[Beep] Multistage Fitness Test – Your Guide & Data Norms

In this article, we’re going to cover what the [Beep] Multistage Fitness Test is, how to perform the test and provide normative data for athletes competing in various sports and at various levels.

What is the beep / multistage fitness test?

The Multistage Fitness Test, also known as the Beep Test, Bleep Test or 20-Meter Shuttle Run Test, was developed in 1983 by Luc Leger at the University of Montreal.

In the test, athletes continuously run back and forth between two points that are 20m apart. Each running interval is synchronised with a pre-set audio tone, which plays a beep at regular intervals – which is where the ‘beep’ test gets its name from.

As the test progresses, these intervals gradually shorten, requiring athletes to increase their running speed. Eventually, they will reach a point where it becomes impossible for them to keep pace with the beeps, signalling the end of the test.

There are 11 variations of this test, but the most commonly used test is the EuroFit variation, which is structured into 21 levels, with each level lasting approximately 62 seconds. It starts at level 1, where athletes run at 8.0 kilometres per hour and progresses to level 2, at 9.0 kilometres per hour. For each level thereafter, the speed increases by 0.5k kilometres per hour, with three quick beeps indicating the change in speed. The athlete’s score is determined based on the highest level they reached before they can no longer keep up with the beep. 

Clemson University Women’s Soccer Team Performing the Beep Test

What does the beep test measure?

The beep test is used to estimate an athlete’s VO2 max, or maximum aerobic capacity, which can be used as a measure of how aerobically fit they are. The greater your VO2 max, the more your body (heart, lungs and muscles) can use oxygen during exercise. However, recent research has reported that the Beep Test is not a valid predictor of VO2 max.

For most people undertaking the bleep test, achieving the highest possible beep score is their primary focus rather than the estimate of their VO2 max. This preference stems from the fact that the beep test is widely used as pre-season testing in sports teams and serves as a standard benchmark for various organisations, including the police and the army, where they state a certain level as their entry or fitness requirements.

How to carry out the beep / multistage fitness test?

To perform the beep / multistage fitness test, you will need:

  • 20-metre measuring tape
  • Cones to mark each end
  • A testing area with a flat, non-slip surface with no obstructions
  • Two or more testing administrators
  • Beep Audio recording – purchase on Amazon for £3.49 or download on Android for free
  • Recording Sheet
  • Athletes have trainers with good grip

Set up for the beep / multistage fitness test:

The figure below demonstrates the setup for the Beep / Multistage fitness test

Set up for the [Beep] Multistage Fitness Test

  • Measure out a 20m test course and place two channels of cones in a straight line 20 meters apart (indicated by the orange circles in the figure above).
  • Set up the audio tape on the speaker – the audio tape will dictate the test, and the ‘beeps will indicate the start and end of each shuttle. 
  • One test administrator should stand in line with the start/finish line and the other test should stand in line with the turn line.

Instructions for the beep test

  • Ensure the athletes complete a standardised warm-up that prepares them for the test they are about to undertake.
  • The athletes will then line up on the start line, ensuring there is approximately a meter in between them and the athletes next to them.
  • The audiotape will provide instructions to the athletes and indicate when to start. Once instructed on the first ‘beep’ to start, the athletes must complete the 20m shuttle run – they must run to the 20m turning line before a second ‘beep’ and then turn with one foot on or over the line and run 20m back to the start line within the allocated time, as indicated by another ‘beep.’ They must continue this same pattern continuously until they reach exhaustion.
  • At regular intervals (approximately every 63 seconds), three beeps will sound and that will indicate the time to complete each shuttle will reduce, so the athlete will need to increase their running speed to ensure they make each shuttle within the allocated time.
  • The test administrators can keep a visual record of which level the test is currently at by marking off each level on the recording sheet as it’s reached.
  • The test stops when either the athlete has reached exhaustion and stops, or they are given two warnings from the test administrators. The test administrators can mark the initials of the athlete on the recording sheet if/when they receive a warning to help them keep track. Warnings are given to athletes if:
  • They don’t reach the turn lines on or before the audio signal.
    • They run short of the turning line.
    • They start to run before the audio signal multiple times.
  • Once the athlete has stopped the test, their initials can be written into the appropriate box on the recording sheet by the test administrator to indicate which level they achieved. 

Here is the test in action:

Beep test in action

How to score the beep test?

