Harvard Step Test

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The Harvard Step Test is a type of cardiac stress test for detecting and/or diagnosing cardiovascular disease. It also is a good measurement of fitness, and your ability to recover after a strenuous exercise. The more quickly your heart rate returns to resting, the better shape you are in.

It is a kind of cardiovascular endurance test. The test computes the capability to exercise continuously for extended intervals of time without tiring.


The person who is taking the test steps up and down on a platform in a cycle of one step per two seconds. The platform is at a height of about 50 cm or 20 inches. The rate of 30 steps per minute must be held up for 5 minutes or until exhaustion. To ensure the right speed, a metronome is used. Exhaustion is the point at which the subject cannot maintain the stepping rate for 15 seconds. The subject immediately sits down on completion of the test, and the heartbeats are counted for 1 to 1.5, 2 to 2.5, and 3 to 3.5 minutes.

The results are written down as time until exhaustion in seconds (t_e) and total heartbeats counted (h_b). It is plotted into a simple fitness index equation:

 \frac{t_e * 100}{h_b * 2}

The outcome of the equation is rated as follows:[1]

Rating Fitness index
Excellent > 96
Good 83 - 96
Average 68 - 82
Low average 54 - 67
Poor < 54

Modified versions[edit]

The test was developed at Harvard University in 1943. Several modified versions of the original Harvard Step test exist; an example is the Tecumseh step test. Another modified version, the Sharkey step test, was developed in the 1970s for use by the United States Forest Service at the University of Montana in Missoula.

In popular culture[edit]

In the 1980s, WWF professional wrestler Bob Backlund performed the Harvard step test to demonstrate his exceptional conditioning. In 1983, Sgt. Slaughter challenged Backlund to break his own fictitious Harvard step test record. When Backlund was attempting this feat, Sgt. Slaughter attacked Backlund's manager, Arnold Skaaland. Backlund stopped the test to help Skaaland and then confronted Slaughter in the ring. Slaughter was victorious, whipping Backlund repeatedly with his riding crop.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Top End Sports, Description of the Harvard Step Test

External links[edit]