Harvard Step Test

Original Editor - Sonal Joshi Top Contributors - Sonal Joshi, Lucinda hampton and Kim Jackson  

Introduction[edit | edit source]

The Harvard Step Test was developed by physiologist Lucien Brouha and his associates[1]. The birthplace of the test was Harvard Fatigue Lab (HFL) in 1942[2].

This protocol is meant to test the fitness of the cardiovascular system. Thus it reflects the general capacity of body to cope with increased physical work load and ability to recover from it[1].It is now used as a submaximal aerobic fitness test[3]. The test has became a popular due to its easy reproducibility and use of inexpensive equipment.

Intended Population[edit | edit source]

It was developed to be originally used by military personnel for fitness testing, but later used by civilian individuals also[4]. The step test can be performed in children[5], adolescents[6], adults[7]and athletes[8].

Test Procedure[edit | edit source]

The overall test procedure[9] can be divided as,

Equipment[edit | edit source]

1. Stopwatch
2. Metronome
3. Step with height
  • Male : 20 Inches /50.8 cm
  • Female : 16 Inches / 40 cm

Pre-test[edit | edit source]

  • Explaining the test procedure & signing consent form
  • Recording anthropometric data
  • Individual should be resting/sitting down for 3-5 min
  • Resting Heart Rate is measured

Test Protocol[edit | edit source]

  • The process starts with stepping on & off a stepper.
  • The rhythm of stepping is pre-decided as 30 cycles per minute.
  • Track of this can be maintained by asking to individual to step along beats of a metronome. The metronome is set at 120 bets per minute.
  • The stepping continues till the subject tires out or completes 300s or 5 min duration. The subject then sits down for measurement of post test evaluation.

Post-test[edit | edit source]

The recovery pulse is then recorded in bpm between 1-1.5 min, 2-2.5min & 3-3.5min post test.

Fitness Index Scoring[edit | edit source]

There are two formulae used for calculating the Physical Fitness Index (PFI) depending on the post test parameters measured

  • Physical Fitness Index (short form) = (100 x test duration in seconds) divided by (5.5 x pulse count between 1 and 1.5 minutes)
  • Physical Fitness Index (long form) = (100 x test duration in seconds) divided by (2 x sum of heart beats in the recovery periods)

The final value / Fitness Index Score can be graded according to the Harvard Step Test Index[11] give below(PFI: long form)

Rating Fitness Index
> 96 Excellent
83-96 Good
68-82 Average
54-67 Low Average
< 54 Poor

Resources[edit | edit source]

This video gives a summary of the Harvard Step Test protocol:


Validity & Reliability[edit | edit source]

  • Valid to predict VO2 max & showed reliability on test-retest in study done on college students[3].
  • Reliability is acceptable at ICC = 0.6 in a study done in adolescents[10].

Modified Harvard Step Test[edit | edit source]

  • Modified Harvard Step Test[6] is a modification of the original Harvard step test, to make it easier to implement in all age groups.
  • The height of the step/platform in equipment has been changed to 30 cm, rest of the protocol remains the same.

Reference[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Brouha L. The step test: A simple method of measuring physical fitness for muscular work in young men. Research Quarterly. American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation. 1943 Mar 1;14(1):31-7.
  2. Vangrunderbeek H, Delheye P. Stepping from Belgium to the United States and Back: the conceptualization and impact of the Harvard Step Test, 1942–2012. Research quarterly for exercise and sport. 2013 Jun 1;84(2):186-97.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Soliman Ismail W. Evaluating the validity and reliability of Harvard step test to predict VO2max in terms of the step height according to the knee joint angle. Journal of Applied Sports Science. 2011 Jul 1;1(2):126-32.
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucien_Brouha
  5. Sandstedt E, Fasth A, Eek MN, Beckung E. Muscle strength, physical fitness and well-being in children and adolescents with juvenile idiopathic arthritis and the effect of an exercise programme: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatric Rheumatology. 2013 Dec;11(1):1-1.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Toumpakari Z, Jago R, Howe LD, Majid HA, Papadaki A, Mohammadi S, Jalaludin MY, Dahlui M, Nahar Azmi Mohamed M, Su TT, Johnson L. Cardiometabolic risk factors and physical activity patterns maximizing fitness and minimizing fatness variation in Malaysian adolescents: a novel application of reduced rank regression. International journal of environmental research and public health. 2019 Jan;16(23):4662.
  7. Marshall AR, Rimmer JE, Shah N, Bye K, Kipps C, Woods DR, O’Hara J, Boos CJ, Barlow M. Marching to the Beet: The effect of dietary nitrate supplementation on high altitude exercise performance and adaptation during a military trekking expedition. Nitric Oxide. 2021 May 27.
  8. Quinto G, Neunhaeuserer D, Gasperetti A, Battista F, Foccardi G, Baioccato V, Gobbo S, Bergamin M, Ermolao A. Can exercise test intensity and modality affect the prevalence of arrhythmic events in young athletes?. Research in Sports Medicine. 2021 Jun 5:1-9.
  9. Wood, Robert (2008). "Harvard Step Test". Topend Sports Website. Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Domaradzki J, Cichy I, Rokita A, Popowczak M. Effects of tabata training during physical education classes on body composition, aerobic capacity, and anaerobic performance of under-, normal-and overweight adolescents. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020 Jan;17(3):876
  11. 11.0 11.1 Fox EL, Billings CE, Bartels RL, Bason R, Mathews D. Fitness standards for male college students. Internationale Zeitschrift für angewandte Physiologie einschließlich Arbeitsphysiologie. 1973 Sep;31(3):231-6.
  12. Stacie. Harvard Step Test. Available from: https://youtu.be/mekPTS_LVv4 [last accessed 28/11/2021]