The Harvard Step Test is a method used to assess cardio-respiratory fitness, which was developed by Brouha et al. (1943) in the Harvard Fatigue Laboratories during WWII.[1] It is based on heart rate recovery following a given work load of 5 minutes or until exhaustion. There are many variations of stepping tests.

Correlation of the Harvard Step Test to VO2max has been reported as between 0.6 to 0.8 in numerous studies.[1] Test reliability depends upon how strict the test is conducted and the subject's level of motivation to perform the test.[2]

Administering the Test

A subject is instructed to step up and down on a box or step measuring approximately 46 cm in height for 5 minutes or until exhaustion, with a rate of stepping is set at 30 steps per minute (every 2 seconds).[3] Exhaustion occurs when the subject cannot maintain the stepping rate for 15 seconds. Following the stepping session, the subject immediately sits down, and the total number of heart beats are counted between 1 to 1.5 minutes after finishing. This is the only measure required if using the short form of the test. If the long form of the test is being conducted, there are additional heart beat measures taken at between 2 to 2.5 minutes, and between 3 to 3.5 minutes.[3][1] Note: use the total number of heart beats in the 30 second period, not the heart rate (beats per minute) during that time.

Scoring the Test

There are two versions of the Harvard Step Test, the short form and the long form.

  • Short Form Equation - Fitness Index = (100 x test duration in seconds) divided by (5.5 x pulse count between 1 and 1.5 minutes).[1]
  • Long Form Equation - Fitness Index = (100 x test duration in seconds) divided by (2 x sum of heart beats in the recovery periods).[1]

Performance Table

Refer to the following table upon calculating the score.

rating fitness index (long form)
Harvard Step Test Ratings
Excellent >90
Good 80-89
High Average 65-79
Low Average 55-64
Poor <55

See Also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Top End Sports (n.d.). Harvard Step Test. Retrieved on 2008-10-15.
  2. Brian Mac (n.d.). Harvard Step Test. Retrieved on 2008-10-15.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Fitness Venues (n.d.). Harvard step test. Retrieved on 2008-10-15.

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