Aerobic endurance is an important component of fitness, reflecting the ability of your heart and circulatory system to deliver oxygen to cells throughout your body. Many fitness assessments are available to measure aerobic endurance, ranging from simplistic tests you can do on your own with minimal equipment to clinical assessments requiring elaborate equipment and trained technicians.
Aerobic endurance, or cardiovascular endurance, is the ability to continuously perform rhythmic large muscle contractions for an extended period of time. (reference 2, 4) Activities like walking, running, cycling, and swimming are all considered aerobic in nature. In order to perform optimally, your muscles require an uninterrupted supply of oxygen during aerobic exercise to meet the demands for energy in the working muscles. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, fitness assessments are useful for developing exercise training programs, and for screening for risk of heart disease and other metabolic diseases. (reference 1)
Measurement of Aerobic Endurance
According to the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, the most important measure of aerobic fitness is maximal oxygen consumption, or VO2 Max. VO2 Max is a measure of how much blood is pumped per minute and the amount of oxygen that is extracted by the working muscles during that minute. (reference 3) Fitness test results can be used to measure baseline fitness at the onset of an exercise program, to design programs appropriate for the individual, and to measure improvements realized from fitness training, (reference 3)
Field tests for aerobic endurance are often conducted by athletic coaches and fitness professionals in a non-clinical setting. They can be performed on groups of athletes or individuals simultaneously, and require minimal equipment. Examples of field tests include the YMCA three-minute step test, (reference 2) the Balke 15-minute run, the Cooper 12-minute run, and the Rockport walking test. (reference 5) The step test requires a 12-inch platform, a stop watch and a metronome. (reference 2) The Cooper, Balke and Rockport tests require a 400m track and a stopwatch. (reference 5)
In a clinical setting, aerobic endurance tests are performed by trained technicians or medical personnel, and are often scheduled through your health care provider. The test is conducted on a treadmill or cycle ergometer, and uses a 12-lead electrocardiogram, or ECG, to monitor and assess your heart function. (reference 4) The test may also entail special apparatus to measure oxygen consumption at the mouth. Clinical tests can be expensive, invasive and time-consuming, but the results are more exacting than a field test. If you are at risk for heart disease or have suffered a coronary event, a clinical test is recommended prior to beginning an aerobic fitness program. (reference 3)