Cooper test | How does it work? What is it for? All Unveiled

Cooper test | How does it work? What is it for? All Unveiled

By healthiergang writer , swimming instructor and student in Sports Sciences.

Cooper test

Approaching aerobic or circuit training fitness activity in the gym, or any sporting activity at an initial level, it is good to be aware of how our cardiovascular system works and how it relates to physical exercise and energy systems.

The Cooper Test is suitable for beginners and those approaching physical activity in the gym to lose weight and tone up.

Compared to other measurement methods, such as Karvonen, the reference heart rate will be lower than Cooper's, thus placing us in a safe condition: an untrained subject who approaches physical activity will not risk raising his HR too much. avoiding discomfort or discomfort. As soon as our athlete is a little more trained, he will be able to calculate his work frequency with other more complex and complete methods.

Some basic data

Cardiac activity can be monitored with various parameters, for sporting purposes the main ones are:

  • HEART RATE (HR): number of cardiac cycles (systole-diastole) in the unit of time. In rest condition it corresponds on average to 70/75 bpm (beats per minute).
  • SYSTOLIC RANGE (GS): amount of blood ejected into the ventricles during systole (approximately 70ml / beat)
  • HEART RATE (GC): amount of blood ejected into the ventricles in one minute (approximately 5 l / min).

The total blood volume in a human being is around 5l: every minute the entire blood content of our body is moved, in conditions of rest. These parameters change as a result of various physiological conditions, such as digestion, sleep, emotional changes or changes in external temperature.

During physical exercise we see important variations: the systolic output doubles, the heart rate can triple and the cardiac output can consequently reach 30-35 l / min. This represents a form of adaptation of our body, which becomes highly advantageous by intervening on the systolic output in the first place, and not on the heart rate.

This explains why, in highly trained subjects, the increased demands are satisfied by the increase in systolic output and not by the HR (trained athletes tend to have a low HR over time both at rest and during aerobic training).

Calculation example

From here we can move on to examine cardiovascular function as a whole, using numerical examples to understand the ability to transport O2 in the blood:

Resting heart rate: 5 l / m (5000 ml)

Carrying capacity of 100ml arterial blood: 20ml O2

5000ml/min x 20ml O2 / 100 ml blood = 1000 ml di O2/min

In the resting condition 1000ml of O2 / min is transported to the tissues with the arterial blood. In the case of a subject who practices physical activity these values ​​change drastically: the volume of oxygen transported reaches 3200 ml / min.

VO2MAX Maximum oxygen consumption

When muscle activity increases, oxygen consumption (VO2) also increases. To be able to evaluate it we need to consider some parameters:

  •  Increased cardiac output
  •  Increased absorption of O2 in the tissues

This allows us to know the maximum volume of oxygen consumed per minute (VO2Max). The exact definition of VO2Max was formulated in 1987: “Maximum oxygen consumption is a global and integrated measure of the maximum exercise intensity that a subject can tolerate for quite long periods of time” Cerretelli and Prampero.

It therefore represents the maximum aerobic power that a subject is able to deliver, and exploit it to the maximum, for a certain time (about 10 minutes) or use it to sustain a sub-maximal effort over time. Training VO2Max means improving in both cases. Increments of 10 to 25% can be achieved.

VO2Max is expressed in 2 ways:

  1. Liters of O2 / min (mass and size of the person are also needed)
  2. ml at O2 / kg / min

It is detected either directly through the use of outpatient machinery with specialized personnel or through modern analysis and diagnosis systems in the sports field, or indirectly through some formulas that also require knowledge of heart rate. This last system is applied by the cardio-fitness machines that we find in our gyms.

Physical activity planning through Cooper's test

Being aware of the notions above is essential to be able to proceed with the planning of physical activity in the gym.

Aerobic exercise (cardiofitness) is supported by aerobic metabolism which burns a mixture of lipids

(fats) and carbohydrates (sugars) in a variable manner depending on the type of stress. In low-moderate effort exercises, lipids are mainly used, while sugars are recruited when the activity becomes more intense. Eg :

  1. walking 20-25% VO2Max (prevalent consumption of lipids)
  2. run at 50% VO2Max (provides a consumption of lipids and carbohydrates together with 50%)

Following various studies and researches, it was concluded that the maximum lipid consumption is obtained with a VO2Max equal to 60-65%. Despite the various publications and studies, there are conflicting opinions both on the minimum training threshold (for example, the American College of Sports Medicine places it at 50%), and on the correlation between FCMax and VO2Max.

Working heart rate

To evaluate the working heart rate (HRMax) you need to know the maximum oxygen consumption which, as we said before, can only be detected with specific machinery not available to the general public of gyms or fitness. So how can you calculate the FCMax?

They have been developed in the methods that are based on mathematical calculations starting from some simple data that is easy to find for everyone. The most famous and simplest of these methods is the COOPER TEST. This method is able to let us know what type of training we are doing, and consequently what energy substrate our body is consuming at that moment. It proceeds as follows:

1st step: HRMax calculation = 220 - age.

E.g. 35-year-old man = FCMax = 220 - 35 = 185 FCMax (maximum work threshold)

2nd step: Training heart rate: FCAll

FCAll = FCMax x% desired

Eg Suppose our 35 year old friend wants to train at 70% of his FcMax, at how many bpm will he know he has reached his goal?

FCAll = 185 x 0,7 = 130 bpm

So we know that our 130 bpm friend is mainly burning fat as an energy resource.


The Cooper test is a very simple empirical method to use: just do 2 calculations and write down all the results on a table that we can keep and consult. When we go to train we will be able to check our heart rate through a heart rate monitor or with the cardio fitness machines in the gym equipped with bpm verification.

Based on calculations, the Cooper test predicts a deviation of approximately ± 10 bpm. Obviously the physical conditions of each individual can be various and not measurable through this formula which is purely indicative.

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you are concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or making major changes to your diet.

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