Knowing Your Vo2max: Does your laboratory really know your V02max?

If you're a serious athlete who wants to know your V02max, can you rely on a university laboratory to give you a foolproof reading? According to a recent Montreal University study, the answer is no. Montreal researchers discovered that when athletes visited two different certified laboratories, their V02max measurements could vary by as much as 15 per cent, or 10 ml/kg/min. In other words, an athlete might be given a reading of 70 ml/kg/min for V02max at one lab but just 60 ml/kg/min at a second facility,even though the latter reading would predict a four-and-a-half minute slower lOK time! Shockingly enough, such wide variations could also be observed when an individual had his V02max measured on different dates in THE SAME LABORATORY!

Why such disparities, and what should serious athletes do about the problem? According to the Montreal investigators, a key problem was the measurement of true rates of ventilation, with various labs miscalculating rates by as much as 30 litres a minute! The Montreal scientists called for more vigorous calibration and verification of the laboratory ventilatory equipment.

Athletes sometimes rely on V02max readings to monitor their training progress, but if lab readings are shaky they have no way of knowing whether a V02max upgrade from 70 to 75 is a true increase in capacity or just a bungled measurement. Fortunately, there are other ways to reckon training progress. Perhaps the best is to exercise at a fixed work rate (say 225 watts on an exercise cycle or at a pace of six minutes per mile on an indoor running track) while carefully keeping track of heart rate. The test should be carried out every month, and if heart rate declines from month to month, the athlete can be confident that fitness is improving.

('Variability in Aerobic Capacity Measurement between Certified Laboratories', Canadian Joumal ofAppliedPsychology, vol. 19, Supplement, p. 2P, 1994)

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