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3 Minute Step Up Test Or Is It 5 Minutes?

Have you heard of the step up test?

Clearly I have. I made the video and I'm writing this post right?

But even before we decided to make this video and post... I had heard of it. I didn't know much about it though.

In short... the step up test is a "test" of cardiovascular fitness... i.e. getting your heart rate back under control.

History of the 3 Minute... Wait 5 Minute?... Step Test

Harvard created the first version of this test. And I'm telling you... it's pretty tough.

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    5 minutes long

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    30 steps per minute

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    Developed for military personnel

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    20 inch box for males

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    16 inch box for females

The equation:

(100 X test duration in seconds) / (2 X total heart beats in recovery periods)

The recover period table is below the video.

The YMCA changed the test to 3 minutes and a 12 inch box to help normalize the test for women, children, and different levels of fitness.

Let's do these tests!

What Mobility Is Required To Complete This Test

For the YMCA version of the test, there isn't much mobility required. The Harvard version does require some mobility. A 16 inch box is pretty high.

Either way...

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    If you're new or getting back into fitness...

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    Or you're a seasoned pro...

Here are two things you should think about:

Ankle Mobility

When you're doing step ups (the right way)... you're knee will move past your foot. Anytime you knee goes past your toes (with out your heel coming up) you need ankle mobility.

Dan created a 5 minute workout routine focused on ankle mobility exercises . This is a great routine you can start doing over the next 30 to 40 days to see a significant improvement in your ankle mobility and strength.

Kindal stepping up to a 12 inch box. Not much mobility needed here but still notice the knee goes past the toes to complete the step up.
Kindal stepping up on a 16 inch box. Notice the thigh is parallel and the knee is past the toes.
Kindal showing an extreme 24 inch box step up. Notice the knee past the toes and now the knee is above the hips so she will have to use her hamstrings more to get up.


Balance is a part of fitness many programs or trainers don't focus on. However, the vast majority of "good form" during:

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    Overhead presses

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    Kettlebell swings

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    Steps ups

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    And more

Good exercise form comes down to balance.

The best way to improve your balance is to practice it. BTW... my two favorite body weight exercises to practice balance are:

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    Standing on one leg

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    Balance toe touches

Standing on one leg is pretty simple. When you do it... lift your other leg high. It makes standing on one leg much harder.

Kindal at the start of a balanced toe touch. She is standing straight up balancing on a single leg and reaching her opposite hand straight to the sky.
Kindal hinging forward to touch her toe and maintaining balance the entire time. Even keeping her balance on the way back up.

Here's how to do balance toe touches. I suggest you add these into you're regular rotation. (They can work great in a warm up routine).

Step 1

Stand straight up.

Pick one leg to balance on. Make sure you lift you're leg high enough so you're really using your balance before you even begin.

Take the opposite arm and raise it up to the sky.

Step 2

Hip hinge... no squat.

A good post to read is how to kettlebell deadlift . Even though we use a kettlebell, the entire post is about mastering the hip hinge.

With the balance toe touch, you're going to hinge forward with a straight arm until you touch your toe with your hand.

Step 3

Return to the start position. Make sure you keep your arm straight the entire time and do not leg your other foot hit the ground.

This is a great exercise for improving balance.

Exercises To Improve Your Step Up Test Results

Bodyweight Squats With A Tweak

The tweak is...

Do not squat below or too parallel. You want to stay above parallel and do a high volume of reps.

Why stay above parallel?

This will mimic the step up. You're never stepping up so high where you're knee is going above your waist.

form tip

If you're doing this test and you're knee is higher than your hips (because you're short)...

Move to a lower box. A 12 inch box should be good for you no matter your height.

The high volume of reps will help you build muscle endurance. The higher you can get your endurance up... the easier this test will be.

Reverse Lunge With Knee Drive And Balance

Kindal standing straight up getting ready to lunge back into a reverse lunges.
Kindal taking a big step back into reverse lunge getting ready to explode out and balance on one leg.
Kindal driving her knee up and balancing on one leg. Make sure you get your knee above your waist and hold it there.

A great exercise. I always start my exercise descriptions off like this... haha!

Step 1

Lunge back like you normally would. Make sure you take a big enough step back and follow correct lunge form.

Step 2

Drive off your back foot into your front foot and bring your knee high above your waist. Pause right here.

Step 3

Stay in the balanced position for a little bit.

Then see if you can go right back into the next lunge without putting your foot down in-between lunges.

Similar to the squats this will fatigue your thighs and butt FAST. This will build endurance. Plus you get to work on balance at the time.

Quarter Squats Off Box

Kindal at the top of the quarter squats off a box. This requires balance and some ankle mobility too.
Notice how Kindal's thigh is at 45 degrees and your knee is past her toes. This requires ankle mobility but it's great for step up strength.

This is a rare exercise, but studies have shown this is an amazing exercise to build your vastus lateralise and vastus medialus. These are the two muscles that make your quad muscle look like the quad muscle.

I wish I could find the study. Sorry I can't. I learned about it from the head trainer at Nike about a decade ago.

Step 1

Stand on a low box or step. Make sure the leg you're not working is hanging off the box. You need to be right at the edge.

Step 2

Squat down on your one leg... but only to about 45 degrees AT MOST!

You do not have to go far down at all. Use a wall or something to help with balance if you need the assistance.

Step 3

Smoothly come back up and squezee your leg.

This is a high rep exercise. So keep going but listen to your body as always when you're doing high volume.

Think about this... you're getting endurance strength and balance again.

Are You Brand New Or Getting Back Into Fitness?

If this is you, you'll likely need some assistance.

Kindal using rings... a suspension system... to help step up to the box. This is a great beginner modification.

I suggest a suspension system of some type. In the pictures I'm using rings. Sorry the color is so bad... the back of our gym does not have great color.

You can pull a little on the suspension system to help you get up on the box. Make sure you don't rely too much on the suspension system and rob yourself of those strength gains.

Go Do The Step Up Test And Let Me Know!

Go try this for yourself and see how you do.

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Now go do this step up test and see where you're cardiovascular fitness is.

Kindal squating and working her way through a tough metabolic strength workout

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