Cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPEX) is a valuable clinical tool that has proven indications within the fields of cardiovascular, respiratory and pre-operative medical care. Validated uses include investigation of the underlying mechanism in patients with breathlessness, monitoring functional status in patients with known cardiovascular disease and pre-operative functional state assessment. An understanding of the underlying physiology of exercise, and the perturbations associated with pathological states, is essential for healthcare professionals to provide optimal patient care. Healthcare professionals may find performing CPEX to be daunting, yet this is often due to a lack of local expertise and guidance with testing. We outline the indications for CPEX within the clinical setting, present a typical protocol that is easy to implement, explain the key underlying physiological changes assessed by CPEX, and review the evidence behind its use in routine clinical practice. There is mounting evidence for the use of CPEX clinically, and an ever-growing utilisation of the test within research fields; a sound knowledge of CPEX is essential for healthcare professionals involved in routine patient care.