The results of the beep test can be analysed in a number of ways. These include:

  • The level achieved This is the most common and the standard way to score the Beep Test. This is calculated by the level reached and the number of shuttles within that level. For example, if an athlete reached level 7 and successfully completed two 20-meter shuttle runs at that level, their score would be noted as 7.2.
  • The total distance covered – To calculate the total distance covered, multiply the total number of successful shuttles completed by 20 meters. For example, if an athlete achieves a level of 7.2, they will have completed 64 shuttles, so their total distance covered would be 1,280 meters (64 x 20 = 1,280 meters).  
  • Convert your results into an estimated VO2 max value – To convert your results into an estimated VO2 max, you can use the table below, which is based on the formula by Flouris and colleagues below. However, take caution as there has been debate about its capability to provide a valid estimate of VO2 max.

VO2 max = (peak running speed * 6.65 – 35.8) * 0.95 + 0.182

We can also use the table below, which shows the total distance covered and an estimated VO2 max for each level of the Bleep Test, to analyze your results:

Total distance covered and estimated VO2 max for each level of the beep test
Total distance covered and estimated VO2 max for each level of the beep test

Please note that the estimated VO2 max remains constant for each level, regardless of the number of shuffles completed at that level. This arises from the fact that the running speed remained unchanged throughout that level.

Normative scores for beep test

Beep test normative data for the level achieved by athletes from different sports, genders and ages can be seen in the tables below.

Beep test normative data for the level achieved by athletes from different sports, genders and ages
Normative values for British National Team Sports on Beep test [MSFT] (adapted from Otieno & Mutwol, 2019, original reference Beashel and colleagues 1997).

We can also look at normative data for the level achieved of the Beep Test from males and females from a range of ages too. This data is from Top-End Sport, and they recommend using this data for active individuals.

Beep test normative data for the level achieved for active males and females
Beep test normative data for the level achieved for active males and females

We recommend taking caution when comparing your score to normative data here. While we’ve researched extensively for sources, we couldn’t verify the specifics of the data or the individuals or teams it represents. We recommend creating your own database of normative data, leveraging your team data or that of other athletes within your group over time to develop a context-specific portfolio of information for you.

What is a good beep test score?

A good beep test score depends on many factors, including your sport, the level of sport you play, age and gender. Look at the tables above to help guide what would be good for your context.

Pros & cons of using the beep test

Beep test advantages: It’s a simple test that is fast, easy to set up and relatively budget-friendly. It allows for a large group of athletes to complete the test at the same time.

Beep test disadvantages: Results can be greatly influenced by a number of factors, including motivation, social dynamics, pacing strategies, running efficiency, turning technique and weather (if outside). Set-up errors can also influence results, potentially leading to a 10-20% variation in results if the set-up deviates by just one meter. In addition, tracking missed beeps can pose a challenge, particularly when testing a large group of athletes. Due to its continuous nature, the test lacks specificity to intermittent endurance sports, such as football and netball. There are also issues with the validity of predicted VO2 max.

Reliability and validity of the multistage fitness [beep] test

To maximise the reliability of the multistage fitness [beep] test, there are several factors we must consider:

  • Testing Conditions – Ensure all conditions (weather, surface, time of day) are the same for all athletes and at testing and retesting.
  • Warm-Up – The warm-up should be standardized and involve all specific movements like those required by the test.
  • Familiarization – The test can be practiced at a submaximal intensity to ensure the athletes are familiar with the test.
  • Intensity – The athletes must complete each test with maximal effort.

The Beep Test has long been considered a reliable tool for estimating VO2 max. However, a more recent study conducted by Cooper and their team in 2005, discovered that the equations commonly used tend to underestimate VO2 max when compared to the gold standard lab tests.

As a result, the Beep Test may not offer a valid prediction of VO2 max. This is something for coaches and athletes to bear in mind when deciding which test to opt for and what data they wish to use from it.

Alternatives to the beep test?

There are a number of alternatives to the beep test, these include:

  • Standard 8.5 (Leger) Beep Test – There is a variation of the Beep Test, where there are 23 levels, and the initial speed starts at 8.5 kilometres per hour and then increases by 0.5 kilometres per hour at each level thereafter.
  • Yo-Yo Test – Similar to the beep test, the Yo-Yo test measures aerobic capacity. It involves athletes repeatedly completing 2 x 20m shuttle runs at increasing speeds until exhaustion but with a 10-second recovery period between each shuttle.
  • Cooper Test – This test can be used to estimate an athlete’s VO2 max. It involves athletes running as far as they can within 12 minutes, it is the distance they cover in the 12 minutes that is used to estimate the athlete’s VO2 max.
  • Maximum Oxygen Consumption (VO2 max) Testing – This is a more advanced and accurate method to measure aerobic capacity and requires specialised equipment. It involves participants exercising to exhaustion on a treadmill or stationary bike while their oxygen consumption is measured.

