Fitness Articles

The 3-Minute Step Test

A DIY Fitness Assessment

Page 1 of 3
Measuring your fitness level regularly is one way to find out if you're making progress. Most fitness centers have trained staff who can evaluate your body composition, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and cardiovascular endurance, but it can be pricey. If you don’t have access to all the toys and tools of your gym, don’t panic. You have everything you need to measure your fitness level in your own house!

The 3-Minute Step Test measures your aerobic (cardiovascular) fitness level based on how quickly your heart rate returns to normal after exercise.

Equipment needed: Stopwatch or clock with a second hand; a friend to help you keep count; a 12-inch bench, box, or step; a metronome (if you don't have one, use the free online version at

Goal: Step on and off the bench for 3 minutes straight while keeping a consistent pace and then see how quickly your heart rate will come back down.

Execution: This test is based on a 12-inch step, so use one as close to 12 inches as possible, otherwise your results will be skewed. Set the metronome to 96 beats per minute and make sure you can hear the beat. Stand facing the step. When ready to begin, start the clock or stopwatch and march up and down on the step to the metronome beat (up, up, down, down) for 3 consecutive minutes. (You can rest if you need to, but remain standing.) When 3 minutes are up, stop immediately, sit down on the step, and count (or have a friend count) your pulse (use your wrist or neck) for one full minute.

What this measures: This test assesses your fitness level based on how quickly your heart rate recovers after exercise. The fitter you are, the quicker your heart rate will return to normal after exercise.

Scoring: Here are the age-adjusted standards based on guidelines published by YMCA.

Ratings for Men, Based on Age
  18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65+
Excellent 50-76 51-76 49-76 56-82 60-77 59-81
Good 79-84 79-85 80-88 87-93 86-94 87-92
Above Average 88-93 88-94 92-88 95-101 97-100 94-102
Average 95-100 96-102 100-105 103-111 103-109 104-110
Below Average 102-107 104-110 108-113 113-119 111-117 114-118
Poor 111-119 114-121 116-124 121-126 119-128 121-126
Very Poor 124-157 126-161 130-163 131-159 131-154 130-151

Continued ›
Page 1 of 3   Next Page ›
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!

About The Author

Jason Anderson Jason Anderson
Jason loves to see people realize the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. He is a certified personal trainer and enjoys running races--from 5Ks to 50K ultramarathons. See all of Jason's articles.

Member Comments

  • I used my tool box that doubles as a step. Handy thing.... it stores my tools and is exactly 12 inches high. I don't exactly understand the chart. Is that the heart rate you start with or the seconds for it to return to normal. - 3/26/2016 10:56:07 AM
  • I recommend using an ad blocker, very simple to do. I am not troubled by ads. They find other ways to get ads delivered to you but they don't cover up the articles. - 2/9/2016 1:59:58 PM
  • I bought a step from Canadian Tire two years ago. And I have only used it twice. But I would say go at your own pace if you need. Mine came with a dvd and I sure cannot keep up with it. So I go at my own pace until I get better. I don't usually go by my heart rate. But it sure reminds me to get my step out and now that I think of it I should just leave out so its there, then maybe I will use it more. I'm glad that I read this article now I know what I need to do when I don't feel like doing anything, which is almost every day. But I might just use my step. thanks
    - 2/9/2016 5:54:08 AM
  • Okay, I've noticed other people realized this too: this article says to take your heart rate RIGHT after the 3-minutes of takes longer than 2 seconds (providing that's how long it takes you to sit down on the bench/step) for your heart rate to return to normal. - 2/5/2016 10:26:19 AM
  • Opening the article in Safari helps with the chart being covered by ads (it's not in Safari).

    But I have to say, of all the fitness tests, this one is the least helpful because of the recommendation to always use a 12" step. A 5'1" person will have to use a LOT more cardio effort than a 6'5" person. Male or female. I'm talking leg length and the amount of effort it takes to raise that leg from the ground up to a 12" step. It's easier for taller people, and therefore the charts should really be broken down into height or leg length, not just age and male/female. - 10/26/2015 2:45:49 PM
  • Definitely doesn't work for those of us who are on certain heart meds. - 7/23/2015 12:34:34 PM
  • I agree with the women, their chart is covered by an AD. If you pull up the "print" option under the "MORE" button, it will give you a "pop-up" window that you can see the chart without the ad. .... as a side note, this article seems incomplete. - 2/21/2015 10:33:29 AM
  • The ads cover the chart for women. How are we supposed to read it? - 1/30/2015 8:58:39 PM
  • The ads cover the chart for women. How are we supposed to read it? - 1/30/2015 8:58:27 PM
    It says the test is to see how fast your heart rate returns to normal but it only has you measure your heart rate after the exercise, before it returns to normal, and it does not have you chart your normal heart rate. Very poor instructions/expl
    anations. - 1/29/2015 7:24:52 PM
  • This is an informative article. The chart for women, however, is blocked by advertising (I'm viewing this on my desktop computer).

    Would be so much more useful/helpful if the information was viewable.
    - 1/29/2015 10:27:39 AM
  • Another test where the chart for women in my age range is blocked by the How Fit Are You? link. - 9/28/2014 10:53:53 AM
  • I can tell by how easier it is to recover after walking that my fittiness level is improving. I know I need to up the pressure when I get to the point I am not breathing hard after walking. - 9/2/2014 3:16:13 PM
    Did I miss where it said to determine normal? ? - 5/11/2014 2:18:18 PM
  • Good! Thanks for sharing - 5/2/2014 6:25:57 AM

x Lose 10 Pounds by July 9! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.