This article originally appeared in the Capital Bicycle Club Newsletter December 2013
Endurance sports such as cycling, running, rowing, etc are all types of exercise where one of the major factors of performance is how much oxygen your body can transport to working muscles. The clinical measurement of this is called VO2 Max. Specifically, VO2 Max is the maximum volume (V) of oxygen (O2) that your body can take in and consume during a minute. It is generally expressed as either Liters of oxygen per minute or as milliliters of oxygen per kilograms of body weight per minute. VO2 Max can also be used as a possible predictor of early death from heart attack, although it is uncommon because the test is rarely administered to the general population.
Specific lab testing of VO2 Max is very involved, expensive, and performed in specialized facilities using devices to measure all of the air you breath in and out during a graduated exercise test. VO2 Max is found during the test when your consumption of oxygen levels off despite working harder. At the end of these tests, the subject will often rip off the mask/mouthpiece and noseplugs, gasping for air! Most often these tests are performed on elite athletes or college students looking for a little weekend cash. Outside of the lab, there are ways to predict VO2 Max, but they also involve an exercise test. Let’s be honest, not all of us are ready to push our hearts to the max without some sort of medical oversight, especially if there is a risk of stressing an unhealthy cardiovascular system.
I recently reviewed a method of predicting VO2 Max that does not involve an exercise test or lab equipment. All you really need is a tape measure and a watch. A group of researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology did lab testing of a diverse population of over 4200 men and women. From that, they created a mathematical model to estimate VO2 Max without having to put a person through an exercise regimen. For most of us, that estimate will be close enough to know our risks, and add a valuable piece of information to us about our health.
I put myself to the test in this, and here’s what I found: My estimated VO2 Max is 56 mL/kg•min and my estimated fitness age is 20. This means that my VO2 Max is calculated to be above the average 20 year old. Take that suckas!! (Oh wait, did I type that out loud?) With the online calculator, I can also see what factors influence that age. For instance, if I drop from daily exercise to 2-3 times a week, my VO2 Max drops to 53 mL/kg•min and my “fitness age” jumps up to 28. (Interpret that as 8 years less life expectancy, and you can see how your choices can make a big difference in how long you may be around!)
Now the big question… how do I stack up against the Big Guns of VO2 Max? An average healthy male my age has a VO2 Max of 47 mL/kg•min. I’m beating the average there! And then there’s Norwegian cyclist Oskar Svendsen who is said to have a VO2 Max of 97.5 mL/kg•min. I’m not even close! Elite male runners commonly measure 85 mL/kg•min while elite female runners measure about 77 mL/kg•min. How do you stack up?
Stay tuned next month to see what you can do to change your VO2 Max. SPOILER ALERT… It’s going to be time to make some New Year’s resolutions before you know it… See you on the road! APR
Image Credit: Cardiac Exercise Research Group