How fit are you?

Bleep and Balke Tests

Do you want to know how fit you are? Would you like a reasonably accurate prediction of what time you might do in a race? Would you like guidance on what paces you should be training at?

These two tests are ways of estimating your VO2 max.

What is VO2 Max?

This is a measure of your maximum oxygen consumption, which is in turn correlated to your maximum running performance. To measure your VO2 max directly you would need to do a test in a lab (eg on a treadmill) with gas analysis facilities. These two tests, when done properly, provide a way to estimate your VO2 max based on your maximum level of exertion.

From your VO2 max, you can estimate how you might perform in a race. More immediately useful, you can calculate how fast you should be running when you are training (eg what is your threshold pace? How fast should you be running your long slow run? what is your 3km pace for track sessions? ). We will hand out information about how your performance in these fitness tests translates into race performances or training speeds.

You can get much more bang for your buck from training if you use this information to calibrate your workouts, as this will help to ensure that your training sessions are really effective. (Contrary to the beliefs of some of the testosterone-laden lads, running as hard as you can all the time is NOT the best way of improving your fitness!)

If you already have an estimate of your VO2 max, you can get information about training paces from Owen Barder's website.

About the Bleep Test

For the bleep test, two lines are marked out twenty metres apart. You jog between them – slowly at first, and then speeding up each minute until you have to run quite hard to get from one to the other. You calibrate yourself against "bleeps" which are played at regular (and increasingly short) intervals. When you can no longer get from one line to the other within the bleeps, you drop out. (You are given three "lives" before you drop out.) Your VO2 Max is measured by the number of repetitions you were able to complete before you dropped out.

The bleep test is based on research by the University of Montreal [see Leger and Lambert (1982): A maximal 20m shuttle run test to predict VO2max. European Journal of Applied Physiology.]

The bleep test also involves turning sharply at each end. This places rotational stress on your knees. Please do not take part if you have any injury to your knees which is likely to be aggravated by this – stick to the Balke Test instead.

About the Balke Test

The Balke Test involves running for 15 minutes on a track. The objective is to get as far as you can in that time. Your VO2 Max is estimated from a formula based on the distance you have covered.

It is up to you how to use the 15 minutes. An effective way of covering the most ground seems to be to run quite hard for the first 5 minutes, very hard for the middle 5 minutes, and then eyeballs-out for the last 5.

Should I do them both?

Sure. Both tests are reasonably accurate, but they are only approximations; so if you do both you will get a better idea of your overall fitness.

Who can I ask for more information?

If you want to know more, please contact Owen Barder.