What is the Cooper test?

The Cooper running test is a 12-minute running fitness test devised by Dr Keneth Cooper in 1968. The test was designed as a simple field based test, in which participants attempt to run as far as possible during the 12 minute time period. The distance covered is then used to calculate an estimate of maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max).

How to do the Cooper test

What’s required? A flat oval or running track, stop watch or timer, marker cones, measuring wheel (for cone placement), whistle and recording sheet.

Considerations and precautions: The test is a prolonged high intensity test, completed at an intensity that is close to VO2max intensity for most individuals. As such, all participants should be reasonably fit, have a good level of training experience, be injury free and free from any underlying health conditions that may prevent them from safely completing the test.

Cooper 12 minute run test procedure:
Prior to testing marker cones are placed at set distances (10 or 20m spacing) around the running track – you may require a measuring wheel if the track isn’t clearly marked. The test procedure is explained to participants, along with the importance of even pacing. The tester sets the participants off (3-2-1-go), starts the stop watch/timer, and participants attempt to run as far as possible in the 12minutes. Once 12minutes have been completed the tester blows the whistle, participants stop and the distance completed is recorded.

The distance completed is then used to estimate VO2max using the following formulas:

  • VO2max = (35.97 x distance run in miles) – 11.29
  • VO2max = (22.35 x distance run in kilometers) – 11.29
  • VO2max = (distance run in meters  – 504.9) / 44.73

Cooper test validity and reliability

The research conducted by Cooper (1968) showed a high correlation (0.90) between the distance covered during the 12 minute run test and the individuals VO2max. However, the accuracy has been questioned and it’s important to consider that we now know that it isn’t just VO2max that contributes to endurance running performance.

In particular running efficiency and the velocity at VO2max play a significant role. As such this test will be less accurate for individuals with particularly good running efficiency. In this way it will overestimate VO2max for those with great efficiency and underestimate VO2max for those with poor efficiency.

In terms of reliability the cooper test results will be influenced by a number of factors including the level of practice, training experience, familiarity with pacing, training status, individual motivation levels, and competitiveness amongst the participants. As this is an outdoor field test, weather conditions (wind, temperature, humidity etc) can all significantly affect test results.

Cooper run test advantages and disadvantages

Cooper test advantages: The main advantages of the cooper test are the simplicity of the test and ability to test multiple participants at the same time.

Cooper test disadvantages: Some of the disadvantages include how it may overestimate VO2max for highly efficient runners and underestimate for less efficient runners. It can also be affected by weather, motivation, familiarity, pacing and training experience.

Cooper test alternatives and variations

  • Cooper 12minute treadmill run test: the cooper test can be completed on a treadmill as an effective alternative to outdoor running. In order to best reflect outdoor running, the treadmill incline should be set to a 1% gradient.
  • Cooper 1.5mile (2.4km) run test
  • Balke 15minute run test
  • Velocity at VO2max (vVO2max test) – can be laboratory, treadmill or field based (running track)

Cooper test reference:

Cooper, K. H. (1968) A means of assessing maximal oxygen uptake. Journal of the American Medical Association 203:201-204.

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