How does the Cooper’s test measure fitness?

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To track their progress over time and see how they compare to others, many professional and amateur athletes use a variety of performance testing protocols.

One of these protocols is the Cooper test. It includes a 12-minute run to estimate a participant’s VO2 max, which is a measure of aerobic capacity.

Although the test is simple to perform, you may be wondering who it is suitable for and what it says about your performance.

This article covers what the Cooper test is, how it relates to your VO2 max, how to do it yourself, and some tips and considerations.

In a Cooper test, participants cover as much distance as possible in 12 minutes to assess their aerobic fitness.

It is often used by armed forces and police academies, as well as professional, college and high school sports programs to test aerobic capacity and estimate VO2 max.

Additionally, runners commonly use the Cooper Test to provide a benchmark for their running progress.

This simple test lets you see how you stack up against other people of the same gender and age in terms of cardiovascular fitness.

An alternative to the Cooper test is the 1.5 mile (2.4 km) Cooper run test. In this version, participants cover a set distance as quickly as possible instead of trying to cover as much ground as possible within a set time.

Summary

The Cooper Test is a timed running test in which participants cover the most distance possible in 12 minutes. This can help assess their aerobic capacity and estimate their VO2 max.

The Cooper test was developed by a doctor named Kenneth H. Cooper in 1968 for the US military to measure the aerobic capacity of its troops.

Considering a large number of active duty military personnel, the test was developed to function as an inexpensive and time-saving alternative to performing running tests on a treadmill.

Since then, the test has been widely adopted in all areas of athletics and fitness, including professional sports and high school gym classes.

To this day, the Cooper’s test remains one of the simplest and most accurate protocols for measuring your aerobic capacity, aside from lab tests.

Summary

The Cooper Test was created by Kenneth Cooper in 1968 as a convenient and inexpensive way to test the aerobic capacity of large numbers of troops. It remains a leading testing protocol for the armed forces and professional sports teams.

The voice2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during intense exercise. It is a direct indicator of aerobic capacity (1).

This number is especially important for athletes whose sports require high levels of aerobic output, such as distance running, cycling, swimming, and rowing, among others.

Traditionally, an individual’s VO2 max is measured in the laboratory on a treadmill connected to monitoring equipment.

The Cooper Test was created as a simple way to assess your VO2 max without expensive equipment or formal training in exercise physiology.

To test its accuracy, an early 1968 study was conducted of 115 US Air Force personnel. Participants were asked to run as far as possible in 12 minutes under closely monitored field conditions. Later, they performed a maximum treadmill run test in the lab (2).

When comparing the tests, it was found that the results of the 12-minute running test in the field had a correlation rate of 0.897 with the laboratory results. For reference, 1 equals a perfect correlation.

Since then, older and newer studies have confirmed that field tests like the Cooper test correlate well with VO2 max in various populations (3, 4, 5).

As such, Cooper’s test can be used as a fairly accurate alternative to estimating your VO2 max with minimal equipment.

That said, in order to determine your VO2 max specifically, you will need to visit an exercise physiology lab to use their equipment and expertise.

Summary

Research suggests Cooper’s test can be a reliable way to estimate your VO2 max, or the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during intense exercise.

To perform the test, you will need a stopwatch, a clear area to run, and markers to designate the distance.

Before starting the test, it is recommended to hydrate and do at least 5 minutes of warm-up.

Typically, drink 19-20 ounces (500-600 ml) of water or a sports drink 2-3 hours before exercise, then an additional 7-10 ounces (200-300 ml) 10-20 minutes before testing. will help ensure you are hydrated (6).

The warm-up should consist of low-intensity dynamic movements such as jumping jacks, leg swings, bodyweight jump squats, high knees and/or a short jog.

