If you're interested in finding out how fit you are, you have plenty of options. From simple walking tests to more complex lab tests, you can measure the ability of your lungs and heart to support physical activity.
When considering which test is right for you, take into account each test's advantages and disadvantages, including accuracy, expense, ease of administration, equipment needed and skills needed to conduct the test.
Resting Heart Rate
Generally, the more fit a person is, the lower his or her resting heart rate. Normal resting heart rates typically range from 60 to 100. Pro athletes have reported resting heart rates in the high 20s.
You don't need any equipment for this test. Simply find your pulse and count for 10 seconds, then multiply by six. You can also use a heart rate monitor if you have one. Heart rate should be taken in the morning upon waking, before you get out of bed.
The main disadvantage of this test is that some people naturally have a low resting heart rate. In this case, there will not be much difference as training goes on. Similarly, someone with a naturally high heart rate might not see his or her level of fitness reflected in the resting heart rate numbers.
The Rockport fitness walking test was developed to provide an estimated VO2 max, a measure of how well your body uses oxygen. The higher the number, the higher your endurance.
The test consists of walking 1 mile as fast as possible, then taking your minute pulse. Inputting your minute pulse, the time it took to complete the test, your age and your weight into a standard formula will give you your score.
The advantages of this test are that it is easy to administer, inexpensive, requires no equipment and can be self-administered. It's also suitable for males and females, the young and the elderly who are not in very good shape and who wouldn't be able to complete more difficult tests.
This test is not suitable for people who are already fit -- it will be too easy for them. The accuracy of the test also depends on walking as fast as possible, so results may be skewed if the participant is unable to self-pace or is unmotivated.
Shuttle Run Test
This test involves continuous running between two cones spaced 20-meters apart. A recorded beep indicates when the runner should reach one end and turn around. The beeps begin slowly and increase as the test progresses, so that the runner must increase his pace to make it to the line by the time the beep sounds.
When the runner misses the beep two consecutive times, the test is over. The runner's score is determined based on how many shuttles he completed. Using a chart, he receives a rating from very poor to excellent.
The results of this test are fairly accurate in their correlation to actual VO2 max, according to Top End Sports. The main advantage of this test is that it can be used to measure cardiorespiratory fitness of large groups of people inexpensively. In addition, unlike other tests, the beep test continues to maximum effort, which can provide a more realistic picture of cardiorespiratory fitness.
Although inexpensive, this test requires equipment including marking cones, a 20-meter measuring tape and a music player with a special beep recording. Because of its intense nature, this test is not suitable for people with medical conditions, injuries or a low level of physical fitness. Its accuracy can also be affected by practice and motivation levels.
VO2 Max Test
The VO2 max test is considered the gold standard when it comes to testing cardiorespiratory fitness. The test is conducted in a laboratory setting by experienced administrators and involves exercising on a bike or treadmill at an increasing intensity until exhaustion.
During the test, the participant wears a mask that assesses the gas concentrations of inspired and expired air. Heart rate is also measured.
VO2 max testing is a highly scientific method of determining cardiorespiratory fitness and other parameters. It offers a good deal of data that can be useful to the endurance athlete, including maximum heart rate and information about training zones and how the body burns calories, carbohydrates and fat.
For non-athletes, VO2 max testing is overkill. Even for athletes, the test is time-consuming and expensive. Because it's a maximal test, it is not suitable for those with health conditions or a low fitness level.