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Full Beep Test Guide - What is it and Who Needs it?

September 22, 2021 9 min read

Full Beep Test Guide - What is it and Who Needs it?

The beep test is a popular fitness assessment tool in most disciplines and organizations around the world. This test is formally referred to as the Multi-Stage Fitness Test (aka MSFT). But it also goes by several other names, including bleep test, pacer beep test, 20-meter shuttle run, and shuttle run test.

This test is famous among several institutions such as the US Army, US Navy, US police force, and fire brigade. It’s also common in most high schools, colleges, and university sports that require a high level of cardiovascular endurance, such as football, soccer, handball, rugby, hockey, basketball, and netball, among others.

Wherever the beep test is a prerequisite, you’ll need to portray a high anaerobic threshold to stand a better chance of being considered. However, even if you’re not trying to qualify for any spot, this running beep test offers a great way to check your fitness level by estimating your maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max).

Most coaches, trainers, and professional athletes also use this as a change-over-time measure to help track cardio fitness improvement.

What is a Beep Test?

The Beep Test is a multi-stage fitness test that involves repeating a series of shuttle runs between two points 20 meters away from each other. A beep initiates each run from a device playing a pre-recorded sequence.

The primary idea of this test is to ensure that your runs are synced with the beep for as long as possible. As you move across the levels, the interval between the beeps keeps reducing by a few seconds making the test progressively harder. This forces you to run faster and faster until you’re unable to continue.

What Does the Beep Test Measure?

Initially developed by Luc Leger of the University of Montreal in 1983, the shuttle run fitness test determines an individual’s anaerobic threshold by calculating their aerobic capacity (VO2 max). You’re probably asking, what is an anaerobic threshold and VO2 max?

Anaerobic Threshold (AT)

The Anaerobic Threshold is the point during intense exercises where the athlete’s body can no longer rely on aerobic metabolism to meet the increasing energy demands. Consequently, the body has to switch to anaerobic metabolism.

In itself, aerobic metabolism (also called oxidative respiration) is the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in the presence of oxygen to produce energy, water, and carbon (iv) oxide as by-products.

The body exclusively uses aerobic metabolism to fuel most of our daily activities. However, aerobic respiration alone is not fast enough to keep up with the high energy demand during intense activities. For that reason, the body has to switch to anaerobic metabolism. During anaerobic metabolism, the body taps its sugar reserves in the muscles and breaks down glycogen without oxygen.

While it’s a faster way of supplying additional energy, anaerobic metabolism produces lactic acid at a much higher rate than the body can remove it through the blood. This leads to the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles, which causes muscle stiffness and pain, eventually leading to fatigue. The point at which the body has to switch from aerobic respiration to anaerobic metabolism is the anaerobic threshold (AT).

It’s difficult for most people to withstand the muscle cramps, pain, and fatigue that anaerobic metabolism causes. As you can imagine, fitter athletes who can dominantly rely on aerobic respiration to meet their energy demands while staying below the anaerobic threshold can maintain intense performance over more extended periods. This is where the importance of a higher aerobic capacity (VO2 max) score comes in.

VO2 Max Explained

VO2 is also called peak oxygen uptake, maximal aerobic capacity, or maximal oxygen uptake. It measures the maximum amount of oxygen that an athlete’s body utilizes at the peak of an intense exercise. It’s measured in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute (mL/kg/min). Generally, this value tells a story of how the lungs, heart, blood vessels, and muscles are working together.

Although other factors are at play, a higher VO2 max is considered an excellent indicator of an individual’s fitness level and overall body health. Considering the importance of oxygen in aerobic performance, it’s easy to understand why athletes with a higher VO2 max often perform better in endurance activities, such as cycling and running, and other types of sports that leave you out of breath, for instance, handball and soccer.

It’s crucial to note that a higher VO2 max is not always a guarantee of faster performance. This is because while a higher maximal oxygen uptake is essential, what matters most is your running economy, that is, your effectiveness in using the amount of oxygen that you take in.

That’s to say that an athlete with a comparably lower VO2 max but a higher running economy still has a chance of beating another one with a higher VO2 max but a poor running economy. That’s why elite athletes are keen on how to improve VO2 max as well as their running economy.