What sports or situations are good uses for the multistage fitness test?

The Beep test is widely used by various organisations, including the police, fire and defence forces, whereby they state a certain level as their entry requirements. The level required may differ between organisations and even between departments.  

Sports with a high aerobic demand may use the Beep Test, typically within their pre-season testing. These sports include:

  • Football
  • Netball
  • Hockey
  • Rugby
  • Basketball

However, many of these sports have gradually transitioned to using the Yo-Yo test instead. This shift is likely attributed to the Yo-Yo Test’s intermittent nature, which better reflects the demands of their sport.

Beep test frequently asked questions

Do I have to turn on or past the line?

Your foot must be on or over the line – it’s worth emphasizing that this is only one foot, as this strategy is recommended when the pace intensifies during the test.

Am I allowed to miss a beep and still continue?

Officially, no. However, most people provide one warning if there is a small delay in reaching the line before the beep. Following that, if you don’t make the next shuttle, then you will not be able to continue. This approach allows for some flexibility to ensure missing the beep is due to reaching your physiological limits rather than an error in timing.

Can I run ahead on the beep test?

Athletes must run the 20-meter shuttle and reach the turn line in time with or before the ‘beep’ sounds. If they arrive before the beep, they must wait there until the ‘beep’ sounds, indicating they can start the next shuttle. This is intended to make sure that you increase your pace in line with the audio cues rather than maintaining a constant pace.

How accurate is the beep test?

The beep test is a reliable test, however, its validity has been brought into question in a study by Cooper and their team in 2005. They discovered that the equations commonly used tend to underestimate VO2 max when compared to the gold standard lab tests.

As a result, the Beep Test may not offer a valid prediction of VO2 max. This is something for coaches and athletes to bear in mind when deciding which test to opt for and what data they wish to use from it.

Has anyone ever beaten the beep test?

From scouting the internet, we can’t find any concrete evidence of anyone reaching level 21 in the Beep Test. This isn’t to say someone hasn’t or isn’t capable. Elite endurance athletes who tend to possess the highest VO2 max levels and may therefore be capable of beating the beep test, might opt for laboratory tests to measure their VO2 max instead, as they provide a more valid assessment compared to the Beep Test.

What does the multistage fitness test test?

The multistage fitness [beep] test was created as a budget-friendly and practical method of estimating an individual’s VO2 max, or maximum aerobic capacity, which can be used as a measure of how aerobically fit they are.

What component of the fitness test does the multistage fitness test test?

The multistage fitness [beep] test, provides an estimate of an athlete’s maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max). This estimation serves as an indicator of their aerobic fitness level, representing a key aspect of their overall cardiovascular fitness.

How far do you have to run for the beep test?

The Beep Test requires you to run 20-meter shuttles continuously until exhaustion. The total distance you can run in the beep test is 4,960 meters, although if you’re running that, you should sign up for the Olympics!

How far is level 15 on the beep test?

Level 15 on the beep test, is the equivalent of 3,140 meters, which you can see in the table below.

Total distance covered and estimated VO2 max for each level of the beep test
Total distance covered and estimated VO2 max for each level of the beep test

Summary

The Beep Test, also known as the Multistage Fitness Test, involves continuous running between two points 20-meters apart, synchronized with audio beeps at increasing intervals.

The test can be used for a couple of purposes:

  1. It estimates an athletes VO2 max but has faced recent scrutiny for its accuracy.
  • It’s used by organisations like the police and the army, where they set a certain level as their entry recruitment.
  • It’s historically been used by sports with a high aerobic demand, although they have gradually transitioned to using the Yo-Yo test instead due to the Yo-Yo tests intermittent nature, which better reflects the demands of their sport.

The Beep test is relatively budget-friendly and practical for large groups of athletes to complete at the same time. However, we recommend considering why you want to use this test. If it is a requirement for an organisation, then carry on!

But, if it’s for a sport with a high aerobic demand that is intermittent, or you want to estimate an athletes VO2 max, exploring alternative tests such as the Yo-Yo test or laboratory testing may align better with your goals.

Further reading

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