Cooper Test (12 Minute Run) Explained with Data

In this article, we’re going to cover what the Cooper (12-minute run) test is, how to perform the test and provide normative data for athletes competing in various sports and at various levels.

What is the Cooper test & what does it measure?

The Cooper Test, also known as the 12-minute run, involves athletes running as far as they can within 12 minutes. The distance they cover in the 12 minutes is then used to estimate the athlete’s VO2 max (or maximum oxygen consumption), which is a measure of aerobic capacity. 

The Cooper test was developed in the late 1960s by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a physician in the United States Air Force, who wanted to find a simple, practical and reliable way to assess an individual’s cardiovascular endurance. The simplicity and effectiveness of the test has made it popular in various settings, including physical education programmes, military training and fitness assessments, which continues to be used today as a practical tool to estimate aerobic fitness levels. 

How to perform the Cooper (12-minute run) test

To perform the Cooper test, you will need:

  • Running Track
  • Cones
  • Measuring Wheel (for cone placement)
  • Stop Watch
  • Recording Sheets & Pens

Set up for the Cooper test: 

The figure below demonstrates the setup for the Cooper test on a 400m track:

Set up for 12 Minute Cooper Test Run
  • Place cones at regular distances (10-20 m spacing) around the track, as shown in the image above by the white circles – this will help us to measure the distance the athletes run. 

Procedure for the Cooper test: 

  • Ensure the athlete completes a standardised warm-up that prepares them for the test they are about to undertake. 
  • The athlete will then line up on the start line. 
  • The test administrator will stand near them, and will count “three, two, one, go”. On “go,” the administrator should start the 12-minute stopwatch and the athlete should begin to run around the track. 
  • The athlete will run around the track for 12 minutes, aiming to run as far as possible. 
  • Once the 12 minutes have ended, the test administrator should shout “stop” to end the test. 
  • Record the total distance the athlete covered, measuring to the nearest 10 metres. 

Our top testing tips for the Cooper Test

Preparation

The Cooper test is a prolonged high-intensity test, so athletes need to be well prepared coming into it. They should have a good level of training, be injury-free and be well-fueled ahead of the test. 

Pacing 

Pacing is crucial in the Cooper test, as going out too fast at the beginning can lead to exhaustion before the 12 minutes are up. Athletes may need a few attempts to figure out the optimal pace that allows them to sustain their efforts throughout the test. This trial-and-error process can help athletes understand their own fitness levels and develop a strategy.

Motivation

Motivation plays a significant role in any fitness test, including the Cooper test. Performing the test in a team environment can create a supportive and competitive atmosphere that can motivate athletes to push themselves. Encouragement from teammates and coaches can provide the extra push needed, as well as enhance the overall experience. 

Measuring Distance

Keeping track of each athlete’s lap number can be challenging when testing a big group. It can be useful for pairing athletes and having each pair keep track of the other’s laps, and then repeating the test for the opposite athlete in their pair.

How to score the Cooper test

To calculate your estimated VO2 max (in ml/kg/min) from your distance score, you can use the equations below:

  • V02 max = (35.971 x distance in miles) – 11.288
  • V02 max = (22.351 x distance in kilometers) – 11.288
  • VO2 max = (distance covered in metres – 504.9) / 44.73

For example, if you covered 2500m in 12 minutes, we would estimate your VO2 max as (2500 – 504.9) / 44.73 = 44.603 ml/kg/min. 

Side note: These equations were derived from Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s article in the late 1960’s when he developed the test. 

Normative Data for the Cooper test: 

Now that we have the distance the athlete ran and their estimated VO2 max, we can compare their data to normative data to help us interpret their results. 

