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Heart Rate and Fitness Testing

Heart rate is a very important measurement in many fitness tests and in exercise science research. In some tests heart rate is a critical component of the test, and other times it is optional and provides additional information helpful in the interpretation of results.

Heart Rate Measurement Method During Testing

You can simply measure heart rate using the manual palpation method, e.g. taking your pulse. The advantages of this method is that you can do it yourself, but it is not easily done during exercise and is generally less accurate than other methods. The Heart Rate Monitor is the most common device for measuring heart rate during fitness testing, as it is accurate, simple to use and relatively cheap. Another method is to use ECG / EEG Devices, which are more expensive, more difficult to set up and not suitable for all forms of exercise (units are not usually portable). However, the ECG is generally more accurate and can provide additional information that may be required. Whatever the method used, they all provide challenges with the movement of exercise. See more on Heart Rate Measurement.

Measuring Max Heart Rate

If a test requires a maximum heart rate level, this often occurs at the peak of exercise, or in the few seconds afterwards. ECG devices measure heart rate beat by beat, so max heart rate can be read off the ecg trace at that point. The heart rate monitors usually average over at least a few seconds, with the record and review function on heart rate monitors useful for recalling the maximum heart rate value after exercise. Manually taking your pulse would not be appropriate for measuring max heart rate as you need to take a reading over at least 10 seconds, and during this time the heart rate can change rapidly.

See more on Max heart Rate and Heart Rate Monitor Features.

heart rate measurement heart rate measurement

Test Examples

Maximal Aerobic Fitness Tests

Many aerobic fitness tests require the measurement of heart rate during at test or during recovery. In maximal aerobic exercise tests such as beep test and VO2max test, a heart rate monitor can be used to help determine if the athlete has actually reached their max. The maximum heart rate can be compared to the predicted max heart rate or a max heart rate measurement from previous testing. In the VO2max test, the athlete is considered to have reached their true VO2max if several of the following occurred: a plateau or 'peaking over' in oxygen uptake, maximal heart rate was reached, attainment of a respiratory exchange ratio of 1.15 or greater, and volitional exhaustion.

Another maximal exercise test, The Conconi Test, is a simplified Lactate Threshold test, in which heart rate measurements are taken rather than blood lactate, and the analysis is done by observing a deflection point on the heart rate / workload graph.

Heart Rate MeasurementSubmaximal Aerobic Fitness Tests

Heart rate measurements are also used in many sub-maximal aerobic fitness tests, such as these step tests:

and these cycle tests:

and more tests:

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Testing Extra

We have over 400 fitness tests listed, so it's not easy to choose the best one to use. You should consider the validity, reliability, costs and ease of use for each test. Use our testing guide to conducting, recording, and interpreting fitness tests. Any questions, please ask or search for your answer. To keep up with the latest in sport science and this website, subscribe to our newsletter. We are also on facebook and twitter.

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