Using the Cooper Test 12-Minute Run to Check Aerobic Fitness

woman doing a fitness test on a track

Verywell / Ryan Kelly

The 12-minute run fitness test was developed by Kenneth Cooper, MD, in 1968 as an easy way to measure aerobic fitness and provide an estimate of VO2 max for military personnel. The Cooper test, as it's also known, is still used today as a field test for determining aerobic fitness.

Dr. Cooper found that there is a very high correlation between the distance someone can run (or walk) in 12 minutes and their VO2 max value, which measures the efficiency with which someone can use oxygen while exercising. This test is still one of the basic fitness tests used by the military.

It is also used by many coaches and trainers to determine cardiovascular fitness and track fitness over time. This simple test also allows you to compare your cardiovascular endurance with others of your age and gender.

What Is Cardiovascular Endurance?

In sports, cardiovascular endurance refers to an athlete's ability to sustain prolonged exercise for minutes, hours, or even days. Endurance testing is a way to measure the efficiency of an athlete's circulatory system and respiratory system in supplying oxygen to the working muscles and support sustained physical activity.

Endurance generally refers to aerobic endurance. Aerobic exercise requires oxygen to help supply the energy needed for exercise. The objective of endurance training, then, is to develop and improve the body systems that produce and deliver the energy needed to meet the demands of prolonged activity.

How to Perform the 12-Minute Run Test

The Cooper 12-minute run test requires the person being tested to run or walk as far as possible in a 12-minute period. The objective of the test is to measure the maximum distance covered by the individual during the 12-minute period and is usually carried out on a running track by placing cones at various distances to enable measuring of the distance.

A stopwatch is required for ensuring that the individual runs for the correct amount of time. Here are some factors to keep in mind when performing the Cooper 12-minute run test:

  • Distance: Record the total number of miles or kilometers you traveled in 12 minutes.
  • Equipment: You'll need a timer to know when 12 minutes are up. Note that some running watches and fitness monitors have a 12-minute fitness test mode.
  • Location: This test is designed to be conducted on a track with clearly marked distance. You can perform the test on a treadmill, but be sure to raise the incline to one degree to simulate outdoor running.
  • Safety: This is a strenuous fitness test and it's recommended that you have your physician's clearance before performing this test on your own.
  • Speed: When you are warmed up, get going. Run or walk as far as you can in 12 minutes.
  • Warm-up: Perform a short warm-up of 10 to 15 minutes of low to moderately strenuous activity before performing any fitness testing.

How to Perform a Cooper Run Test

  1. Warm up with some light jogging and dynamic movements.
  2. On a flat, hard surface, ideally, a 400-meter track, mark a clear starting point. You should know the distance you will travel by completing one lap or back and forth to the starting point. If on a track, keep in the same lane for the test duration.
  3. Start a stopwatch at the same time you begin running.
  4. Count each lap you complete.
  5. Stop after 12 minutes, recording how many laps you achieved.
  6. Walk to cool down for 10 minutes.

Calculate Your 12-Minute Run Test Results

To calculate your estimated VO2 Max results (in ml/kg/min) use either of these formulas:

  • Kilometers: VO2max = (22.351 x kilometers) - 11.288
  • Miles: VO2max = (35.97 x miles) - 11.29

The easiest way to get your test results (your VO2 max score) and compare yourself with others of your age and gender is with an online 12-minute test results calculator.

After you complete the test, you can compare your results to the norms and recommendations for your age and gender.

12-Minute Run Fitness Test Results

Instead of using the calculation and getting your VO2 max, you can use the distance you achieved to find how you rate.

Age Excellent Above Average Average Below Average Poor
Male 20-29 over 2800 meters 2400-2800 meters 2200-2399 meters 1600-2199 meters under 1600 meters
Females 20-29 over 2700 meters 2200-2700 meters 1800-2199 meters 1500-1799 meters under 1500 meters
Males 30-39 over 2700 meters 2300-2700 meters 1900-2299 meters 1500-1999 meters under 1500 meters
Females 30-39 over 2500 meters 2000-2500 meters 1700-1999 meters 1400-1699 meters under 1400 meters
Males 40-49 over 2500 meters 2100-2500 meters 1700-2099 meters 1400-1699 meters under 1400 meters
Females 40-49 over 2300 meters 1900-2300 meters 1500-1899 meters 1200-1499 meters under 1200 meters
Males 50 over 2400 meters 2000-2400 meters 1600-1999 meters 1300-1599 meters under 1300 meters
Females 50 over 2200 meters 1700-2200 meters 1400-1699 meters 1100-1399 meters under 1100 meters

How to Improve Your Cooper Run Test Results

To improve your cooper run test results, work on building your V02 max. Higher VO2 max scores are can be attained by participating in endurance sports, especially cycling, rowing, distance running, and cross-country skiing. Training can increase your V02 max and improve your run test results, but keep in mind genetics, nutrition, sleep, and other factors contribute to results as well.

On the day of your test, ensure you have gotten plenty of sleep and are recovered from previous exercise. Consume a meal two or more hours in advance that includes plenty of carbohydrates and protein. Ensure you've hydrated adequately before the test as well.

Lastly, the best way to get better at any activity is to practice it, according to the rule of specificity. Training in the same method the test will occur will help you become more adept at performing it.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the Coopers run test?

    The Cooper test is a 12-minute run test is a basic test used by coaches, trainers, and athletes to assess current fitness levels and to track training progress. It's a timed test wherein you run far as possible in the 12-minute timeframe.

  • What is a good Cooper test score?

    A good Cooper test score depends on your age and sex. For males aged 20 to 29, 2400 meters is above average. For females the same age, over 2200 meters is above average.

  • How accurate is the Cooper test?

    The Cooper test is a simple yet fairly accurate way of measuring your cardiovascular fitness. However, there are other more accurate methods and some factors can influence the test such as body size, nutrition, sleep, genetics, and more.

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cooper K. A Means of Assessing Maximal Oxygen Intake Correlation Between Field and Treadmill Testing. Journal of American Medical Association. 1968;203(3):201-204.  doi:10.1001/jama.1968.03140030033008

  2. Seiler S, Tonnessen E. Intervals, Thresholds, and Long Slow Distance:  the Role of Intensity and Duration in Endurance Training. Sportscience. 2009; (13) 32-53.

Additional Reading
  • Cooper KH. A Means of Assessing Maximal Oxygen Uptake. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1968. 203:201-204.

  • Mayorga-Vega D, Bocanegra-Parrilla R, Ornelas M, Viciana J. Criterion-Related Validity of the Distance- and Time-Based Walk/Run Field Tests for Estimating Cardiorespiratory Fitness: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Fraidenraich D, ed. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(3):e0151671. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0151671.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.