This article originally appeared in the Capital Bicycle Club Newsletter December 2013
Since last month’s edition, the VO2 Max/Fitness Age Calculator that I directed you to as the basis for my article has undergone some changes. This is partly due to the fact that over 1.5 million people have used it in the span of a month! The original interface that I described to you has changed somewhat, but the data you’ll input is the same when you go to http://www.ntnu.edu/cerg/vo2max. The key difference now is that you’ll be given the choice to provide additional health data if you choose. Now, then, let’s go onward! The question I left lingering in my last edition was how we might CHANGE that VO2 Max and maybe get a little “younger” in the process!
As a reminder, VO2 Max is the measurement of the greatest amount of oxygen a person can transport to working muscles, no matter how hard the muscles are working. Clinically, this measurement is one of the best predictors of cardiovascular health, however, it’s generally quite expensive to obtain because of equipment/expertise requirements, and cost. Usually they are done in a lab. This VO2 Max Calculator takes a few simple measurements and compares them to the test results of people actually did the lab testing. This provides you with a comparison of your VO2max to 5000 of your Norwegian peers! Gosj!
Of the measurements input into the calculator, frequency and intensity of exercise is where most of us will have the greatest opportunity to impact our fitness levels. Indeed, when I used the calculator to input different levels of intensity of workout, I found that I could change my fitness age from 21 years old to 46 years or more just by lowering the intensity of my exercise! The Cardiac Exercise Research Group (CERG,) who developed the calculator, recommends starting with 3-4 weekly sessions of exercise that contain high-intensity intervals. For their workout plans, they include 4 minute high intensity efforts (85-95% of your maximum heartrate.) This is a very hard, all out, interval, and harder than most of us would maintain during our usual workouts. Between the 4 minute hard effort is a 3 minute OFF interval where the goal is to recover and let the heart rate drop back down. The overall workouts would progress from doing 1-2 of those in the beginning to 4-5 of the efforts as your body adapts to them. Their main suggested modes of exercise are running & walking, but that the format would work just as well for cycling, skiing, or swimming.
In the realm of specificity to cycling, I have used Chris Carmichael’s interval workouts for a long time in my training. They follow a format that is similar to the above program, though his high-end intervals, aims to have a 3 minute “all-out” effort followed by 2 minutes of light riding for recovery. A full workout would have 6-8 of these intervals sandwiched between a warm-up and cool-down for a short (but sweet) workout. In my experience, these fit well into a workout on the trainer because you are able to fit it all into just over an hour or so on the bike. On the road, it’s often hard to find a spot to go “all-out” without worrying about traffic, stop signs, and sneaky hills that often show up during a rest interval!
Whatever style of interval you choose, using a heart rate monitor or power meter to measure the intensity of your efforts is a hallmark of these programs. After about 8 weeks of your program, you should be able to re-test and find some changes to your estimated VO2 Max and Fitness Age. Even a small change represents a big accomplishment!
For more specifics on the recommendations of the Cardiac Exercise Research Group, you can look at the following webpage: http://ntnu.edu/cerg/regimen
**Please consult with your doctor if you have any questions about starting an exercise program like the ones described above.
What better time to start than January? How old do you want to be by the end of 2014?
Photo Credit: Cardiac Exercise Research Group
See you on the road…