VO2 max testing

Peter Ladd wearing mask and seated on test bike

Peter Ladd at the tail end of the VO2 test

Cyclists generally have a desire to measure performance and development to the ends of preparing for an event or just for the sake of ensure we are sustaining fitness levels but not at the expense of our overall health and well being. With electronic monitoring device so readily available we can take account of speed, distance, cadence, heart rate altitude, temperature and power outputs have all this graphed and GPS coordinated.

Recently the cycling community was offered a unique opportunity to undertake some different testing through the Latrobe University Exercise Physiology Laboratory with VO2 max testing in lab controlled conditions. VO2 max (also maximal oxygen consumption, maximal oxygen uptake, peak oxygen uptake or maximal aerobic capacity) is the maximum capacity of an individual’s body to transport and use oxygen during incremental exercise, which reflects the physical fitness of the individual.

The name is derived from V – volume, O2 – oxygen, max – maximum. The response within the cycling community came from a wide group of athlete to the recreational rider seeking to understand better their personal capacity and fitness levels, and participants were selected from age groups of 20 – 35, 35 – 50, + 50. VO2 max is expressed either as an absolute rate in litres of oxygen per minute (l/min) or as a relative rate in millilitres of oxygen per kilogram of bodyweight per minute (ml/kg/min).

The latter expression is often used to compare the performance of endurance athletes. VO2 max should not be confused with the lactate threshold (LT) or anaerobic threshold (AT), which refers to the point during exhaustive, all-out exercise at which lactate builds up in the muscles.

With proper training, athletes are often able to substantially increase their AT, and exercise longer at a higher intensity. The average young untrained male will have a VO2 max of approximately 3.5 litres/minute and 45 ml/kg/min. The average young untrained female will score a VO2 max of approximately 2.0 litres/minute and 38 ml/kg/min. These scores can improve with training and decrease with age, though the degree of trainability also varies very widely: conditioning may double VO2 max in some individuals, and have little effect in others. The highest recorded VO2 max for Lance Armstrong is 84 ml/kg/min and Cadel Evans 88 ml/kg/min.

The factors affecting VO2 are often divided into supply and demand factors. Supply is the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the mitochondria (including lung diffusion, stroke volume, blood volume, and capillary density of the skeletal muscle) while demand is the rate at which the mitochondria can reduce oxygen in the process of oxidative phosphorylation. Of these, the supply factor is often considered to be the limiting one. However, it has also been argued that while trained subjects probably are supply limited, untrained subjects can indeed have a demand limitation. The physical limitations that restrict the rate at which energy can be released aerobically are dependent upon: the chemical ability of the muscular cellular tissue system to use oxygen in breaking down fuels – the combined ability of cardiovascular and pulmonary systems to transport the oxygen to the muscular tissue system.

We are grateful for the opportunity offered and the time taken to support yet another deeper insight into the sport of cycling and what the body is capable of producing. The participants were required to provide confirmation of their current health and fitness.

Looking forward to seeing you on the road soon God willing

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