Normative VO2max for athletes from different sports  

Typical VO2 max of athletes playing the sport (ml.kg-1.min-1)
ClassificationMalesFemalesSport
Extremely High70+60+Cross- Country Skiing
Middle-Distance Running
Long-Distance Running
Very High63-6954-59Cycling
Rowing
Race Walking
High57-6249-53Football
Middle-Distance Swimming
Canoe
Racing
Handball
Racquetball
Speed Skating
Figure Skating
Downhill Skiing
Wrestling
Above Average52-5644-48Basketball
Ballet Dancing
American Football (Offensive, Defensive Backs)
Gymnastics
Hockey
Horse Racing (Jockey)
Sprint
Swimming
Tennis
Sprinting
Jumping
Average44-5135-43Baseball
Softball
American Football (Linemen, Quarterbacks)
Shot Put
Discuss Throw
Olympic Weightlifting
Data from Nieman (1995), table adapted from Haff & Triplett (2016)

Normative distance covered during the Cooper 12-minute run by age and gender.

Normative distance (m) covered during the Cooper 12-minute test by age and gender
AgeGenderExcellentAbove AverageAverageBelow AveragePoor
13-14Male>27002400-27002200-23992100-2199<2100
Female>20001900-20001600-18991500-1599<1500
15-16Male>28002500-28002300-24992200-2299<2200
Female>21002000-21001700-19991600-1699<1600
17-20Male>30002700-30002500-26992300-2499<2300
Female>23002100-23001800-20991700-1799<1700
20-29Male>28002400-28002200-23991600-2199<1600
Female>27002200-27001800-21991500-1799<1500
30-39Male>27002300-27001900-22991500-1999<1500
Female>25002000-25001700-19991400-1699<1400
40-49Male>25002100-25001700-20991400-1699<1400
Female>30001900-23001500-18991200-1499<1200
>50Male>24002000-24001600-19991300-1599<1300
Female>22001700-22001400-16991100-1399<1100
Data from Cooper (1968)

Pros & cons of the Cooper test

Cooper test advantages: The advantage of the Cooper test is that it is a simple test, it is fast, easy to set up, a large group of athletes can complete the test at the same time, and an athlete can administer the test on their own.

Cooper test disadvantages: The disadvantage of the Cooper test is that it requires a 400m track (or similar), it can be greatly influenced by motivation, pacing strategies and weather. It also relies on running ability.

Alternatives to the Cooper (12 minute run) test

There are a number of alternatives to the Cooper test (12-minute run) that can assess aerobic capacity. Here are a few alternatives:

12-Minute Run on Treadmill

Similar to the outdoor track version, athletes run at a constant pace at a 1% incline for 12 minutes. This provides a controlled environment and eliminates factors like terrain and weather that could affect outdoor running. 

1.5 Mile Run (Cooper Test Variation)

Instead of running for 12 minutes, athletes run for a fixed distance 1.5 miles (approximately 2.4 kilometres) as fast as possible. 

1 Mile Walk Test

Similar to the 1.5 mile run, athletes walk a fixed distance of 1 mile as quickly as possible.

Balke Test

This is very similar to the Cooper 12 minute test, but instead of running for 12 minutes, athletes run for 15 minutes and measure the distance they covered in that time. 

Beep Test (Shuttle Run Test)

In the Beep test athletes run back and forth between two markers at increasing speeds as indicated by audio signals. This test is often used to assess not only aerobic capacity but also anaerobic fitness. 

Maximum Oxygen Consumption (VO2max) Testing

This is a more advanced and accurate method that requires specialised equipment. It involves participants exercising to exhaustion on a treadmill or stationary bike while their oxygen consumption is measured. This provides a precise measurement of aerobic capacity. 

When selecting an alternative test, it’s important to consider the athlete’s fitness level and individual needs and goals. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Coopers run test?

The Cooper test is an aerobic capacity assessment in which an athlete runs as far as they can within 12 minutes, aiming to cover the maximum distance possible in that time. 

What is a good Cooper test score?

A good Cooper test score varies depending on factors such as age, gender, and the sport an athlete is training for. Generally, a higher distance covered in the 12 minutes indicates better aerobic fitness.

