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Articles Fitness Nutrition

Testing Fitness Endurance with the Balke Step Test

Fitness endurance is an important part of any training regimen. Trainers, athletes, and many people within the fitness realm use tests in order to estimate endurance, including cardiovascular, or VO2max. There are many tests and protocols to choose from, but testing fitness endurance with the Balke step test is a great, low-impact test that calls for little time and equipment. 

How It's Done

To administer the test, you will need a tester, subject, timer, treadmill and the appropriate training clothing/shoes. Set the treadmill speed at 3.4 mph with a 0% grade. Continue at this grade and speed for one minute. At the start of the second minute, increase the grade to 2%, maintaining the speed. At the beginning of the third minute, increase the grade an additional 1% and continue to increase it 1% for every minute thereafter until the grade becomes too strenuous or the subject can no longer perform. Record the final time, which is the last full minute the subject was able to perform.

The time, speed, and grade increase for the Balke Treadmill Protocol can vary, depending on the individual. The standard test is set for trained athletes, so it might be too strenuous for the average person. Grade, speed and time can be adjusted accordingly to suit the needs of the subject. 

Using the Results

After the test is admitted, use the Balke Protocol equations specific for men and women. Insert the recorded time into one of the following equations:

  • Active or sedentary man: VO2max= 1.444(time) + 14.99
  • Active or sedentary woman: VO2max= 1.38(time) + 5.22

Alternatively, you can use the nomogram developed for the protocol to calculate the VO2max. To use the nomogram, find the time corresponding with the last complete minute of exercise performance, and draw a horizontal line to the oxygen uptake column. Be sure to use the appropriate column for a man or woman.

When to Use the Balke Protocol

The Balke Protocol is most often used because of ease and convenience, and it conforms to the general guidelines for maximal exercise testing. This protocol should only be used for relatively healthy test-subjects and should not be used for the elderly or high risk cardiac subjects.

Doing the Balke test on yourself can sometimes be a little dangerous, so it's a good idea to have someone help you. As with all exercise testing, make sure you (or the subject) are well-hydrated and healthy enough to participate. Be certain to wear appropriate clothing and footwear to reduce the risk of injury.

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