Step Test Finds Average College Fitness
Given to Most Harvard, Yale, Radcliffe Students
Beginning as only one phase of the Grant Study's research on the neglected "normal man," Dr. Lucien Brouha's attempts to determine the ability of the average person to perform hard muscular work have been so successful that he has developed a test which has already been given to 2200 students here and to 2800 Yale students and which shows promise of seeing still wider application in the near future.
Dr. Brouha is the physiologist of the seven specialists who have been working since 1938 in the low structure next to the Hygiene Building on Holyoke Street. Founded by the William T. Grant Foundation, the Grant Study has made some valuable contributions to science's understanding of normal man; the Step Test is one of the most outstanding of them.
Brouha Finds Basic Law
From the tests on Harvard and Yale students plus many more at Andover, Dr. Brouha has found good reason to believe that there is a fundamental physiological law which determines the ability of boys around 20 years of age to sustain and recover from hard work. The average of the College population at large here, irrespective of training conditions and based on the scores of the 2200 students, is 76, according to the scoring system of the test. This figure includes the June Freshmen who were the first full Class to be tested upon entering College. These Freshmen were tested again at the end of the summer to find the effect of the conditioning program on their efficiency. The same thing was done on 100 students taken from regular conditioning classes this spring who were tested before and after a six week interval.
Both results showed that those with a physical efficiency rating under 60 in the first test shot right up with an 8 to 20 point improvement when re-checked. Boys whose first test was 75 or better didn't show such marked improvement, leading the physiologists to say that the conditioning program wasn't tough enough for these students. Previous tests on a group of about 20 crewmen who started out with very high scores but nevertheless showed a marked improvement under rigorous training conditions, led them to this belief.
The Hygiene Department and the Athletic Association have adopted the Step Test's determination of the average student's fitness, and this fall all Freshmen whose rating was 75 or below, just under the College average, have been required to attend conditioning classes four times a week. The physical efficiency index has thus replaced the posture grade of recent years as the sign of the need for special exercise. Dr. Brouha expressed the difference in the two different methods this way: "It's just like a car; you can't tell whether it has the power by just looking at it. You have to press all the way down on the accelerator."
Both the June and September Freshmen are scheduled for a re-check tomorrow through the seventeenth, which will make the third reading on the June '46 Class, and the second on the September '46 Class. The results will enable Norman Fradd, assistant director of athletics, to decide whether or not the new training program is adequate and also to eliminate from compulsory conditioning classes those who can achieve a score better than 75.
Athletic Teams Tested
Dr. Brouha has concentrated his tests on athletes especially, to discover the most valuable type of exercise to increase fitness. Here are some of the figures he got:
Average of Varsity and Jayvee crewmen before training 87
Average of Varsity and Jayvee crewmen after training 100
Average of Varsity and Jayvee cross country runners before training 86
Average of Varsity and Jayvee cross country runners after training 97
Average of football players after training 90
It is evident from these that crew and running are the most valuable for increasing physical fitness. The reason is that the test measures mainly the efficiency of the circulatory system, and any kind of training like crew, track, or swimming, that puts a stress on the heart, lungs and large muscle masses, will better one's score more than another kind of exercise.
Curwen Tops in Fitness
From his tests on stalwart Crimson oarsmen, Dr. Brouha has found that the ordinary maximum of human efficiency is between 100 and 125, except when dealing with exceptional men. Bus Curwen, Varsity stroke, made the phenomenal score of 181, while his boatmate Johnny Erskine and sculler Dave Noyes registered 141 and 110, respectively. Fred Phinney, captain of the cross country team, has a rating of 125 and basketball captain Bunks Burditt has 115.
The history of the Step Test begins back in 1927 in the Fatigue Lab. There Dr. Arlie V. Bock, head of the Hygiene Department, and Dr. David B. Dill, now director of the Fatigue Lab, with their co-workers and under the leadership of the late Professor Lawrence J. Henderson, former director of the Lab, began the study of the normal human being's reactions to muscular exercise. They were aiming to use their findings principally in connection with industrial fatigue.
Later, after 1935, the problem of training was tackled in relation to age and physical fitness, and to various amounts of daily exercise. For these tests, the Fatigue Lab doctors had a chance to study on their treadmill in 1937 a few crack runners like Glen Cunningham, Don Lash, Archie San Romani, Chuck Fenske, Gene Venske, and Sid Robinson. And measurements were obtained that set new records in human power.
From these experiments, it was found that there is a definite relationship of the heart rate during and after muscular exercise to the ability of the subject to perform hard muscular work; the lower the heart rate, the greater the individual's ability.
However, measuring the heart rate during exercise is possible only be means of the complicated and expensive apparatus shown attached to Sid Robinson in the above picture, the cardiotachometer, which picks up through chest electrodes the electrical variations that accompany each heart beat. This technique couldn't be applied extensively for practical purposes, but fortunately, part of the test conclusions also showed that there are differences in the heart rate after exercise of a fit and unfit person. Drs. Robert E. Johnson, Robert Darling, and Brouha found that it was possible to get a satisfactory estimate of general fitness by measuring the heart rate at three convenient intervals during recovery after work. And a general formula was worked out by which a "fitness index" is defined as duration of a standard exhausting exercise in seconds divided by the sum of three pulse counts during recovery.
It was here that Dr. Brouha came in with the innovation that has led the Step Test to be referred to almost as often as the "Brouha I'est." In seeking to adapt the material of the Fatigue Lab experiments to a practical test, he developed the present procedure which requires only a stepping platform 20 inches high.
At Yale, where the tests on 2800 students have just been completed, the average for those who finished the full five minutes of stepping onto the platform and down was 79. When the Harvard average is taken eliminating the approximately ten per cent who failed to last all five minutes, it is 81, two points above Yale.
Radcliffe Tries It Too
The test has also been given in a modified form to the Radcliffe girls, suiting the required work to female capacities. Dr. Brouha preferred to remain discreetly silent about the scores made by the girls, being fearful of inspiring too much confidence in the stronger sex.
Princeton has expressed interest in the Step Test and may be the next to take stock of the condition of its students. In fact, before long the Brouha Step Test may spread over the whole country, for as far as is known, this test is the only one in existence for accurately measuring general fitness for hard work in normal, healthy persons.
By permitting the determination of physical fitness without expensive equipment and specialized personnel, and in a short period of time, the Step Test is especially important in wartime when we are dealing with large groups of men and when tiptop condition is essential. The test is already being used in certain branches of the armed forces where a high degree of physical efficiency is required, especially in pre-flight training. it is also serving to help select officer candidates, for an officer must be physically able to lead his men at all times.
The Athletic Department, which cooperated wholeheartedly in conducting the tests, has found the Step Test invaluable, in their aim to put every Harvard student at his maximum and keep him there, so he will be in condition for armed service. "For, in order to decide how much work a boy needs to put him in good physical shape," Dr. Brouha explained, "you must know how much he needs and how much he can take."
Through the Step Test the Athletic Association has been enabled to concentrate on the average student as much as the team athlete. And the Hygiene Department, which encloses the Grant Study, can now extend its efforts, to the healthy as well as the sick student with clearer aim since there is a proven connection between physical efficiency and good health.