Easy test gives an accurate fitness score. Good for non-runners!
You need a 12” high sturdy step and your phone for the step test. If you’re not sure you have good enough balance to step up and down safely without holding a wall or using any external support, try another test instead, like the Rockport Walking Test or the Walking Speed Test (for seniors). Safety first!
If you want to test your cardio fitness accurately without running, the YMCA 3-minute step test is a well-designed, convenient, and less strenuous alternative. The YMCA tested 35,000 participants of all ages to set the standards for the step test so you can have confidence in your test results.
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The 3-Minute Step Test follows a simple step pattern, going up and down (as shown) on a 12-inch step at a fixed cadence (pace) of 96 beats per minute. To stay at the right pace during the test, do a metronome Google search and set your phone for 96 beats per minute. Start the metronome, then set the timer on your phone for 3 minutes. When you’re ready, start the timer. Step up and down on the step in time with the metronome until your 3-minute timer goes off.
96 steps per minute for three minutes gives us 288 steps up and down. If you follow the same step pattern throughout the 3-minute test, it will favor one side. It may feel uneven in your muscles toward the end of the test. You can balance this out by using a tap step. This step method, as shown on the right, allows you to switch the lead leg while keeping pace with the cadence of the step test.
3-Minute Step Test on YouTube!
This YouTube video from Why I Exercise shows you how to set up for the test and includes a follow along step test on a 3-minute timer, set to music! If you're ready to start the test go to the 1:48 mark.
If you need a 12" step first, scroll down or click here.
3-Minute Step Test Fitness Rating Charts
When your three minutes are up, sit down immediately to take your pulse for one minute. Your one-minute heart rate is your score. This chart shows the standards for women by age group. Find your age group in the left column, and your fitness rating in the top row.
According to the YMCA data, an above-average score for women, depending on your age group, is a one-minute heart rate of 95-111. For men, an above-average score is a heart rate between 88-102. The more fit you are, the lower your heart rate and the better your score will be.
Strengths and limitations of the test
The three-minute step test is an easy, quick, effective screen of your cardio fitness. Stepping up and down on a 12-inch step for three minutes is much less strenuous than running, and the score quality compares well with other fitness tests. With its proven reliability in the literature, the test is worth using again to follow-up. Check your score after 2-3 months of training and see how much you’ve improved your fitness.
The weakness of this test is that it doesn’t estimate your VO2 max. Two small studies were able to create VO2 max equations for young adults with near-average fitness levels, but at this point, there are no further data for the 3-minute step test outside of this narrow demographic. If you want to estimate your VO2 max without running, your next best option is the Rockport Walking Test, a one-mile timed brisk walk. If you can run, the Cooper Test is a highly reliable option.
If you need a 12-inch step and like the model in this article, Why I Exercise is an Amazon Affiliate and receives commission.
This 3-Minute Step Test article is part of a masterclass series called Fit For Your Life, where we give you tools to get the health benefits you need from the lifestyle you enjoy! Below are more articles from the masterclass.
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1) YMCA Fitness Testing and Assessment Manual, YMCA of the USA, Edition 4, 2000
2) Castro-Piñero J, Marin-Jimenez N, Fernandez-Santos JR, Martin-Acosta F, Segura-Jimenez V, Izquierdo-Gomez R, Ruiz JR, Cuenca-Garcia M. Criterion-Related Validity of Field-Based Fitness Tests in Adults: A Systematic Review. J Clin Med. 2021 Aug 23;10(16):3743. doi: 10.3390/jcm10163743. PMID: 34442050; PMCID: PMC8397016.
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4) Bohannon RW, Bubela DJ, Wang YC, Magasi SS, Gershon RC. Six-Minute Walk Test Vs. Three-Minute Step Test for Measuring Functional Endurance. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Nov;29(11):3240-4. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000253. PMID: 24077375; PMCID: PMC4004706.