What Is a VO2 Max Test?
A VO2 Max test involves a graded exercise test on a treadmill or on a bike. The test begins at a very light intensity and gets slightly harder each minute until maximum exertion. The subject wears a mask and we measure the volume of air expired along with the percentages of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the expired air. From this data, we determine the following:
Aerobic threshold is the optimal intensity (wattage, running speed and/or heart-rate) for developing endurance. At aerobic threshold intensity, the body is recruiting almost all of the slow-twitch muscle fibers, but not yet recruiting any of the fast twitch fibers. Most athletes, without the benefit of physiological testing, overestimate this intensity. Using optimal intensity for basic endurance training maximizes fat burning and minimizes recovery time and injury risk. Most athletes perform basic endurance workouts at an intensity that is too high. Conducting basic endurance workouts at optimal intensity is much more efficient, enabling increased training volume as well as greater frequency and better quality speed workouts.
Known as the red-line to endurance athletes, this threshold is the highest intensity at which the body can recycle lactic acid as quickly as it is produced. Just below lactate threshold (LT), an athlete is working hard and acid levels are moderately high, but it does not accumulate. Speeding up just a little will cause lactic acid accumulation. Knowing this precise threshold enables an athlete to work out most efficiently.
Lactic acid is a byproduct of exercise, which makes the muscles burn, and may contribute to fatigue. Athletes during exercise, even at low intensity, are always producing lactic acid. Their muscles are also constantly burning lactic acid and using it as a fuel. At low intensity the muscles easily recycle as much acid as is produced. The higher the intensity is, the more acid is produced by the muscles. At lactate threshold intensity, the muscle is able to recycle the acid as quickly as it is produced. If the athlete speeds up just slightly, the muscles produce more acid than it can recycle and acid accumulates, causing fatigue and damaging the muscles.
VO2 Max is the volume of oxygen the body uses during one minute of maximal exercise. This data tells your potential for endurance athletics. While aerobic and lactate thresholds are the best predictors of current endurance performance, VO2 Max is one indicator of an athlete’s potential. This test is conveniently available in our institute.
Benefits of VO2 Max Testing
The single most critical factor that determines the benefit of aerobic exercise is intensity – how hard you exercise. Training at the correct intensity for each type of workout optimizes the body’s response, giving you the greatest workout efficiency.
Most people exercise too hard. Whether attempting to improve endurance, lose weight, or increase sustainable speed, almost everyone goes harder than is ideal. Testing is the only way to learn the most efficient workout intensities for your unique physiology and get the most out of every workout.
In any structured workout program, each workout should have a specific purpose. To achieve the ideal response from the body, the stimulation must be specific to the desired adaptation and must allow quick recovery for the next key workout. Intensity, more than any other variable, determines the body’s response to the training stimulus.
This absolutely does not mean that harder is better. The optimal training schedule for anyone provides the lowest volume and intensity that will stimulate the desired adaptation, not the highest that the individual can sustain. This is a major paradigm shift for many people who grew up hearing, “No pain, No gain.” If working out at a certain intensity is good, then even harder would be better. Wrong!
Training efficiently means balancing the cost and benefit of each workout. Every workout has a cost, in terms of recovery. Every workout also increases fitness. Efficient workouts provide training benefits that are worth the recovery cost. Everyone, at any point in time, has certain recovery resources. While smart athletes develop habits to maximize these resources, they will always be finite, and need to be budgeted. Anything that is going to expend these resources needs to provide a proportionate benefit.
Glycogen Storage: Glycogen is the form of carbohydrate, stored in our muscles and in our liver that serves as the primary fuel for endurance exercise. Hard or long workouts expend tremendous amounts of glycogen and demand full fuel tanks at the beginning of the workout. Maintaining optimal intensity makes best use of this limited resource.
Muscular Recovery: Muscles sustain damage during running workouts. Lactic acid accumulation damages the muscles chemically and impact stress damages the muscles mechanically, producing tiny tears called micro-trauma.
Connective Tissue Damage: Every workout, but especially a run workout, stresses and damages connective tissues. These tissues need to heal and rebuild adequately between workouts.
Injury Risk: Injuries are an ever-present risk in any workout, especially run workouts. During high-volume or high-intensity workouts, risk for injuries increases.
Maintaining optimal intensity during every workout is a key aspect of managing these risks.
Psychological Factors: While everyone wants to think they are more motivated than the next guy, even for the most motivated person in the world, this is a finite resource. Whatever effort you put in to your workouts needs to provide a proportional benefit.
These are all limited resources, and exercising at the right pace during each workout makes the best use of them. This allows you to benefit maximally from each workout and gets you ready sooner for the next key workout.