Exercise Metabolic Testing: More Than Just Bragging Rights – Part 1
Posted Jan 06 2013 11:00am
A triathlete’s“VO2max” number lends itself to strong leverage for bragging rights in the endurance sports arena. If you know this number, which defines your maximum aerobic capacity, you can talk trash while hanging at the pool edge, chatting in spin class warm-up, or stretching on the track. Conveniently, your true athletic superiority can be answered not by race results, lap splits, or age-group rankings, but instead by a simple number that easily defines aerobic dominance. How close is your VO2max to Greg Lemond, Steve PreFontaine, or that obscure Norwegian cross-country skier whose name nobody can remember?
But as a measurement that originated in second century AD by Greek physicians blowing into sheep bladders, is the VO2max really that valuable? This about it this way: having a big VO2max is like owning a Ferrari engine.
Imagine that this Ferrari engine is dumped into an old pick-up truck chassis, or perhaps sitting in the garage. It is useless. Unless the engine is perfectly installed in an actual Ferrari automobile, it will never perform to “bragging rights” capacity. Likewise, unless you have the ultimate combination of economy, efficiency, and experience, your high VO2max is worthless.
Furthermore, the process of determining VO2max is somewhat demanding and unpleasant. The test begins with the attachment of a mask or breathing device to the test subject’s face. Through this mask, all expired and inspired gases are measured during a graded exercise protocol on the bike or treadmill.
Eventually, the test is terminated when the subject reaches an extreme state of fatigue, at which point an exercise physiologist excitedly scribbles down maximum aerobic capacity, typically expressed in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram per minute.
So if the process is so uncomfortable, and a high VO2max number is useless without a Ferrari body, why even bother to test?
Indeed, if all you’re looking for is the bragging rights to a high VO2max, you may want to instead save your cash for a couple good racing tubulars.
But before you abandon the idea, consider the following: many athletes do not realize that a significant amount of extremely important test data is collected prior to the VO2max point of maximum pace, peak power, and puke factor.
Hence the VOmax protocol actually has a close cousin that has been used in nutrition physiology for many years: the exercise metabolic test, or “EMT”.
In the part 2 of this series released next week, you’re going to learn what valuable data you can glean from an EMT…in the meantime, feel free to leave your questions below.
Ben Greenfield is the Renaissance man of the sport of triathlon.
He's a fast triathlete, a coach, a personal trainer, and much more more.