A VO2 Max test might actually make you a smarter athlete. Jim Gourley explains how.
Written By: Jim Gourley
Confused as to why your “extra” training last season didn’t yield better race results? Did your legs flame out halfway through the run? Knowing the heart rates that correspond to your maximum effort and lactate threshold will take the guesswork out of finding the “right” pace for your training and racing. The technicians who run your test will give you an in-depth explanation, but here are the big ideas.
What am I getting into? A VO2max test takes about 45 minutes to an hour at a lab. You’ll be weighed and have your body fat tested. Then a machine, attached to an oxygen mask, will measure how much oxygen is in the air you exhale as you perform higher intensities of aerobic effort. At the end of the test you’ll get the full explanation of the data and a chance to ask questions.
A lactate what? Your lactate threshold is the intensity of effort at which your muscles begin producing lactic acid. Stay there long enough, and you’re going to feel the burn. Stay just under it, and you’ll go like a certain pink bunny beating a drum. By elevating your absolute maximum with sprint/interval training, you’ll also elevate your lactate threshold. That’s why knowing both is so important.
Treadmill or roll-out? There are two ways to conduct the test—either on a stationary bike or a treadmill. Either one will yield about the same result, but your choice should be based on what’s most comfortable and what event you’re most concerned about.
Max via sub-max? There are two types of testing, and the version first established by scientists measures your VO2max directly. It requires you to run or bike at progressively more intense levels of exertion that increase over about 15 minutes until you hit the “stop-you’rekilling- me” threshold.
If this doesn’t sound especially fun, new methods allow for a “sub-max” test, which only requires you to put out about 85 per cent of your VO2max. Because the sub-max test uses mathematical approximations, it’s less accurate, but not by much. This is the ideal test for athletes with injuries or other concerns. Ask the lab providing the test if its equipment supports this method.
OK, now what? Information only helps if you use it. Making the most of your test data will require a little reading, a little planning and a heart rate monitor. Thankfully, heart rate monitors come fairly cheap these days. Over time, you’ll develop a feel for how your body responds to the rates you demand of it, and even sense that it’s improving as your established workout intensities don’t feel as though they demand as much effort. Repeat testing the same time next year and try to get the numbers that prove you’ve become a smarter, more fit competitor.