Can You Train For A Beep Test On A Treadmill?
By Simon Gould
You can't replicate a beep test entirely on a treadmill. But you can definitely train for one. Beep tests involve speed as they get harder and harder and you can do speed training on a treadmill. This will get you used to some of the challenges of the test. What it can't do is copy the many turns and decelerations you'll do during a beep test.
What is a beep test?
A beep test is a physical fitness test that gets progressively more difficult as time goes on. It involves having markers usually 20 (sometimes 15) meters apart. There are audible beeps that reduce in time and the participants have to run between these markers before a beep is heard. If they fail once they are cautioned and a second time they stop and their score is recorded.
A significant aspect of the test is the turn between the markers. This is because you're running back and forth in a straight line. This makes the deceleration between the markers and the turn to run towards the other marker what make it so tough. A lot of time is taken with this adjustment in direction and speed which slows you down.
The great aspect about the test is anybody can take part because it starts off slowly. But only those who have a high fitness level can achieve high scores. The test was "invented" in 1983 and is a very effective way of measuring a persons fitness level. Specifically the VO2 max which is a way of measuring your fitness capacity.
Know that you will hardly ever beat a beep test, it will always beat you. But it's how often you can last before exhaustion that counts. It goes up to 21 levels and while some claim to have reached it, there isn't any evidence. There can be no limitations except what the human body can handle. It is grueling as you progress and quite entertaining to watch.
The video below shows the beep test in action:
Occupations that use a beep test
The video above is of a British Army assessment center. The test is used around the world to see whether certain occupations or sports people have the required level of fitness. It has various different names but is nearly always the same. The USA call it a PACER (Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run) or a Multi Stage Fitness Test.
This wikipedia article about the test shows the services around the world which use it. They are mainly military and police organizations and the variety of worldwide locations show just how popular it is. This is probably because it's so simple. It requires little equipment or room to perform and is very cheap and very effective.
These organizations will require their personnel to reach a certain level before they can be accepted and recruited or hired. I remember doing a beep test at school. It's enjoyable and many people can do it at the same time so the competition is there. Only the truly active and able will successfully win and sometimes it's not who you think it will be!
Treadmill uses and limitations
Fitness tests are often done using treadmills but a traditional beep test is not one of them. Even an actual test for your VO2 max is always done on a treadmill as it involves medical equipment so you need to exercise in the same spot. But because you can't easy decelerate and you definitely can't turn means the treadmill is not the perfect way to replicate one.
As I said before, a treadmill can improve your fitness and that is what a beep test measures. If you live in a very built up area with no access to even 20 meters of room both inside or out, then a treadmill is a great way of training for the test. The actual test involves endurance and speed and both can be enhanced using a treadmill.
Beep test training on a treadmill
Since the test involves you running faster and faster, this can be done on a treadmill. We need to work out the time when the audible beep gets faster and increase the speed on a treadmill to match. They get quicker around every minute so we'll increase the treadmill speed at that frequency. There's no point in replicating the start of the test because it's very slow and gradual.
We'll start at 5.5 mph, this equates to a jog really. It might feel very slow for some but know that, like the beep test itself, it soon gets quicker. So every minute increase the speed by 0.5 mph. So in 5 minutes you'll be running 8 mph and in 10 minutes 10.5 mph. This is actually tougher than the test because you don't have the benefit of the decelerations and turns which is a small recovery.
Beware you should really only do something like this with someone spotting you or at least someone in your location. Anything you do to exhaustion should be done cautiously and not too often. It's easy to overtrain and this is only a practise for the real thing. Try this once per week at the most and train with normal runs on other days to maintain your fitness.
Some recommend using the incline instead of speed as a training method. I wouldn't advise this, it's not recommended to run for long periods on an incline. You don't run on endless hills in nature, you won't be doing that on your test and it's bad for your knees and joints. When on the treadmill use the footwear you plan on wearing for your test.
To train on a treadmill you don't need the audible beeps, you just need to know how quickly they change. The good thing is using the console and buttons, you know exactly what speed you're running. This is the most accurate way of replicating the test on a treadmill. This is very much like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) which helps increase your VO2 max as well.
With a treadmill you can train at any time of day and in any weather. The variations of speed training you can do is enormous. There are many different speed workouts that can be done, I've used a lot and they've improved my fitness. However, there are few tests that can really measure your fitness but the beep test is one of them and training on a treadmill can help improve your performance.
Thinking of buying a treadmill? See my top 3 recommended treadmills for 2021