A higher running economy improves an athlete’s performance by;

  • Improving their muscles’ ability to take oxygen from the blood and utilize it effectively enabling them to generate more power at a lower energy cost
  • Increased activation of additional muscle fibers

Measuring Your VO2 Max

A Lab test is the most accurate method of measuring VO2 max. In this method, the subject exercises on a treadmill or stationary bike gradually until exhaustion. A highly skilled technician measures the concentration of oxygen and carbon (iv) oxide inhaled and exhaled during the exercise.

Since this test can accurately measure the amount of oxygen used by the muscles, it’s regarded as the gold standard for evaluating cardiorespiratory fitness.

On the downside, VO2 max lab tests can be expensive and therefore out of reach for most individuals. However, there are other more straightforward and reliable options available, including the beep VO2 max test.

Because the pacer beep test does not require complicated clinical equipment to measure your shuttle run score, it makes measuring VO2 max levels less of a hassle for everyone. All you need to do is take the beep fitness test, apply an equation, and voila.

At this point, we’ve covered what the anaerobic threshold test is and what it measures. Let’s dig deeper and see how it’s done and the 20-meter beep test rules that you should know. We’ve also included beep test tips to help you ace the test.

How to Do the Beep Test

What You Need

  • Location- you’ll need a facility with a minimum length of 25 meters. The environment should be flat and non-slip to allow adequate acceleration and deceleration.
  • Measuring tape - to measure the length (≥20m)
  • Marking cones- (at least 4). Use two cones for the 0m marker and use the tape to measure a length of 20m. Place the other two cones at the 20m mark.
  • Beep test audio - available on Amazon at a small fee. You can also stream it on YouTube (free). Note that YouTube has different variations of this test. For precision, ensure that the audio mirrors the table below, i.e., level 1 should have seven shuttles with a cumulative time of 1:03 (minute and seconds).
  • CD or MP3 player - The device should be loud enough to be heard by all participants.
  • Comfortable shoes - with enough grip
  • An officiator with a notepad - to keep track of the number of shuttles you complete.

Beep Test Instructions

1) All runners stand in a line at the starting point facing the 20-meter marker. Everyone waits for the start signal from the test audio.

2) On ‘START,’ the participants start running towards the 20m mark. The runners must arrive at the 20m mark at or before the next beep. That’s the first shuttle in level 1.

3) At or after the same beep, the runners commence running back towards the 0m mark. That’s the second shuttle in level 1.

4) This continues for a total of 7 shuttles in level 1, and then level 2 commences, followed by level 3 through to level 21.

Official Beep Test Rules

  • This running-based anaerobic speed test has 21 levels, each having several shuttles within it.
  • The standard test requires the participants to run at 8 km/h in level 1 and 9 km/h in level 2.
  • From level 3 onwards, the pace increases by 0.5 km/h. However, the speed remains constant within each level, only increasing at the start of a new level.
  • To complete a shuttle, the participants need to reach the opposite mark at or before the following beep.
  • You can only take off at or after the bleep for that particular shuttle but not before. It’s okay to stop at the opposite line and wait for the next audio signal. Only ensure that you stand on or slightly behind the line.
  • If you miss a beep, run faster to touch the opposite marker, turn around, and try your best to catch up with the pace within the next 2 beeps.
  • The test ends after two consecutive failures. However, your score is taken at the last shuttle that you completed before being unable to keep up with the beeps.

The shuttle run score is written in a level: shuttle protocol. For instance, a 14.3 score means that you ran three shuttles at level 14.

How Long is the Beep Test?

The total beep test distance is roughly 5 kilometers. This distance is covered in 22 minutes and 3 seconds spread across 21 levels. Most people don’t go past level 13.

Only a handful of elite male athletes have managed to hit the level 17mark on the beep test. Some notable names here include Jose Michael Romero (former Western Bulldogs player), Sebastian Core (UK middle distance player), and Lee Gong Dook (premier league player).

The best beep test score among women is 15 by Suzie Muirhead and Diana Weavers- both from the New Zealand Field Hockey team.

