Thursday, October 22, 2009

VO2 Max and Lactate Threshold

Some smart people told me I could get far more out of my training if I had some data on myself. Specifically, if I knew my maximum heart rate, my Lactate Threshold and my VO2 max I could tailor my workouts to train more effectively.

My town does not have a record store. My town has one bookstore. My town has one supermarket. My town does have at least one very educated Exercise Physiologist running state of the art equipment to test athletes’ VO2 max and Lactate Threshold. Definitely one of the few times I have gone in search of something and been able to say, "Oh, we have that right here in Mammoth."

Sue's friend Rita, the aforementioned Exercise Physiologist, does exactly this kind of testing at Sierra Park Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Therapy here in Mammoth Lakes. I made an appointment with Rita and we sat down for an hour and spoke about the demands and characteristics of ski mountaineering racing. Rita gave me some options and I elected to have two separate tests done; Lactate Threshold and VO2 max.

I did my Lactate Threshold test first. Lactate Threshold refers to the point at which an athlete can no longer clear out the lactate that it is produced in his muscles. The test was actually pretty tough. Rita had me warm up on a treadmill for ten minutes. Based on that warm up speed of my choosing Rita calculated a speed to begin the test at. It’s starts fairly comfortably and the increases in workload seemed rather civilized. But after a while on that treadmill it got pretty frickin hard.

Every four minutes my workload was increased by upping the pace or incline on the treadmill. At the end of four minutes I would put my feet to the side of the treadmill and Rita would prick my finger and take a blood sample. She would touch the small drop of blood on my finger to a stick which was inserted into a pocket size meter that looks just like the ones Diabetics use. This would measure the amount of lactate in my blood measured in millimoles per liter of blood. Then it’s back on the treadmill after about 30 seconds of a break for the finger prick. The welcome back comes in the form of an greater workload. This was repeated for over an hour! Initially my blood lactate content was going up .2 millimoles with each new workload. Rita continues increasing the workload until she sees blood lactate content go up 1.1 millimoles over the last measurement. By the time that came around I had been on the treadmill for nearly an hour and my legs were on fire (incidentally, Rita informed me that the burning sensation we feel in our muscles is not from lactate). Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end. In order to assess how well my body clears out lactate Rita continued the test for several more workloads, thankfully at one workload level beneath highest one, the one that produced the blood lactate spike.

Though blood lactate levels and heart rate are not directly linked, heart rate can be a good indicator of where an athlete is at relative to his or her lactate threshold. I hope to do a full interview with Rita soon and she can clarify some of the specifics. The idea then, is that with a heart rate monitor an athlete can know how close he or she is to her own lactate threshold.
A week later I was back at S.P.O.R.T. for my VO2 max test. It was shorter by a long way, under 12 minutes in length. But it’s no more pleasant. This time I had to breathe through a tube shoved in my mouth with a clamp over my nose. I got to wear that really cool looking head gear. It's about as fun to wear as it looks. This test measures the volume of oxygen a person inspires per minute, per kilogram of body weight. After a short warm up I’m on the treadmill with the contraption on my head. Each minute the pace or the incline of the treadmill goes up. I think I survived 11 workloads before I couldn’t run anymore. Fortunately that marks the end of the test.

The biggest benefit for me was that included in the cost of the tests is an eight week training outline designed by Rita. The total cost of the two tests was $220. Are you kidding? I can’t imagine more bang for the buck. An athlete gains an awful lot of information for $220. And to have a personalized, optimized training plan constructed just for me is something I would have expected to pay twice as much for on its own. The training outline, by the way, is not vague. It describes exactly what I need to be doing each and every day. Every workout is broken down to exactly what my heart rate should be at any given point, what my perceived level of exertion should be, how long I need to be warming up and cooling down... I could go on. In summary, I’m stoked.

Most colleges and universities offer such testing. Or perhaps your local hospital has a Rita and all the technology just like my tiny town does.

1 comment:

  1. Train Hard Dude! It's really cool to see everything that comes out of it, and how the training has paid off in some ways, and to get motivation to train more. Sweet photo.