Tactical professions across the globe (including military, police and firefighters) must take some form of aerobic fitness test. Most of these tests involve running, and the most common running test is the 1.5-mile, or 2.4-kilometer, timed run.
However, the 20-meter Multi-Stage Fitness Test (MSFT), or "beep test," is growing in popularity in some countries and groups. These often are fitness tests required for entry, but military members will see a running test of some sort every six months.
Different branches of services test different distances. For instance, the Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force have a 1.5-mile test. The Army still does two-mile runs, even though that service recently switched from the Army Physical Fitness Test to the Army Combat Fitness Test. The Marine Corps has the longest timed run at three miles.
If you had a choice between a simple timed run for any distance or a beep test, which running test would you prefer? Which one do you think has more applications within the tactical professions?
About the MSFT
If you have not heard of the "beep test," this is how it works:
Signaled by a specific timed "beep," you will run back and forth on a 20-meter field or court with cones marking the distance. There is a useful app that you can use with your phone and a speaker. Or you can follow this YouTube.com video.
NOTE: Some countries call it the "bleep test."
As you can see, it starts off easy like a jog and turns into suicide sprints with little to no rest between beeps on the higher levels.
You will start each 20-meter run on the sound of a beep. The participants run and stop at the line 20 meters away from the start. You will be able to start out slowly at a jogging pace, and you will have a few seconds before the beep requires you to run back to the starting line 20 meters away.
Each minute (or level), the beeps will decrease in time intervals, meaning you will get less and less rest time between beeps and the pace running the 20-meter distances will increase as well.
If a participant reaches the line before the next beep sounds, they must wait until the beep sounds before continuing. However, if the participant does not make it to the 20-meter line before the beep sounds, they are given a warning the first time. If they cannot catch up and maintain the pace on the next 20-meter beep, they have finished the test. The longer you can run, the better you do on the test.
The MSFT Beep Test measures aerobic fitness and can be translated into a VO2 max (maximal oxygen consumption) number, using a calculator (or equations) just like you can with the 1.5-mile timed run test calculator.
The MSFT also requires a participant to change directions every 20 meters and increase speed until reaching an unsustainable pace. This test may have more job-related applications than just running at a steady pace.
Depending on your abilities, the beep test should take longer than a 1.5-mile timed run. It should require more than 13 minutes on the beep test to score the same in the VO2 max calculator as you would from a fast nine-minute, 1.5-mile run. However, if you are a little slower on the 1.5-mile run (11 minutes), it only would take you 10 minutes to score the same VO2 max grade with the beep test.
Do not be fooled by the 20-meter distance. The MSFT Beep Test "starts out like a lamb and ends like a lion," with typically a much higher heart rate than the 1.5-mile run. If you never liked suicide drills on a basketball court, you will not like the final minutes of the MSFT.
If you absolutely cannot stand the 1.5- to two-mile run, the beep test is certainly a change of pace. However, the 20-meter MSFT Beep Test is not a replacement for runs in the three-mile range, as the times related to superior levels on the beep test are under the VO2 max score of the three-mile run.
In other words, maxing the MSFT will take less time than maxing the three-mile run, and just scoring average on the three-mile run can be done in half the time of doing the MSFT with similar efforts and scoring.
The MSFT is not an ideal replacement for the 1.5-mile run, but it is an alternative as tactical fitness tests evolve within the military, police and firefighter communities. The beep test offers a moderate test of agility (starting, stopping and changing direction) compared to the 1.5-mile timed run while yielding a similar VO2 max testing validation.
References: Relationship between the 20-meter multistage fitness test and 2.4-kilometer run in law enforcement recruits. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 35(10), 2756-61, 2021. Lockie RG, Dawes JJ, Moreno MR, Cesario KA, Balfany K, Stierli M, Dulla JM, Orr RM.
Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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