Overall, the average beep test score is 7-9 for men and 6-8 for women. Any score above 13 (men) and 12 (women) is considered excellent. This is what everyone is aiming for.

20 Meter Beep Test Levels Summary

Level

Shuttles

Speed per level

Time per shuttle

Total time per level

Distance per level

Cumulative distance

Cumulative

Time

1

7

8.0

9.00

63.00

140

140

1:03

2

8

9.0

8.00

64.00

160

300

2:07

3

8

9.5

7.58

60.63

160

460

3:08

4

9

10.0

7.20

64.80

180

640

4:12

5

9

10.5

6.86

61.71

180

820

5:14

6

10

11.0

6.55

65.50

200

1020

6:20

7

10

11.5

6.26

62.61

200

1220

7:22

8

11

12.0

6.00

66.00

220

1440

8:28

9

11

12.5

5.76

63.36

220

1660

9:31

10

11

13.0

5.54

60.92

220

1880

10:32

11

12

13.5

5.33

64.00

240

2120

11:36

12

12

14.0

5.14

61.71

240

2360

12:38

13

13

14.5

4.97

64.55

260

2620

13:43

14

13

15.0

4.80

62.40

260

2880

14:45

15

13

15.5

4.65

60.39

260

3140

15:46

16

14

16.0

4.50

63.00

280

3420

16:49

17

14

16.5

4.36

61.09

280

3700

17:50

18

15

17.0

4.24

63.53

300

4000

18:54

19

15

17.5

4.11

61.71

300

4300

19:56

20

16

18.0

4.00

64.00

320

4620

21:00

21

16

18.5

3.89

62.27

320

4940

22:03


How to Calculate VO2 Max with the Beep Test

The formula for predicting your V02 max using the beep test is;

V02 max = 3.46 (level + No. of Shuttles level x 0.4325 + 7.0048) + 12.2

Level in this formula refers to the last level that the athlete managed before withdrawing. The number of shuttles refers to the number of shuttles that the athlete managed at that particular level. For instance, assuming that an athlete managed a shuttle run score of 14.3, you’d calculate the V02 max as follows;

3.46 (14+ 314 x 0.4325 + 7.0048) + 12.2 = 54.94

If this feels too daunting, Blazepod offers you an effective way of tracking your athletes’ fitness level by automating the entire process. Get faster results on their aerobic performance according to their age and gender, plus estimate their maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max) based on their overall performance. Focus on other essential bits that may help improve your team’s fitness and let Blazepod check whether your players are keeping pace with the bleep.

Beep Test Pro Tips

The beep test is simple and way more fun during the first few levels. But the shuttles soon start getting grueling as they ramp up. Luckily, there are many things that you can add to your training and actual beep test to improve your score.

Here are eight tips on how to pass the beep test;

  1. Start training early. If you’re keen on passing the next beep test, you need to start preparing for it several weeks before. If possible, we suggest starting as early as six weeks prior.
  2. Focus on exercises that improve your fitness level. The beep test aims to measure an individual’s cardiovascular fitness level and peak oxygen uptake (VO2 max). As such, it’s blindingly obvious that you’ll want to concentrate on exercises that boost your fitness quickly.
  3. If you’ve not been exercising recently, it’s advisable to seek medical advice before starting.
  4. Toughen yourself up. Mental fitness is as necessary as being physically fit. Take a self-administered beep test (or even 2) before the actual one aiming to push your body to go further even when it feels impossible.
  5. Be prepared for the test by having enough rest and sleep the day before. On the test day, have a light meal 1-2 hours ahead of the test. Remember to keep your fluid levels up.
  6. Warm-up before the test. This helps a lot in increasing blood and oxygen flow to your muscles. It also helps in reducing muscle soreness and increases flexibility, which lowers the risk of injury.
  7. Make short and efficient turns. The extra step beyond the line does not count. It only saps your energy, thereby adding to your fatigue; as you approach the turn, time it so that you touch the line with one foot only.
  8. Concentrate on breathing and success. You’ll start feeling like giving up as soon as fatigue starts setting in. When this happens, focus on taking deep and relaxed breaths instead of the pain.