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Multistage Fitness Test in Secondary Schools - Advice on Safety.
Norman Eve and Deryck Williams (BAALPE)

The 1999 edition of the BAALPE publication 'Safe Practice in Physical Education' includes specific reference to the multistage fitness test in chapter 14 on Health Related Exercise.  In light of the apparent popularity of this particular test in secondary schools and the risks associated with its implementation, the authors of this article consider it appropriate to provide further advice.

The multistage fitness test, also known as the bleep test, is described as a progressive shuttle run test for the prediction of maximum oxygen uptake.  Promoters claim that it provides a relatively straightforward means for monitoring individual aerobic fitness with a class of young people in a practical way without the need or use of sophisticated scientific equipment and measuring devices.  The test may be used occasionally to obtain a 'one-off aerobic picture or, alternatively, applied repeatedly over a series of lessons to monitor progress in aerobic fitness.  Progressive measurement is most appropriate and relevant with more athletically able young people.

The test materials package consists of an audio cassette containing instructions and timing indicators together with an explanatory booklet and tables which provide measures for maximum oxygen uptake related to the number of shuttle runs successfully completed at given levels.

The test itself requires participants to carry out a sequence of shuttle runs between two parallel lines on the floor positioned 20 metres apart.  Each shuttle run is accompanied by a 'bleep' audio signal which, when sounded, indicates that the run should have been completed.  Those who do not manage this must stop the test and note the number of shuttle runs successfully accomplished and at what level.  The timing begins relatively slowly but increases at intervals of approximately one minute.  'Bleeps' sound every 9 seconds for the first minute (level one), every 8 seconds for the second minute (level two), every 7 seconds for the third minute (level three) and so on, with decreasing 'bleep' time intervals for each successive minute.  The cassette and tables provide for predicted maximum oxygen uptake up to level twenty-one, an exceptional level of which very few pupils, if any, are likely to be capable. 

Written pre-test precautions provided with the test indicate the need for maximal effort if the test result is to be valid.  Where there are doubts over the ability of any pupil to take part in the test, the teacher should advise that medical advice is sought beforehandIndividuals with an injury or illness should not undertake the test.  It is stated that, since the test starts very slowly, there is a gentle warm up as the test progresses.  However, in addition to this built-in warm up feature, attention is drawn to the advisability for very light jogging and gentle stretching to be undertaken before commencing the shuttle runs at all.

This safety advice is useful so far as it goes and does need to be taken very seriously.  At least one recorded death of a pupil has been associated with the activity in schools. The organisation 'Cardiac Risk' in the Young' (CRY) is concerned with sudden deaths of young people and has identified inherited forms of muscle heart disorder and irregular heart beat as the causation of the majority of such occurrences.  According to CRY, it is possible that one in five hundred young persons, males and females, may be affected in this way.  Ideally, all young people should be medically screened for the absence of cardiac abnormalities before they engage in vigorous sustained levels of physical activity.  In practice, any young person experiencing shortness of breath, chest pains, palpitations or light headedness should stop exercising immediately and be sensitively advised to seek advice from a general practitioner.  In this regard, there is an overriding need for the teacher to exercise continuous observation of participants while the test is taking place, particularly of pupils known to be physically less fit.  Risk assessment indicates a need for attention to safe practice in the implementation of the activity. Interdependent areas for concern include the provision of adequate space; the number of young people participating; 'peer group' and/or self imposed pressures to succeed; perceived competition; the effects of fatigue; the possible incidence of disorientation; and cooling down.


Adequate width:  The running space between the two parallel lines used for the shuttle runs should be clean, even, clear of obstructions and sufficient to allow participation without danger of collisions. A minimum corridor of 1.5 metres width for each runner is recommended. Distinctive coloured markers placed well beyond the running area at both ends of the shuttle run and spaced at 1.5 metre intervals will provide useful directional aids. A clean running surface is essential; a dirty floor is dangerous.


Adequate length:  There must be adequate space beyond each 20 metre line to prevent participants from contacting any wall or obstruction should they overrun the lines. The practice of using end walls to assist with turning is dangerous and must not be allowed.  Incidents of broken wrists and arms have occurred where walls have been used in this way.


Number of pupils:  The number of pupils participating at any one time will be dependent on the size of the activity space being used.  Pupils will need to line up at the start at least 1.5 metres apart and be well clear of any side-walls or obstructions during the shuttle runs.  Classes of young people may need to be split into two, three or more groups as necessary to ensure that each participant has adequate space for the activity.  Sufficient time in the lesson will be needed to ensure that each group in turn is able to take part.


Peer group pressure:  Where pupils sit out, there is a danger of active participants being overly and concertedly encouraged by their watching peers.  This can cause some active individuals to attempt to exceed their appropriate levels of optimal participation, to a point where undue stress and exertion occurs and the affected pupils are at risk of accident and injury.  The teacher must be aware of the danger and instruct observers not to engage vocally in the described manner.

 Self imposed pressure:  Some pupils can be so motivated and keen to succeed that they display unreasonable self imposed risks by attempting to exceed the levels of reasonable participation of which they are capable.  Again, the teacher must advise young people accordingly and stop the activity at any stage should this prove necessary in the interest of safe practice.

 Perceived competition:  The test is not a competition between participating pupils, though some young people may perceive it in this way and respond accordingly unless consistently and repeatedly advised by the teacher that the test is a personal measure of the capacity to inhale and utilise oxygen.  The performance of others is not relevant to the individual pupil and this must be stressed each time that the test takes place.

Fatigue:  Pupils will inevitably begin to tire as the activity progresses and speed is increased at the end of each successive minute.  This may happen whilst they are still managing to complete the shuttle runs successfully.  Pupils should be advised that they must stop as soon as a point is reached where fatigue means that they are unable to exercise full control of their actions.  The teacher must be prepared to step in and stop participants who display symptoms of fatigue.

Disorientation:  The continuous act of shuttle running can cause some pupils to become disorientated whilst still within their physical limits for engaging in the activity.  Any feelings of disorientation or light headedness will be accompanied by a change in performance and the activity must cease for the young people concerned.  The
observing teacher must look for the signs, however subtle, and take action as necessary to stop those so affected.

Cooling down:  The very vigorous level of activity built up as the test progresses to peak levels should be followed by cooling down once the test is completed.  Gentle stretching of muscle groups (especially those most heavily exerted) together with relaxation will help to accommodate the physiological return of bodies to a normal state and avoid the risk of post activity collapse by pupils.

The nature of the multistage fitness test makes it difficult for the teacher to advise individual pupils while it is in progress.  For this reason, advice on safety along the above lines should be discussed fully with pupils before the commencement of activity, with reminders given at the start of successive lessons.  Particular attention should be given to the fact that the risks are likely to increase as the test progresses and that the greatest risks are most probable as pupils approach their maximum performance levels.


Multistage Fitness Test, a progressive shuttle-run test for prediction of maximum
oxygen uptake (by John Brewer, Roger Ramsbottom and Clyde Williams)

Cardiac Risk in the Young, a publication by CRY, PO Box 28, Ashtead, Surrey
KT21 1BW (tel: 01372 276187; fax: 01372 279335; e-mail:;
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