The BEEP Test: Is This The Most Effective Form Of Cardio EVER?

If you have been involved in team sports then you are probably familiar with 'shuttle runs' as part of your training program. The beep test is used by Physical Training Instructors to assess fitness of soldiers. Learn what it is and if you can use it.

For all of us, who have been involved in team sports in our adolescents, no doubt you have used 'shuttle runs' as part of your training program.

Well, did you know that you had been toying with probably the most effective form of cardio training for fat loss - ever! It is now my underlying belief that this is the way to go for shredded glory, and this is the cardio strategy I will use for my next competition outing, the Musclemania Australia.

Ok, time for a little history so I can get you up to speed.

Living in Australia, I played (as far as I am concerned, but many will disagree) our national sport, Rugby League for many years. I can always remember doing shuttle runs as part of our conditioning training, and I remembered it always hurt and I always hated it for that. Then when I turned of age, I did what most patriotic lads do and joined the ARMY.

Here I was introduced to a new kind of shuttle training, the 'Beep Test'. The beep test is a test used by Physical Training Instructors to assess the fitness of soldiers. What it consists of is running between 2 points, 20 metres apart to a cadence, which will increase in intensity over the duration of the exercise. You start off really nice and slow, and then the intensity starts to increase.

To increase intensity, the time between each beep will decrease as you hit a new level. Basically, the idea is to keep running between these 2 points until you hit your aerobic threshold, and fall over in a screaming heap, gasping for air. Your aerobic threshold is determined when you cannot reach the target line in time of the next beep. If you keep running and you keep falling short, you are instructed to finish the exercise - you have reached your absolute limit.

Now no person in his or her right mind likes this, right? Well, the pain kinda sucks, but the results are well worth it.

Intensity & Cardio: The Perfect Mix

Old school cardio training for fat loss dictates that you perform a low intensity aerobic session, training in your optimal fat burning zone (about 55-70% of your MHR) for about 45 minutes. This was even better if you performed it before breakfast on an empty stomach. Well, if you want to lose muscle mass as well as fat, then go right ahead. Times are changing and people are getting smarter with their training.

Thanks to a few people who like to think outside of the square, our efficiency in the gym is becoming better then ever. For last years comps, I used the Max-OT cardio approach, the brainchild of AST Sports Science president, Paul Delia, and achieved fantastic results.

For a quick overview of Max-OT cardio, this is the intro taken directly from their site (Max-OT Cardio can be described as ultra-high intensity cardio performed in 16-minute sessions and performed progressively from session to session. What this means, and it's very important, is that each proceeding cardio session should be more intense than the one before. In other words, you should expend more energy (burn more calories) during every new 16-minute Max-OT Cardio session).

I think Max-OT cardio is great, but I feel my variation on intense cardio has some tremendous possibilities as well.

Here's Why:

  1. Fat loss is determined by basically one factor - calories in versus calories out. It doesn't matter where these calories come from, you simply must either (a) eat less calories per day then your body needs or (b), burn off the excess calories.

  2. As we are now realising, effective cardio exercise is not related to calories burned during a session, but the effect the exercise has on our body during, AND after the session. High intensity cardio exercise stimulates the metabolism to run at a higher level, for longer. When you hit the cardio hard, your metabolism will stay elevated for a longer period of time, therefore burning a greater percentage of total calories over the course of a day. This basically gives you more bang for your buck.

The one problem I found with the 16 minute cardio approach is that minutes 1 - 15 were as hard as hell, but on that last minute, I always seemed to have a little left. I always seemed to find that sudden burst of energy to finish strong. Did that mean I was holding back during the session - no way. It's just with the end in sight, I was able to dig a little deeper right at the end.

I would sit back and wonder how I could train at what I call my 'power minute' for longer. We all agree that it is the last rep of a weight training exercise that causes the most effect (the one we fail on, or need just that touch to complete), well the same must be said for my 'power minute. It was that last minute of cardio, which stimulated my metabolism the most, and this is the one, which completely took me over the edge.

The BEEP Test

You see, the beep test is designed to take you to that absolute maximum level. Other forms of cardio are damn well effective, but if stoking the metabolism's fire is the goal, how could anything else be even better. It can't. In the beep test, you run until you physically cannot reach your target any more - its that simple.

How Do You Gauge Your Improvements?

There are 21 levels to the beep test, with each level having a varying number of stages. The reason for the difference in number of stages is due to your body's ability to handle the increasing stress levels as the session goes on.

If you hit your limit at level 12, stage 6 - than that is your recordable limit. Next session you perform, beating this standard is your goal. Nothing else comes into the equation.

How Long Does The Session Last For?

Until you are unable to complete another stage. This type has nothing to do with exercise time or anything like that, just reaching a maximum aerobic output. If you do need a time, you will not come anywhere near 15 minutes, actually more like 10 - that's it.

How Many Calories Will I Burn?

Again, this is irrelevant. Its not the number of calories you burn during a session, it's the total effect that the session has on your body. If you keep going until there is nothing left, then the job is done, irrespective of calories burned.

So, are you saying that all we do is run back and forth between two lines, in time with a beep, and we will get fit - not even 15 minutes worth of work?


If you are still undecided about the beep test as a form of cardio training for fat loss, I will leave you with one last point.

You will never see a fat person efficient at the beep test. The only people who ever do any good with this form of training are strong, muscular and lean. Coincidence? I don't think so!

About The Author

Josh Dickinson is a Co-Founder of Physique Essentials - A Health & Fitness consultancy company determined to assist people reach their physique goals Naturally. He is an accomplished bodybuilding competitor and a certified personal trainer. If you have any questions that you would like answered by one of Australia's quickest rising competitors, send them to:

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