For athletes aged 17 to 20 years, covering 2700 to 3000 metres for males and 2100 to 2300 metres for females is considered above average, whereas for athletes aged 20 to 29 are expected to cover greater distances with 2400 to 2800 metres for males and 2200 to 2700 metres for females being considered above average. 

What is the average 12 minute Cooper run?

The average 12-minute Cooper Run distance varies based on factors such as age, gender and fitness level. It is typically around 2000 to 2500 metres (~1.5 miles; 2.4 km).

Normative distance (m) covered during the Cooper 12-minute test by age and gender
AgeGenderExcellentAbove AverageAverageBelow AveragePoor
13-14Male>27002400-27002200-23992100-2199<2100
Female>20001900-20001600-18991500-1599<1500
15-16Male>28002500-28002300-24992200-2299<2200
Female>21002000-21001700-19991600-1699<1600
17-20Male>30002700-30002500-26992300-2499<2300
Female>23002100-23001800-20991700-1799<1700
20-29Male>28002400-28002200-23991600-2199<1600
Female>27002200-27001800-21991500-1799<1500
30-39Male>27002300-27001900-22991500-1999<1500
Female>25002000-25001700-19991400-1699<1400
40-49Male>25002100-25001700-20991400-1699<1400
Female>30001900-23001500-18991200-1499<1200
>50Male>24002000-24001600-19991300-1599<1300
Female>22001700-22001400-16991100-1399<1100
Data from Cooper (1968)

What does the 12 minute Cooper run improve?

The 12-minute Cooper Run Test is a measure of aerobic capacity (VO2max). It does not directly improve any particular aspect but is used to assess an athletes existing fitness level. 

Is the Cooper test accurate for VO2 max?

The Cooper Test provides a rough estimate of an individual’s VO2 max, but its accuracy can vary. Research has shown a moderate correlation between the distance covered in the Cooper Test and actual VO2 max values. However, this correlation is not always precise and can be influenced by factors such as running ability.

For individuals who are experienced runners or have good aerobic capacity, the Cooper Test might provide a fairly accurate estimate of their VO2 max. On the other hand, for those who are not proficient runners or have poor running form, the test might not fully reflect their actual aerobic capacity.

It’s important to consider that while the Cooper Test can give an indication of aerobic capacity, more accurate measurements of VO2 max can be obtained through more specific methods conducted in controlled environments, using as a laboratory, using equipment like gas analysis. 

How do you pace a 12-minute run? 

Pacing a 12-minute run during the Cooper test involves starting at a comfortable and sustainable pace that you believe you can maintain for the entire duration. Avoid starting too fast, as this can lead to early exhaustion. Gradually increase your effort if you’re feeling comfortable as you progress through the test. 

Athletes may need a few attempts to figure out the optimal pace that allows them to sustain their efforts throughout the test. This trial-and-error process can help athletes understand their own fitness levels and develop a strategy.

Training Tail have a few tips, which you can check out below:

What is the Cooper 2.5 km run test? 

The Cooper 2.5 km Run Test involves running a set distance of 2.5 millimetres as fast as possible, which can be used to measure an athlete’s aerobic capacity. 

Notably, unlike the 12-minute Cooper test where the goal is to run as far as possible during a fixed time (12 minutes), the Cooper 2.5 km run test challenges athletes to cover the specified distance (2.5 km) in the quickest time possible. 

How do you calculate VO2 max using the Cooper test? 

The distance covered during the Cooper 12-minute run test can be used to calculate VO2max using either miles, metres or kilometres.

The formula for calculation based on miles is V02 max = (35.971 x distance in miles) – 11.288. 

The formula for calculating kilometres is V02 max = (22.351 x distance in kilometres) – 11.288. 

The formula for calculating metres is VO2 max = (distance covered in metres – 504.9) / 44.73.

Summary

The Cooper test stands as a useful tool for assessing aerobic capacity by running as far as possible within 12 minutes. The equations offer a path to estimate your VO2 max based on the distance covered. For more info on VO2 max, check out our article that explains what it is. 

Further Reading

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