How to Measure Aerobic and Endurance Performance


Whether your new to running, returning to running, or are an avid runner, measuring and tracking aerobic fitness and endurance is important.  While a professional VO2 Max test is the most accurate, I found some effective and simple at home tests used by many professionals to assess and track performance.

Cardiovascular health can be measured either by a professional or by using simple at home tests.  Aerobic and endurance performance is one of the four main types of exercise used to evaluate overall fitness.  Cardiovascular health is an important metric that both new and experienced runners can be tracking for getting and staying in good shape. 

No single test can determine your fitness level, however there are several tests used by professionals to help assess aerobic and endurance health.  Below are some different at home tests that can done to assess and track your progress.  Be sure to warm up for 5 -15 minutes before starting the test.  Immediately after each test record your heart rate by using a heart rate monitor or taking your own pulse as another metric of cardio fitness.

12 Minute Cooper Test

This test was designed in 1968 and used exclusively by the US Army to measure performance.  This test is both effective and easy to use making it a popular test to measure and track aerobic and endurance health.  A Means of Assessing Maximal Oxygen Intake: Correlation Between Field and Treadmill Testing | JAMA | JAMA Network

This test can be performed anywhere you can walk or run safely for 12 minutes on a flat and smooth surface.  Any time can be used, and most can simply use a running app to track both time and distance (see my article here for my top free favorite running apps). 

To perform the test, run or walk as fast as you can for 12 minutes on a flat surface such as a track or other suitable area.  The goal is to see how much distance you can cover in the 12 minutes and should be done at the fastest speed you can sustain for the entire 12 minutes. 

This is a good test not only of your cardio health, but you can use the formula below to estimate your VO2 Max results.  This test can be performed either once or twice a month or even every other month to track performance improvements.

KM: VO2max = (22.351 x Km) – 11.288

Miles: VO2max = (36.97 x miles) – 11.29

You can use the chart below for initial assessment of how you compare to others of similar age and gender

AgeExcellentAbove AverageAverageBelow AveragePoor
Male 20-29over 2800 meters2400-2800 meters2200-2399 meters1600-2199 metersunder 1600 meters
Females 20-29over 2700 meters2200-2700 meters1800-2199 meters1500-1799 metersunder 1500 meters
Males 30-39over 2700 meters2300-2700 meters1900-2299 meters1500-1999 metersunder 1500 meters
Females 30-39over 2500 meters2000-2500 meters1700-1999 meters1400-1699 metersunder 1400 meters
Males 40-49over 2500 meters2100-2500 meters1700-2099 meters1400-1699 metersunder 1400 meters
Females 40-49over 2300 meters1900-2300 meters1500-1899 meters1200-1499 metersunder 1200 meters
Males 50over 2400 meters2000-2400 meters1600-1999 meters1300-1599 metersunder 1300 meters
Females 50over 2200 meters1700-2200 meters1400-1699 meters1100-1399 metersunder 1100 meters
*Above chart from Cooper Test: A 12-Minute Run to Check Aerobic Fitness (verywellfit.com)

1 1/2 Mile Test

Another popular test of aerobic health is the 1 /2 mile test which is similar to the test above.  This test is used by the Airforce as one of three basic tests of physical performance and endurance.

Rather than running for a set time, you run for the set distance of 1 ½ miles.   The minimum standard for graduating basic military training is 11:57 min for males and 13:56 for females.   The below chart provides a benchmark of good fitness based on age.

AgeWomen: Time in minutesMen: Time in minutes
251311
3513.511.5
451412
551613
6517.514

Rockport 1 Mile Walking Test

This test was developed in 1986 by physiologists and cardiologists to evaluate cardiovascular fitness.  This is a simple and safe way to measure the capacity of the lungs in relation to the volume of exercise you can tolerate (VO2 max).  This test is designed for people ages 20 to 69. 

This test is good for ones who are out of shape, have physical limitations, or returning from injury or illness.  This test is the safest of the ones outlined here to establish a baseline for new or returning runners.

It is recommended to not go 100% out the first time, but to start with a low-intensity for the few sessions and gradually intensify the effort.  Like the tests above, it should be performed in a safe area with a smooth and flat surface such as a track. 

To perform the test, walk as fast you can for 1 mile and record your time in decimals (seconds / 60).  You may also want to take your pulse immediately afterwards and record your beats per minute (bpm).

The below formula is used to calculate your estimated VO2 Max which requires both your ending heart rate, your time in decimals, and your weight in pounds. 

VO2max = 132.853 – (0.0769 x your weight in pounds) – (0.3877 x your age) + (6.315 if you are male or 0 for females) – (3.2649 x your walking time) – (0.1565 x your heart rate at end of the test).

You can use the chart below for initial assessment of how you compare to others of similar age and gender.

Rockport 1 Mile Walking Test
VO2 Max Norms
VO2 Max Norms for Women AgeVery PoorPoorFairGoodExcellentSuperior
13-19Under 25.025.0-30.931.0-34.935.0-38.939.0-41.9Over 41.9
20-29Under 23.623.6-28.929.0-32.933.0-36.937.0-41.0Over 41.0
30-39Under 22.822.8-26.927.0-31.431.5-35.635.7-40.0Over 40.0
40-49Under 21.021.0-24.424.5-28.929.0-32.832.9-36.9Over 36.9
50-59Under 20.220.2-22.722.8-26.927.0-31.431.5-35.7Over 35.7
60+Under 17.517.5-20.120.2-24.424.5-30.230.3-31.4Over 31.4
VO2 Max Norms for Men
Age
Very PoorPoorFairGoodExcellentSuperior
13-19Under 35.035.0-38.338.4-45.145.2-50.951.0-55.9Over 55.9
20-29Under 33.033.0-36.436.5-42.442.5-46.446.5-52.4Over 52.4
30-39Under 31.531.5-35.435.5-40.941.0-44.945.0-49.4Over 49.4
40-49Under 30.230.2-33.533.6-38.939.0-43.743.8-48.0Over 48.0
50-59Under 26.126.1-30.931.0-35.735.8-40.941.0-45.3Over 45.3
60+Under 20.520.5-26.026.1-32.232.3-36.436.5-44.2Over 44.2
*Above chart from Rockport 1-Mile Fitness Walking Test Calculator (verywellfit.com)

Key Takeaways

Tracking aerobic fitness and endurance can be a great way to stay motivated as you train week over week.  Many experts recommend performing a test every 4- 6 weeks as running at top speed does put one at greater risk of injury. For more on how long it will take to get in shape see my article here.

It is best to perform each of the tests at the same time of day and under as similar conditions as possible.  While you may not see improvements each time you take a test due to factors including temperature, humidity, or stress levels, you will likely see gradual improvements if you are sticking with a balanced running plan. For tips and tricks for running your fastest see my article here.

Test(Rockport, 12min, etc)Initial AssessmentTest 2Test 3Test 4Test 5
Date     
Time/Distance/Pace     
Heart Rate     
Other (VO2Max, perceived effort, etc)     
Sample spreadsheet for tracking aerobic fitness and endurance

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