So I visited Steve Mannebach in the pulmonary lab at the University Hospital for a VO2 Max test. I had never done one, but have always wanted to. And I'm glad I did. The results will be invaluable for future training. The results also give me a baseline to see how I stack up.
So how do I stack up? Let's just say that you probably won't see me in the Tour de France. Let's just also say that I might have been able to take Lance -- right after he had just gone through chemo and while he was still bald.
To ride the Tour de France, they say you need to have a VO2 Max of at least 70 ml/kg/min. Lance had a VO2 Max of 85 ml/kg/min in his prime. Right after chemo, he had a VO2 Max of 66 ml/kg/min. The average norm for men is 40-42 ml/kg/min. "Excellent" is >56 ml/kg/min. Elite cyclists are said to have VO2 Max values between 70 and 80 ml/kg/min. The highest recorded value belongs to a nordic skier who checked in at 93 ml/kg/min. VO2 Max values can vary depending on altitude, whether the test was administered running or cycling, calibration of the machine, and whether the subject took the right dose of EPO prior to the test.
Moving on to what's really important, VO2 Max values do not necessarily dictate performance, but are very very useful. For example, it's said that Abraham Olano, a world class pro, never measured above 70 ml/kg/min, but yet had several impressive wins. Apparently there is an inverse relationship between VO2 Max and riding efficiency. Even if a person's VO2 Max is relatively low, by developing an efficient pedal stroke and by training the body to be more efficient, a person can easily compete with someone with a higher VO2 Max. Furthermore, I've heard that by increasing pedaling efficiency, one can actually increase VO2 max. The theory being that it takes additional muscles to become more efficient and if more muscles are being employed the oxygen uptake is increased. If knowing is half the battle, knowing one's VO2 Max can be useful in measuring and training one's strengths and weaknesses, i.e. becoming more efficient.
Furthermore, since it's not possible to ride at 100% of VO2 Max, performance is often dicated by the percentage of VO2 Max that is sustainable for a long period of time, i.e. LT Threshold. For some, their LT Threshold may be 90% of VO2 Max. For others, it may be 75%. Through a VO2 Max test, one can precisely determine where his LT Threshold is, which is highly trainable. Knowing where that threshold is, I will be able to focus on increasing it with the goal of increasing the maxium sustainable wattage.
Regarding the test itself, except for the Darth Vadar mask with an integrated snorkel, it's not that bad. Essentially, you pedal for between 10 and 15 minutes. Every minute or so, the machine increases the load, thus increasing your wattage, heartrate, and oxygen uptake. The test ends when you can pedal no more. In my case, when my HR hit 198, I was done.
I'm glad I took the test and would recommend to any person looking to improve their performance to take one. If you're interested in having it done at the University Hospital, you can contact Steve at 581-2240. Cost is somewhere around a well-spent $80. That cost also gets you the sweet wife-beater tank top pictured above.
PS -- The above picture kicks off the official Tan Line Contest. If you're tan line is as good (or as bad) as mine, let's see it!!