-5% point grade difference between stages. The person can run or walk for the test, but be sure to use the correct equations for walking or running. The results work best if the person does the same exercise (walking or running) for both stages.


  1. Stage 1: start treadmill at 0% grade and 3.5 mph. (suggested. Please discuss with your participant their fitness and determine if they need to perform this as a running test instead)
  2. After one minute look at HR. If needed, adjust TM grade/speed to be at the lower end of the 110-150 BPM recommendation. (i.e. 110±10 BPM)
  3. Record HR during the last 15 seconds of stage 1. Also record TM grade and speed.
  4. Stage 2: increase TM grade by 3-5 percentage points.
  5. After one minute look at HR. If needed, adjust TM grade/speed to be at least 20 BPM higher than the end of stage 1 (and 30 BPM higher is better) and at the higher end of the 110-150 BPM recommendation. (i.e. 140-150 BPM)
  6. Record HR during the last 15 seconds of stage 2. Also record TM grade and speed.
  7. After the last HR reading, lower grade to 0% and decrease speed to a slow walk. Allow the subject to cooldown for 2-3 minutes. (HR should noticeably drop from stage 2 and ideally be lower than the end of stage 1)
  8. Use equations below to calculate estimated VO2max.
  9. Compare your results with REP textbook table 3.2.



  1. Calculate estimated VO2 for each stage.

Change speed mph to m/min by multiplying speed in mph by 26.8. Be sure to use incline value as a decimal.

Calculated walking VO2= 3.5 + (speed*0.1) + (speed*incline*1.8)

Calculated running VO2= 3.5 + (speed*0.2) + (speed*incline*0.9)


  1. Calculate the slope of the line between the two stages

b = (VOstage 2 – VO2 stage 1) ÷ (HR stage 2 – HR stage 1)


  1. Use the slope to calculate estimated VO2max

VO2max = VO2stage 2 + (b * (estimated HRmax– HR stage 2))


Virtual Lab Activity 3
Practice Calculations:
A 25 year old female performed a walking 2-stage treadmill test.
Stage 1: speed=3.3mph, grade=0%, and HR=115bpm.
Stage 2: speed=3.7mph, grade=6%, and HR=155bpm.
1. What is her estimated VO2max?


Self-test your comprehension


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