Last Updated: 02 March, 2015

1.0     Introduction

Testing and measurement are the means of collecting information upon which subsequent performance evaluations and decisions are made but in the analysis we need to bear in mind the factors that may influence the results.BPFA, Run (1)

2.0     Objective

The Cooper Test VO2 Max Run Test (Cooper, 1968) is used to monitor the development of the athlete’s aerobic endurance and to obtain an estimate of their VO2max.

2.1     What is Cardiovascular Endurance?

  • In sports, cardiovascular endurance refers to an athlete’s ability to sustain prolonged exercise.
  • Endurance testing is a way to measure the efficiency of an athlete’s circulatory and respiratory systems in supplying oxygen to the working muscles and support sustained physical activity.
  • When talking about endurance, it is usually with reference to aerobic endurance.
  • Aerobic exercise requires oxygen to help supply the energy needed for exercise.
  • Therefore, the objective of endurance training is to develop and improve the body’s systems that produce and deliver the energy needed to meet the demands of prolonged activity.

2.2     Background

This test was developed by Doctor Ken Cooper in 1968, and was initially used to estimate the VO2max of military personnel. When conducting research Dr Cooper discovered that there was a high correlation between an individual’s VO2max value and the distance they could run or walk.

Cooper (1968) performed this test on 115 male officers and airmen of the US Air Force, in which they were evaluated on a 12-minute field performance test and on a treadmill maximal-oxygen-consumption test.

The correlation of the field-test data with the laboratory-determined oxygen-consumption data was 0.897; with the significance of this relationship making it possible to estimate, with considerable accuracy, the maximal oxygen consumption from only the results of the 12-minute performance test.

Cooper stated that the test was also readily adaptable to large groups, required minimum equipment, and appeared to be a better indicator of cardiovascular fitness than the (then) more commonly accepted 600-yard run.

Finally, Cooper stated that because of the high correlation with maximal oxygen consumption, it could be assumed that the 12-minute field performance test was an objective measure of physical fitness reflecting the cardiovascular status of an individual.

3.0     Resources Required

To undertake this test you will require:

  • 400 metre track, or flat coned area (marked every 100m);
  • Stopwatch;
  • Whistle; and
  • Assistant (can act as recorder or timekeeper).

4.0     How to Conduct the Test

This test requires the individual(s) to walk/preferably run as far as possible in 12 minutes.

  1. The runner(s) warms up for 10 minutes.
  2. The trainer gives the command “GO”, starts the stopwatch and the runner(s) commences the test.
  3. The trainer keeps the runner(s) informed of the remaining time at the end of each lap (i.e. each 400m).
  4. The trainer blows the whistle when the 12 minutes has elapsed and records the distance the runner(s) covered to the nearest 10 metres.

4.1     Safety Considerations

  • This is a strenuous, maximal fitness test.
  • Individual’s are advised to consult with their medical professional prior to undertaking this test.
  • The PAR-Q form will provide some insight into the questions your medical professional may ask.

5.0     Normative Data for the Cooper Test

5.1     Male Runners

Reliability = 0.90 (Cooper, 1968; Burke, 1976).



Above Average


Below Average












































5.2     Female Runners

Reliability = 0.54 to 0.91 (Burris, 1970; Getchell et. al., 1977; Katch, 1970; Maksud et al., 1976)



Above Average


Below Average












































6.0     VO2 Max Formula

An estimate of a runner’s VO2 Max can be calculated as follows:

Formula: (Distance covered in metres – 504.9) ÷ 44.73 = VO2 Max

Example: (2550 – 504.9) ÷ 44.73 = 45.72 mls/kg/min

It is also possible to use the formula relating VO2 max to distance and speed proposed by Daniels and Gilbert (1979) to estimate VO2 max from the results of the Balke Test (See 9.1 below):

VO2 Max=(-4.60 + 0.182258 * velocity + 0.000104 * velocity^2) / (0.8 + 0.1894393 * e^(-0.012778 * time) + 0.2989558 * e^(-0.1932605 * time))
[where velocity is in metres per minute; and time in minutes]

Frank Horwill (1994) developed another formula: VO2 = 0.172 x (meters / 15 – 133) + 33.3

6.1     Analysis

Analysis of the test result is by comparing it with the runner’s previous results for this test.  It is expected that, with appropriate training between each test, the analysis would indicate an improvement in the runner’s VO2 Max, anaerobic and aerobic thresholds.

6.2     Target Group

This test is suitable for endurance athletes and players of endurance sports (e.g. football, rugby) but not for individuals where the test would be contraindicated.

