Monday, July 10, 2006

VO2 testing

A couple of weeks ago, while I was really getting fired up about losing weight and marathon training and running, I found a link on my dietician's website to a place that does VO2 testing. VO2Max Houston is the company, well it's an individual actually, that does the testing.

So, why would a runner need to have VO2 testing. Well, anyone that trains with a HRM knows that there are "zones" based on HR that define various states and transitions of energy sources. Of course, it all sounds very neat to say if you keep your heart rate below 75%, you are using your aerobic system. If you are above 80%, you're running anaerobically...or whatever. All these websites and gyms and books try to define aeorobic and anaerobic zones. The truth of the matter is it's not as exact a science as one might think. Actually, you are always using some aerobic and some anaerobic respiration. Generally speaking though, there is a point in intensity where the majority of your energy demands goes from aerobic to anaerobic. This nebulous point is often referred to as you anaerobic threshold (AT). You may have also heard it referred to as lactate threshold (LT). Supposedly, if you know this point of intensity, you can divide you training intensity up into different zones and target the energy system that you want to train.

This is all fine and good and for runners like me who can't let go of the blanket called "objective, logical data". The fact of the matter is that you can run below or above your AT, just from perceived effort. That means, if you perceive that you are running at an easy intensity and you can carry out a conversation during a run without gasping for air, you are probably running below AT. If you are breathing hard and perceive that you are really pushing it and you legs are burning, you are probably training somewhere above AT.

Nevertheless, it is interesting and can be fun and beneficial to know the general HR zones that correspond to various %VO2 values. That's where VO2Max Houston comes in. Their methodology is supposed to be very, very accurate. A friend of mine who is an exercise physiologist says that this method is a very accurate way to get your maxVO2 and AT. Of course, these values will correspond to a specific HR so you can correlate your HR during exercise to VO2.

So, am I going to drop the $125 to have the test done. Not right now. You see, I'm at a point right now that I don't believe I will get much benefit from the test. For me, right now, all training runs are at a conversational pace. I'm trying to build an aerobic base and the best way to do that (increase mitochodrial counts, increase capillary density, increase RBC counts, improve aerobic enzyme function) is to run slow, aerobic miles... A LOT OF THEM...FOR MANY, MANY MONTHS. From what I've read, any training above LT is useless unless you have this foundational base and are well conditioned aerobically. That's why I really think it's useless for new runners to go out and run hard and try to go fast. They're putting the cart before the horse. I read an article that stated that even many experienced runners probably never took the 6 months to 1 year when they started running to train their aerobic system in the right way. They just keep running faster and pushing harder and they come to a wall where they can't improve. This article advocated 3-6 months of getting back to slow, conversational, aerobic training runs, especially long distance runners and especially 6-12 months out from a target marathon.

This is all interesting to me. I'm very interested in the physiology. Guess I'm a WHY kind of person. However, I do not think at this time I am going to have the VO2max test. I think that all the things that I am doing in the coming months are going to bring on such drastic improvements in my fitness, I just don't need to have the test now. I kind of have enough to think about. Maybe later in the year or next year.


Bon said...

Vic: I've always been interested in that stuff. Mostly because my HR doesn't seem to match up with the target zones I'm "supposed" to be running in - i.e. I'll be conversational with a HR at 160. I ended up stuffing my monitor in a drawer b/c I could never keep it within target range. I'd like to get all that stuff tested and find out what my real max is and exactly what pace all my speedwork is supposed to be done at. But you're right, I need to put the time into base-building first and all the rest of the stuff will probably come along with it.

Let me know if y ou ever decide to get this done. I'd be interested in your experience.

Barbara said...

That's cool Vic. I've never heard of a company that makes a living testing that. Do you know any of the specifics? Honestly, I "think" mine is around 190-195 but wouldn't be surprised if it's not 200-205. I know it's definitely higher than 220 minus my age.

I haven't been very diligent mid-week lately testing my heart rate; ironically I set my strap/watch out for tomorrow because I'm doing hills which is sure to make my rate go up.

I definitely have my max set in my Garmin. It drives some of the other runners nuts around me, but it's the one thing I tend to watch most of all.

Running Rabbit said...

My Garmin doesn't do heartrate. Now I am little remorseful!

Keep us posted!