Complex Exercise Testing

A complex exercise test is a test to:

  • See how well your child’s heart, lungs, and muscles work together during exercise
  • Check your child’s level of fitness

Many of the tests your child receives are performed while he or she is resting.  However, with exercise testing we get valuable information about how the body responds to different levels of exercise.  

The test is usually done on a stationary bicycle or treadmill, depending on the child’s age, size, and ability.  The child wears a few devices during the test that tell how the exercise is affecting the body.



Small clip that goes on the finger or a pad on the forehead

Tells how much oxygen is in the blood

Small stickers (electrodes) that go on the chest

Watches the heart activity

Blood pressure cuff on the arm or leg

Checks blood pressure

Padded nose clip and mouthpiece or breathing mask

Checks the breathing patterns and how well oxygen goes in and out of the lungs

While exercising, the child is asked to rate the difficulty on a scale of 6-20, with 20 being the hardest.  The resistance on the bicycle or treadmill speed and grade gets increasingly harder the longer the child exercises.  Your child will exercise as long as possible (parent / guardians can help encourage their child to exercise as long as possible).  Once the exercise portion of the test has ended, the child is allowed to rest.  Some of the devices stay on the child until the heart rate and blood pressure return to resting values.

The entire test will take about one hour. The actual exercise portion of the test will only last about 15 minutes, but preparing for the test and watching the child after the test will take about 45 minutes.

  • Your child should wear comfortable, loose and appropriately fitting clothes and gym shoes (required)
  • Your child should not eat a large meal within two to three hours before the test. However, your child may drink clear liquids (like water or apple juice) up to one hour before the test. 
  • If your child has an early morning appointment, he/she is encouraged to eat a light snack before testing to prevent low blood sugar.
  • Your child should avoid caffeinated products like coffee, tea, and cola drinks; chocolate; and added sugar the day of testing
  • No smoking, alcoholic beverages or over-the-counter cold / sinus medicines for 24 hours before testing.

This test is not dangerous.  You can expect your child to get short of breath and muscle fatigue due to the level of exercise. After the test, your child may feel tired because he or she just had a good workout!

An exercise physiologist will conduct the test, and other staff may also help (e.g., respiratory therapist, nursing staff).  A pediatric cardiologist (heart doctor) will interpret the test.

The test is done in the Cardiopulmonary Exercise Physiology Lab, which is part of the cardiology clinic area at Cincinnati Children’s. The lab is located on the fourth floor of Location C on the Burnet Campus

You can make an appointment by calling the scheduling center at 513-636-2601. Appointments are available 8 am-4:30 pm Monday-Friday.

Last Updated 10/2014