Thursday, February 18, 2010

Recovery Week with a VO2 Twist

Monday I could barely lift myself out of a chair; Tuesday wasn't much better. No working out. Wednesday I thought I was feeling refreshed, but than I swam and it hurt so I took it easy in preparation for Thursday am....

Being that I'm on a recovery week I thought I'd be "fresh" by Thursday and that a 18-min run wouldn't screw up my recovery agenda too badly so I scheduled a VO2max test in the CSUF Performance Lab. The plan was not only to test my own VO2, but also to learn how to conduct this test for the future research and work I plan on doing. My friend Albert, also a grad student, would be doing my test and teaching me along the way.

So Thursday morning, I arrived. I felt a sort of normal, but definitely not 100%. But, really, now that I'm in full-on training mode, the only time I'll be 100% is after a full taper leading into a 70.3. I chose a treadmill VO2max test because I know I can get myself to a higher intensity running than on a cycle ergometer. However, treadmill is probably the more painful of choices.

For those who don't know what VO2max is... briefly: it measures the maximal oxygen you're able to take in and utilize for working muscles. The more oxygen you can use, the better. This is measured by looking at venitlation (hence, the tube sticking out of your mouth) and the amount of O2/CO2 that goes in and comes out. Factors include time, weight, respiratory exchange ratio (using carbs vs. fat as fuel), etc. Relative VO2 is expressed as mL*kg*min, aka milliliters of O2 per kilogram of body weight per minute. Absolute VO2 is in liters, with ~3L or more considered good.

While VO2max is highly correlated to endurance performance, it's not the be all end all. Take lactate threshold for example: if two dudes have the same VO2max, whoever has the higher LT will win b/c he can wokrout at a higher % of VO2max aka intensity. Efficiency/economy also plays a role. The "quiet" economical runner will do better than the "choppy" runner even if the quiet runner has a lower VO2max. (Message: work on form/technique!)

Anyways, back to my test.


I did the "short" test of 18 minutes or less. If you don't like hill climbing, well, then, this might not be the best choice for you. I will likely do the longer test next time... flatter at higher speeds.

So, once HR monitor is on, mask/mouthpiece are secured and computer is calibrated, start walking on treadmill at 3.5 mph & a low incline. From there the speed and % grade incline are increased at certain time increments. The increments are ~2 min at first to get really warmed up and not to shock the system, then they shorten to ~30 seconds and it starts getting harder and harder at a rapid rate. Total time would be about 18 minutes or whenever the testee motions to stop. The max on the chart we were using was 7.5 mph @ 18% incline--while 7.5 mph isn't that hard at all, doing it at a 18% incline is!

Basically, you go until you can't go any more. If you're a rockstar and the speed/grade needs to go beyond 7.5/18%, then so be it.

Sounds simple right?


Me still walking, still ok...
As soon as I started jogging, my legs felt like bricks. Ugh. Guess I could throw out the idea of doing this test accurately aka fresh. I don't even remember when it really started hurting (maybe 6.0 @ ~10% grade). The worst part of the whole experience is having a dry throat & mouth and not being able to truly breathe deeply with that damn mask on. Plus your nose is plugged, and that just sucks. All I wanted was to be able to swallow and/or moisten my mouth. Neither were possible. One of the guys compared it to sticking a toilet paper roll in your mouth. Pretty accurate :)

Starting to pick it up...

So anyways, I was watching my HR the whole time, waiting for it to creep up toward the 180s. Knowing that just this past Sunday I had it at 185 while running uphill and that my max is roughly 194-195, I wanted to get it at least 190 for the VO2 test. But my legs said otherwise. I ended the damn test with a HR of merely 181, about 17 minutes into the test and at 7.0 mph / 12% or 14% grade, can't remember exactly. Lame! (And a true indicator that this recovery week is sooooooo necessary.)

You can see my form starting to suffer here... I was just staring at the fan and hurting, trying to be strong and tell my legs to shut up...

Still, at that intensity, my VO2max was at a "superior"/above average level according to charts and books, and in the right zone for a female endurance athlete. Definitely not super elite, but not disappointing. Feel free to ask me what it is, if you care, but I'd rather not post it because I don't want to intimidate my competitors ;-)

If you haven't done this test, I recommend trying it. If you can't afford one, there are ways around predicting your VO2max via other tests. Truthfully, it's really not that necessary to know, as HR, RPE, LT, etc. etc work just fine. Plus, you don't want to obsess over certain numbers that are out of your control to a certain extent.

In the end: hard work is hard work... and if you work hard, your body will go where it's capable of going.

In the meantime, I'll continue NOT working out hard until next week. Bring on the rest!


  1. Tri*Tawn....what was end result...181 is not bad...but you get very high up to 191??!! as per your comments too!!

    I did 3 weeks ago for my secodn time...and I got 184 max...but was 1% incline and 18km/h my max speed for 2 min....starting at 12km/h.

    Anyway, I think you are in excellent shape!!KEpp going with the good job!!

    Cheers from Hong Kong,

    "XTB" Xavi.

  2. Been there before. I did a max HR test on dead legs. It sucked ... a lot!

  3. In my Phys of Ex class back in college we did a ton of these, and they just aren't fun.

    Enjoy some rest, you have earned it.

  4. HOOOOLLEEEY SHITE that looks MISERABLE! glad to hear that you powered through it. rockstar!

  5. That was a very informative blog. Thanks for sharing! I hope you enjoy the remainder of your rest week!

  6. Cool. But those tests hurt. I don't ever want to do another one. And I wish I had a high max heart rate. Mine is pretty damn low.