7.0     Reliability & Validity

7.1     Reliability

Test reliability refers to the degree to which a test is consistent and stable in measuring what it is intended to measure.  Reliability will depend upon how strict the test is conducted and the individual’s level of motivation to perform the test.

7.2     Validity

Test validity refers to the degree to which the test actually measures what it claims to measure and the extent to which inferences, conclusions, and decisions made on the basis of test scores are appropriate and meaningful.  This test provides a means to monitor the effect of training on the runner’s physical development.  There are published VO2 Max tables and the correlation to actual VO2 Max is high.  For an assessment of your VO2 max see the VO2max normative data tables above.

8.0     Advantages & Disadvantages

8.1     Advantages

Advantages of this test include:

  • Large groups can be tested at once; and
  • It is a very cheap and simple test to perform.

8.2     Disadvantages

However, disadvantages include:

  • Pacing strategies (individual’s not used to running against the clock may not know how to pace themselves);
  • Practice (individual’s may practice before taking the test, thereby skewing the result);
  • Performance on this test can be affected greatly by motivation level (low motivation could lead to a poor time and vice versa); and
  • The reliability of the test can depend on how strictly the test is conducted.

In other words, individual’s who undertake this test on a regular basis will find it easier to perform, which may bias the results.

9.0     Variations & Modifications

The Cooper VO2 max test can be varied or modified, to include:

  • Running on a treadmill for 12 minutes, set to level 1 (or 1%) incline to mimic outdoor running.
  • A very similar test is the Balke 15 minute run.
  • As testing is generally easier to administer when the distance is fixed and the finishing time measured, the alternative Cooper 1.5 mile (2.4km) Run Test was developed.

9.1     Balke Test

This 15 minute run test was developed by Bruno Balke (1963) and is one of the many field tests designed to measure aerobic fitness. Like the Cooper Test, the Balke Test has formula to predict VO2max from the run distance.

Participants run for 15 minutes, and the distance covered is recorded. Walking is allowed, although participants should be encouraged to push themselves as hard as they can.

Balke’s original formula for working out VO2max: VO2 = 6.5 + 12.5 x kilometers covered.

9.2     Cooper 1.5 Mile Run Test

The Cooper 2.4 km (1.5 mile) Run Test is a simple running test of aerobic fitness, requiring only a stopwatch and running track, an is an alternative to the Cooper VO2max Max Test.

Formula: VO2max = (483 / time) + 3.5

Rating Males Females
Very poor > 16:01 > 19:01
Poor 16:00-14:01 19:00-18:31
Fair 14:00-12:01 18:30-15:55
Good 12:00-10:46 15:54-13:31
Excellent 10:45-9:45 13:30-12:30
Superior < 9:44 < 12:29

Eagle-eyed readers will note this is identical to the running test utilised by the British Army.

10.0    Useful Documents & References

10.1     Useful Documents

10.2     References

Balke, B. (1963) A Simple Field Test for the Assessment of Physical Fitness. Civil Aeromedical Research Institute Report, 63-18. Oklahoma City: Federal Aviation Agency.

Burke, E.J. (1976) Validity of Selected Laboratory and Field Tests of Physical Working Capacity. Research Quarterly. 47(1), pp.95‐104.

Burris, B. (1970) Reliability and Validity of the Twelve Minute Run Test for College Women. Paper presented at AAHPER Convention, Seattle, Washington.

Cooper, K.H. (1968) A Means of Assessing Maximal Oxygen Intake: Correlation Between Field and Treadmill Testing. Journal of the American Medical Association. 203(3), pp.201-204.

Getchell, L. H., Kirkendall, D., & Robbins, G. (1977). Prediction of Maximal Oxygen Uptake in Young Adult Women Joggers. Research Quarterly. 48(1), pp.61-67.

Daniels, J. & Gilbert, J.R. (1979) Oxygen Power: Performance Tables for Distance Runners. Unknown Binding.

Horwill, F. (1994) Obsession for Running. Lancashire: Colin Davies Printers/British Milers’ Club.

Katch, V.I. (1970) The Role of Maximal Oxygen Intake in Endurance Performance. Paper presented at the AAHPER Convention, Seattle, Washington.

Maksud, M. G., Cannistra, C. & Dublinski, D. (1976) Energy Expenditure and VO2max of Female Athletes during Treadmill Exercise. Research Quarterly, 47, pp.692-697.


6 thoughts on “The Cooper VO2 Max Test

    1. Hi Sarah,

      1. More Difficult: It would depend on what you mean by more difficult, it is a maximal test.
      2. More Functional: functionality would depend on the purpose you intend to use it for.

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