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All You Need To Know About VO2 MAX testing

VO2 max testing is the absolute gold standard measurement in endurance performance. VO2 max can be defined as the amount of oxygen you can utilise during exercise, which is the key performance indicator in endurance sports. VO2 max also has strong correlations to aerobic health and is one of the best predictors of cardiovascular disease. It isn't just all about your VO2 max! With this test we are able to see fuel utilisation across work performed. This enables us to accurately ascertain the proportion of fat and carbohydrate you use at a given exercise intensity, and therefore exactly how many calories you burn at a given intensity. With this information we can then prescribe the most accurate training zones based on your health and fitness goals.

Why is this test so important? Well, with the common metrics we use to assess performance, such as heart rate, FTP (for cyclists) and mile/km time, only tells you a number, an outcome. It tells you nothing about the physiology behind the number, you don't know how your body achieved the outcome. For example, you can't know how much fat vs. carbohydrate you utilised during exercise. Therefore, you can't know anything about whether you utilise carbohydrate too early at low intensity exercise. Or it tells you nothing about what happens to your breathing frequency at higher intensities, and whether you may have a respiratory limitation vs. cardiovascular limitation. This makes it really difficult to make appropriate training interventions. But not anymore... VO2 max and metabolic testing tells us the how and the why.

What does the test involve? A VO2 max test is what we call a ramp test. A ramp test is the best method for identifying your performance limitations, zones and VO2peak. It consists of a 3 minute warm up, a 9-12 minute incremental test where the intensities will increase every 1 minute until reaching your maximum effort, followed by a 2 minute inactive recovery (no movement). It is vital you go to complete exhaustion, so be prepared! To make sure it is set at the right intensity for you to begin, we run a Parameter Check to determine the warm up and starting intensities as well as the increments that will be used during your test.

1) We find the intensity that gives you a heart rate between 100-110 beats per minute by adjusting the speed or wattage of the device until achieving that heart rate range.

2) We find 6/10 effort on a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale if you were to ride or row at that intensity for 5 minutes.

3) Find 9-9.5/10 effort on a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale if you were to ride or run at that intensity for 2 minutes.

Because our device is portable we are able to assess VO2 max and metabolic function on our Wahoo KICKR or Concept 2 rower, depending on your sport or exercise preference. Obviously the results are specific to the task! Although some inference can be made, choose the exercise type you commonly partake in and hope to get better at! Before you start we will find the right intensity for you.

What do the results look like? The report is extensive and lots of information is available to find out exactly what your performance strengths and weaknesses are. We will analyse the results and highlight the areas for improvement in our own personalised feedback section. With this, and your training zones prescribed based on your own physiology, you will have the perfect recipe to unlock all your performance potential!

Fig 1. Training zones. Often we are asked, what benefits do we get from high, moderate and low intensity exercise and which one should you be doing? This breakdown makes it bespoke for you!

Fig 2. Fuel utilisation. Have you ever wondered how many kcal you burn at a given intensity? Now you can find out! Perfect for anyone wanting to fuel for performance or understand the relative role of exercise in fat loss or muscle gain.


Fig 3. Early use of carbohydrate at low intensity exercise? Reduced metabolic efficency and aerobic respiration.

In this example above, we see the graph displaying heart rate (bright green line - top), carbohydrate (light blue) and fat (dark green). You can see where the orange arrow points to a crossover between fat and carbohydrate utilisation. This represents the point at which the work being performed needed more carbohydrates than fat to sustain the activity. This crossover is represented in these figures below (highlighted in orange);

Fig 4. HR at 110bpm at the crossover point, where the individual is utilising more carbohydrate than fat to sustain workload.

Why is this a potential limitation to performance? Without getting into some deep physiology, using carbohydrates for fuel comes at a cost; fatiguing by-products. Carbohydrate utilisation increases the harder we work (as you can see on the right hand side of the graph) because of our need for a faster release of energy. Because of this, using this fuel too early on at low intensities means we will hit the wall sooner than someone who can use fat for fuel at higher intensities.

The goal here then is Zone 2 training, which increases the ability to utilise fat, improve mitochondrial density and capilirisation thus improving aerobic capacity. In short..... it means you can sustain a faster pace for a longer period of time, shifting that crossover point to the right!

For more information get in contact, book ins now available!!!


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