Popular VO2 Max test can reveal lapse in conditioning
Damn those thin mint Girl Scout cookies.
No sooner had I taken what’s known as a VO2 Max test, learned that my physical fitness had slipped over the winter and resolved to get back into shape than they arrived – packages and packages of devilishly good cookies coated in chocolate frosting. (We had to buy extras this year since my 7-year-old daughter, Hannah, is a Brownie.)
I doubt that wolfing down thin mints is what Dr. Glenn Kotz had in mind for me when I learned my anaerobic threshold level had dropped since cycling season ended.
Kotz gauged my VO2 Max level to help my understanding of the popular test used in sports medicine. The computerized test spits out reams of complicated data, but in layman’s terms, it measures the volume of oxygen you can consume while exercising at maximum capacity.
It tests factors which are influenced, in part, by genetics and, in part, by conditioning. In sports medicine, it is a good way for athletes and recreationists to gauge their conditioning and training needs, said Kotz.
In general medicine, VO2 tests are used to help determine if a person who is suffering chest pains or discomfort is having problems with the lungs or heart.
The tests are available to the public at the Midvalley Medical Center for $250.
With the help of Leslie Gilbert, head of the cardiac-respiratory department of Aspen Valley Hospital, the test started by measuring my lung capacity in two different exercises. A mouthpiece is inserted and a padded clasp placed on your nose. After breathing normally while hooked to the contraption, Gilbert had me breath in as much as I could then blow out as hard and as long as I could.
For the second test, I was required to breath in and out and fast as possible for 15 seconds. It gauges the strength of the muscles used to breath.
My various results came in from 7 to 24 percent higher than expected for a male my age, height and weight.
The lung capacity tests provide a baseline used in the primary test. For that, 10 electrodes were attached to my chest to monitor heart activity. The mouthpiece was fitted onto a halo so my hands were free for use on an exercise bike, and the nose clip was back in place. The mouthpiece is also fitted into a computerized metabolic analyzer, which measures the volume and percentages of carbon dioxide and oxygen in expired gas.
The VO2 test can also be given while the subject is running on a treadmill.
Once the test started, the resistance on the stationary bike was slightly increased about every 30 seconds or so, making it more difficult to peddle and forcing my heartbeat and breathing rate to climb.
Dr. Kotz directed me to try to keep my RPMs at a consistent level so he knew I wasn’t dogging it. The test continued for roughly 12 minutes, and the resistance reached a high enough level about three-fourths through that it caused me to sweat like the proverbial pig, shoot spit into the mouthpiece and experience some burning in my legs.
It’s essentially like a 40-minute cycling spinning class squished to 12 minutes.
My VO2 was predicted by the computer to come in at 39.2 milliliters per kilogram per minute. It actually came in at 42.5, or about 8 percent higher than expected.
My power output was anticipated to top out around 256 watts but actually came in at 299.
That’s where the good news stopped. While the VO2 test tells you the potential fitness level you have in athletic and recreational pursuits, it also measures your current fitness level. That was my weakness.
My anaerobic threshold came in at 138 heartbeats per minute. While there is a very scientific explanation of what that means, to a layman that means the level your breathing becomes labored. You can’t breath in and out easily through the nose, and you cannot talk without gulping air.
(I took a VO2 Max test three weeks earlier that produced results that Dr. Kotz labeled “abnormal.” The second test on the exercise bike showed the first test results came in low and invalid, for reasons that are undetermined.)
While I get on my bike several times per week from April through October and also hike a fair bit, my aerobic activity falls in the winter to sessions in The Gym in Basalt and irregular cross-country ski outings or walks up Buttermilk.
The grim reality is you can’t coast through winter at age 38 and stay in good shape. Medical evidence shows that “de-conditioning” accelerates with age, Dr. Kotz said. A person who falls out of condition at some point in the year cannot top out at a lower fitness level as they age. The moral of the story is try to stay in shape year-round.
When in good shape, my anaerobic threshold should be up around 155 beats per minute.
And I promise that I will get it back up there, Dr. Kotz, just as soon as I finish those damn thin mints.
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