Fitness Articles

The 3-Minute Step Test

A DIY Fitness Assessment

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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 www.MetronomeOnline.com)

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
















Ratings for Women, Based on Age
  18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65+
Excellent 52-81 58-80 51-84 63-91 60-92 70-92
Good 85-93 85-92 89-96 95-101 97-103 96-101
Above Average 96-102 95-101 100-104 104-110 106-111 104-111
Average 104-110 104-110 107-112 113-118 113-118 116-121
Below Average 113-120 113-119 115-120 120-124 119-127 123-126
Poor 122-131 122-129 124-132 126-132 129-135 128-133
Very Poor 135-169 134-171 137-169 137-171 141-174 135-155

Maybe you’ll find that you’re doing really well. But even if you weren't able to register on the chart, that's OK. Everyone starts somewhere! Just try to improve gradually over time from where you started. Remember, you are looking for improvement in yourself, regardless of what a chart says or how well someone else does.

How to improve: To improve your scores on this test, develop a regular cardio (aerobic) exercise routine and stick to it. Increase your intensity and duration gradually and you'll boost your endurance over time. Use the SparkPeople resources below for more tips to improve your aerobic fitness. How to know its working: When you're done testing, you can track your results on SparkPeople to keep track of your progress! Over time, you should be able to recover from exercise more quickly. Keep in mind that if you're on any type of medication that affects your heart rate, this test might not be very accurate for you.

This test is a great tool to see how you are doing. If you don’t score as well as you like, just remember to focus on improving your own scores periodically. As long as you are improving, your fitness plan is working. If you find you aren’t making the progress that you feel you should be seeing, it may be time to change your workout routine.

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Member Comments

  • This is a helpful assessment but the article fails to explain a couple of things. 1. You must measure your heart rate BEFORE you start as well as immediately after, otherwise how do you know what your HR should be returning to? 2. What are the numbers in the chart? Are they the number of seconds it takes to return to "normal"? It doesn't say. 3. As has been observed by others, leg length is going to make a difference. I'm short - a 12" step is going to be harder work for me than a tall person with long legs - obviously. I guess the key here is not to take too much notice of the chart and focus on whether your results are improving rather than comparing yourself with other people.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • Okay, I've noticed other people realized this too: this article says to take your heart rate RIGHT after the 3-minutes of stepping...it 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.
  • 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.
  • Definitely doesn't work for those of us who are on certain heart meds.
  • 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.
  • The ads cover the chart for women. How are we supposed to read it?
  • The ads cover the chart for women. How are we supposed to read it?
  • DOTTIELOVESIT
    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.
  • 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.
  • Another test where the chart for women in my age range is blocked by the How Fit Are You? link.
  • 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.
  • MESAMESA22
    Did I miss where it said to determine normal? ?

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.

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