How to perform the Chester step test
The Chester Step Test (CST) is a submaximal, multistage aerobic capacity test. The Test requires a low step, heart rate monitor, Instructional CD with stepping beat rhythms, RPE Chart and CST Software Calculator. The accompanying Manual includes Graphical Datasheets and Fitness Rating norms geared to age and gender.
Providing there are no medical contraindications to moderately vigorous exercise or stair-stepping, the subject is required to step onto and off a low step at a rate set by the beat on the accompanying CD. Every 2 minutes an instruction is given asking the tester to record the subject’s exercise heart rate and perceived exertion (RPE) – and the stepping rate is then increased slightly. The Test continues in this progressive manner until the subject reaches 80%HRMax and/or reports a moderately vigorous level of exertion (RPE=14). Aerobic capacity is then calculated by entering the exercise heart rates into the bespoke CST Software (or by using the appropriate CST Graphical Datasheet). The Test lasts for a maximum of 10 minutes.
Technical Note: CST utilises the well-established linear relationship between oxygen cost, heart rate and workload together with ACSM’s metabolic cost of stepping equation, thus enabling aerobic capacity to be predicted from a statistical line of best fit (1,2,3).
What should you use it for?
Many workplaces now have recommended aerobic capacity standards for certain groups of workers and CST is a highly suitable assessment tool for ‘fitness to work’ examinations. Whilst a number of industries test all subjects on a standard step height (e.g. 30cms for UK Fire Service (4) and Commercial Divers (5)), CST can also be administered using different step heights (15, 20, 25 and 30cms), thereby accommodating a wide range of ages and abilities with no gender bias. Guidelines for selecting step height are given in the CST Manual. It is also a useful tool in a variety clinical and rehabilitation settings to monitor patient aerobic fitness, recovery and exercise tolerance.
Relevance to occupational health practitioners.
CST has been used globally for over two decades in a wide variety of workplace settings including the fire, police, prison, ambulance and military services, oil, gas and offshore wind farm industries and other scenarios where an aerobic capacity assessment is required.
Ease of use
CST is straightforward to use. It is inexpensive, highly portable, easy to standardise and is a safely controlled submaximal test where heart rates and perceived exertion are monitored throughout. It is also highly repeatable, therefore ideal for test-retest scenarios.
Time to master
CST is very uncomplicated to setup and conduct. Nevertheless, as with any test with which the practitioner is unfamiliar, time should be taken to rehearse, fully understand the physiological principles of the prediction of aerobic capacity from submaximal heart rates and practice the Test to achieve best and meaningful interpretation of results. The CST Manual is therefore a highly recommended reference read.
For organisations who request in-house staff training, a One-Day Professional Development Seminar delivered by Professor Sykes is available. This ensures that all test administrators are fully confident and consistent in their approach, understanding and interpretation of results. Further details from firstname.lastname@example.org
Pros and Cons
CST is a simple, inexpensive test designed to assess aerobic capacity and overall Fitness Rating. However, as with all other submaximal fitness tests based on heart rate responses, the error margin is around 10-15%. Sources of error may include variability in predicted HRMax, nerves and anxiety elevating exercise heart rates and inability to maintain correct stepping rhythm. CST is, therefore, best used in situations where a good estimate of aerobic capacity is required. However, it is not suited to scenarios where a precise measurement is essential. As the CST is highly reliable on a test-retest basis it is well suited to monitoring changes.
Cost and where it can be obtained
Cartwright Fitness is the official suppliers of Chester Step Test equipment, software and resources: Items can be purchased separately or the full CST kit from £156 (inc. Tax). Bespoke software is now also available for UK firefighter assessments. A CST 5th Edition is due for release in January 2018.
American College of Sports Medicine (2008) ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription 7th Baltimore, Williams & Wilkins.
Latin RW, Berg, K et al (2001) Accuracy of the ACSM stair-stepping equation. Sci.Sp.Ex. 10, 1785-87.
Sykes K and Roberts A (2004) The Chester Step Test – a simple yet effective tool for the prediction of aerobic capacity. Physiotherapy 90, 183-188.
Chief Fire Officers Association (2017) Physical Fitness Tests. CFOA Pubs.
Health & Safety Executive (2015) The medical examination and assessment of commercial divers (MA1. HSE Books.