What Is the Cooper Test?

Mike Howells

The Cooper test is a physical fitness metric that gauges cardiovascular fitness through running or walking. It was developed in the late 1960s as a means of measuring the fitness of United States military personnel. In the Cooper test, an individual must cover as much distance as he can in twelve minutes. The results are then compared against a standard and ranked accordingly.

The Cooper test gauges cardiovascular fitness through running or walking.
The Cooper test gauges cardiovascular fitness through running or walking.

Kenneth Cooper, a doctor and Air Force flight surgeon, is considered one of the fathers of physical fitness. In 1968, he published a book entitled Aerobics, which first purported the health benefits of cardiovascular fitness and outlined specific exercises as a means to strengthen the heart and lungs. It was during this time in the Air Force that he developed his eponymous test, designed to assess the level of fitness among large groups of people.

A pedometer can be used in a Cooper test.
A pedometer can be used in a Cooper test.

The value of the Cooper test derives from the correlation between the distance an individual can run in 12 minutes and VO2 max, which is essentially the measure of how efficiently the body uses oxygen during exercise. The farther a person can go in the 12 minutes, therefore, the more efficient his lungs and heart are at circulating oxygen throughout the body. In military and police forces around the world, the Cooper test is used as a baseline for recruits and as a way to measure improvement through training.

Given its simplicity, anyone can take the Cooper test. With a stop watch and a way to measure distance, such as a pedometer, treadmill, or a distance-marked track, a person can go as far as they can in twelve minutes and record the results. An Internet search will yield a comparison table to compare performance with standard results for individuals of the same gender and age. The data can also be used to determine one's VO2 max value, and these formulas are also available online.

Normal results for the Cooper test vary based on both gender and age. Results are categorized as "very good," "good," "average," "bad," and "very bad." For men, the highest average level of fitness occurs in the 17-20 age category, while for women it falls in the 20-29 category. For a 17-20 year old male, average fitness based on the Cooper test is judged to be 8,200 to 8,860 feet (2500 - 2700 m) in 12 minutes. For women aged 20-29, average is 5,900-7,200 feet (1800 - 2200 m).

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