Once ready, follow the steps below to complete the Cooper test:

  1. Choose a stable surface to run on, such as a standard 400 meter track.
  2. Place a marker at the starting point to designate the distance traveled each lap.
  3. If using a track, maintain the same track for the duration of the test to ensure accuracy.
  4. Launch the test by starting your stopwatch. Try to maintain a steady pace throughout the session.
  5. Keep track of each lap as you pass the starting point.
  6. When the 12 minutes are up, write down the distance covered.
  7. Perform a brief recovery by walking for 5 to 10 minutes.

While the Cooper test is most often performed on a track, you can also complete it on a treadmill. However, you should set the incline to 1% to better simulate outdoor conditions.

After completing the test, you can use your distance traveled to assess your ranking against others and to calculate your VO2 max.

Then, plan to retest yourself every few months to track your progress.

Ranking table for men and women of different ages

The charts below can help you determine your ranking against others in the same age category based on distance covered (2).

Results of Cooper’s test for men:

Cooper’s test results for women:

How to calculate your VO2 maximum

To calculate your estimated VO2 max from your Cooper test results, use the following equation (2):

To calculate VO2 max with miles: VO2 max = (35.97 x miles) – 11.29

To calculate VO2 max with kilometers: VO2 max = (22.351 x kilometers) – 11.288

If you use the table above to measure your VO2 max, first convert your distance from meters to kilometers (divide the value by 1000, so 1900 meters becomes 1.9), then insert the value of kilometers into the equation above.

You can also use an online calculator. Many of them also allow you to enter factors such as your gender and age. Just search online VO2 max calculators and add your test results to view your result.

Summary

The Cooper test is completed by covering as much distance as possible in 12 minutes. You can then use the distance to determine your VO2 max or see how you rank among others.

Here are some useful tips and considerations to keep in mind.

Make sure you are fit enough

The Cooper test is a demanding protocol that requires good physical condition.

If you have recently had heart, muscle or joint problems, you should seek clearance from a qualified physician before performing the test.

If you want to test your fitness but aren’t sure if the Cooper test is right for you, there are plenty of alternatives. For example, options like the Rockport 1.6 km (1 mile) walk test or a test on a stationary bike or elliptical might be more appropriate.

Maintain a steady pace

The Cooper test is designed to be completed at a jogging or running pace.

If you start the test by sprinting, you may tire quickly. This may force you to slow down, which could decrease your test results.

Thus, it is generally recommended to maintain a consistent pace throughout the test for best results.

Use a GPS watch for more accuracy

Best practice when running the Cooper test is to run on a standard 400 meter track to ensure accuracy.

Additionally, you may consider using a GPS watch.

This type of device offers extreme accuracy and can be a great tool to use when performing the test.

Use the 1.5 mile (2.4 km) run test for large groups

When testing larger groups of people, it may be easier to use the Cooper 1.5 mile (2.4 km) run test.

This alternative only requires you to track each participant’s time, as opposed to time and distance.

If you are using the 1.5 mile (2.4 km) run test, you can use the following equation to estimate VO2 maximum:

VO2 max = (483 / time in minutes) + 3.5

Summary

Make sure you are in good enough shape before taking the test, maintain a steady pace, consider using a GPS watch to improve accuracy, and use the 1.5 mile (2.4 km) run test for large groups.

The Cooper Test is a timed running test in which participants cover as much distance as possible in 12 minutes to assess their aerobic fitness.

While Kenneth Cooper created the test for use in the armed forces in 1968, it is now widely used in all areas of athletics, from high school sports to professional sports teams.

After a brief warm-up, participants run on a metered track at a brisk pace, keeping track of how far they run in 12 minutes. The distance can then be used to estimate their VO2 max and compare performance with others.1

There are a few tips and considerations to keep in mind. Make sure you are in good physical shape, maintain a steady pace, consider using a GPS watch to improve accuracy, and use the 1.5 mile (2.4 km) run test for larger groups.

If you are an active person looking for an easy way to estimate your VO2 max and find out how you rank among others, you might want to try the Cooper test.

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