Wednesday, July 6, 2022

VO2Max, Lactate Threshold, and HRMax Tests at the Univ. of Westminster

August 4, 2009 by · 109 Comments 

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Today I did something that I should have done a long time ago: Maximal tests. The reason why I didn’t do them earlier was because these tests aren’t cheap and because I was not sure of what to expect. What am I talking about? I’m specifically talking about what is known as the Body Composition Test,  the VO2Max Test (HR Max Test as well) and the Lactate Threshold Test.

Before I continue, I am not a scientist, doctor, or anything like that; just a gear-head with a keen liking of data and analysis.

So what’s the point of these tests and why bother doing them?

As an athlete in training, or someone that just wants to get into improving their cardiovascular fitness, it is important to know how hard you are pushing yourself and at what points you are going to improve and at which points you are going to break. Think of it as a car… you know you can cruise at a certain speed, but after a point, your engine will red-line and you will suffer permanent engine damage if you persist. Although I don’t know what happens if you keep your heart rate “in the red” for a prolonged period of time, I have never been able to find out.. nor do I suggest you find out either unless properly supervised by a trained professional. These tests help you determine those limits in a safe environment so that then you can ‘know your limits’ but also train at the right level to improve your fitness.

So let me start by making the first statement: The long held formula for estimating your heart rate max (220-age) did not work for me. There are other more ‘sophisticated’ formulas, but they also did not work for me. Not only that, but they were drastically off. For example, I should have a heart rate max of 188-189 if the simple equation is right. However, this real test yielded that my heart rate max is actually 181. Those 7-8 beats make a huge difference. Huge. I can tell the difference between 163 and 170 for example in how miserable I feel, so basing my entire training around zones from a book with the wrong heart rate max, would lead to me over pushing myself. This is why, to some extent, it is important to know your limits or to train with a system that is based on perceived exertion.

Insofar as my experience and where I had the tests done:

I was tested by Benjamin Lee of the University of Westminster. Here is the site for their testing services:
They have a great facilities and equipment, and from what I understand, they also test many different kinds of Academic and Pro-Level athletes.

Ben first had me do the Body Composition test by stripping to my shorts and getting inside this machine called the Bod Pod. Frankly, it looked like an escape module from a Rebel Alliance ship, but unfortunately all it did was measure my fat vs. muscle … weight, etc. I must admit that I didn’t really care too much what the results were for this test since I am sort of lean, and know that I could lose weight, but am not at risk of obesity. What is funny is that when Ben was explaining my figures of Fat Mass to me, I actually (mis)heard him say ‘you are 17.5% fat ass’, maybe it was just my interpretation (and no, that is not my correct fat ass number).

After my composition tests, I went over to the SRM bike where I was going to go through the Lactate Threshold Test (LTT)and then the Vo2Max (Vo2T) test. The LTT was first. Ben had me increase my bike effort in watts by 25 watts every 4 minutes or so.. each time, he would take a blood sample from my finger. Yes, it wasn’t pleasant towards the end, but it isn’t as bad as you’d think. Throughout this process, what Ben wanted to see was at which point my body started really kicking into high gear in Lactic acid production. Effectively, this is what makes your muscles feel like they burn. By knowing where these tresholds are (relative to your heart rate), you can push yourself for a long time and only cross the threshold in the last few minutes of a race (there are many other ways of using this data, this is just an example)… During the LTT test, I was also wired for the monitoring of my heart rate as well as my respiratory rate via a mask that made me look like a jet fighter pilot.

After a short break, I then moved on to the Vo2Max test, which was short and painful. The Vo2T test is all about seeing when you will peter out. Ben made me move in increments of 40watts in a far shorter period of time. I plateaud at around 340 watts or so and hit my max heart rate of 181 and Vo2Max of 55 around the 7 min mark or so.. It was hard. It felt like going up the worst hill in the world, but my muscles just didn’t want to cooperate. However, because the experience is relatively brief, I didn’t feel that bad for very long afterwards. I told Ben I felt like I could have done better, he said everyone says that… what’s important is the data which shows you plateau-ing, and even if you could eek out another extra beat from your heart, it wouldn’t skew the results that much. I’m sure Ben has had much practice consoling over-achievers.

And that was it. It took about an hour and 15 to go through all the tests, and I got the basic ‘rough’ numbers on the spot. Of course, these are rough because Ben then goes and calculates the data gathered by the computer. I will update this post once I get the data from Ben and the subsequent analysis.

However, I can recommend these services to anyone that feels like they really want to take their training more seriously and knows what to do and how to use the data you receive.


I received the report from the Univ. of Westminster and I must say, it was a very informative piece of work. Far more than I expected.

The first thing on the list is the % Body Fat that I have. Although to have an accurate number I had to do the Bod Pod test, I’m surprised at the little amount of data it generated. To some extent, I was expecting to perhaps see something about nutrition, but perhaps that’s a whole different subject.

After those results, came the Aerobic Fitness results. I received the following values:

Power at Lactate Threshold (LT) in watts
Power to weight ratio
2nd Lactate Turnpoint (LT2) in watts
Power to weight ratio
Vo2Max (Absolute)
Vo2Max (relative to body Mass)

All the value are given to you with a general amount of explanation of what they mean and how they relate to others. I have ‘good values for a club rider’. However, when all my figures are adjusted for weight, they aren’t as good. As in, I would be far better if I would only lose weight.

From then, they go into an explanation of what these values mean, in particular they relate them to what determines endurance fitness. In their words:

“Research with long-distance endurance athletes has consistently
shown there are three main physiological components of performance. They
are predominantly related to the body’s ability to use oxygen and are:

1. having a high maximal oxygen uptake (high VO2max)
2. being able to sustain a high percentage of your VO2max without
accumulating lactate (high lactate threshold and maximal lactate
steady state)
3. being efficient in converting this aerobic capacity into cycling velocity
with little wasted energy (good cycling efficiency). “

The report then walks you through how your VO2max relates to the three points above.

Following the VO2max discussion, the report goes deeper into what Lactate Thresholds are about and show you a curve that relate your blood lactate with your heart rate. This curve effectively illustrates at what heart rate your lactate production spikes. For the reference of the reader, they also give you a benchmark of successful cyclists:

“The LT and the maximal lactate steady state (MLSS or LT2) are two of the
best indicators of cycling ability. Elite road cyclists display a lactate threshold  that corresponds to 77% VO2max… Successful cyclists possess high VO2max values  (>74mL/kg/min) and a LT2 that is ~90% of VO2max.”

I am far from this. Still have much to improve on both accounts, but whilst my  VO2max is somewhat limited in its ability to increase, my LT2 can increase with training.

The third and final part of the report goes into ‘Ideas and Guidance for training’. In specific, it focuses around heart rate as a method for training, as I don’t have a power meter. The report breaks down ‘zones’ for me to train in that don’t necessarily correspond to the typical 60-70% 70-80% and 80-90% that is usually Zone 2,3,4 respectively. Rather, the zones correspond to the different points within my LT and LT2 range (Below, in between, and above).

The report then goes to break down the remaining calendar year into how I should train during those periods. However, the detail of specific days or months is lacking. I think a coach could make a plan out of this data, but I can’t really make much out of it, as it is rather unspecific (you need to spend 20% of your training time done this… well, what does that represent in terms of intervals, sessions, etc?)

The report concludes with what my goals should be for my VO2Max and LT in three months. Let’s see if I achieve it.

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