The multi-stage fitness test is a physical test that athletes sometimes take to gauge athletic improvement and measure maximum oxygen uptake, or the amount of oxygen the body is able to use during intense exercise. Maximum oxygen uptake, sometimes written as VO2 max, is a useful measure of aerobic fitness, and the multi-stage fitness test is a fairly simple way of obtaining an estimate. It is sometimes also called the bleep or beep test, the 20 meter shuttle run test, as well as several other names.
To perform the test, set up cones or other markers 20 meters apart so the athlete can do shuttle runs back and forth between them. Official multi-stage fitness test CDs can be used to keep exact timing during the test, which is a much simpler and more accurate way of timing the runs than by using a stopwatch or other timer. The CD will alert the athlete when it is time for another shuttle run, and when the level of the test is increasing, at which point the time between runs becomes shorter.
When the runner is no longer able to keep up with the CD's beeps, the level number and the number of shuttle runs of that level is recorded and compared to a multi-stage fitness test chart that will then give an estimate of the athlete's maximum oxygen uptake based on gender and age. The score is also typically sorted into categories such as “very good,” “average,” and “poor.” That result and the exact score should ideally be recorded and kept available for comparison against future scores so that any improvements or loss of progress can be noted.
While the multi-stage fitness test is considered an accurate and useful way of measuring maximum oxygen uptake, it is not always a practical choice. Individuals who have been injured or who are very out of shape are usually not able to complete the test safely, if at all. Exercising at maximum intensity, such as during the test, can cause injury to people who are not used to it. Also, the setup of the test, with its sprints and abrupt turns, has been criticized as not very effective for measuring the aerobic capacity of long distance runners, cyclists, and other athletes who may be in very good aerobic shape but unused to the short intervals, bursts of speed, and turning corners that the test requires.