23 January 2015

VO2 Max test w/Pauole Sport at Seattle Performance Medicine

I've been thinking about this for quite a long time now and finally scheduled it.

I used to use heart rate a lot when cycling was my primary sport (and actually had a VO2max test on a bike) but got out of the habit when running took over and I'm not sure how applicable cycling numbers are to running. I think I embraced the minimalism of running and for quite some time I eschewed not only heart rate straps but also running vests/packs and in the summer shirts. Then I got injured, got injured again, and then I took a vacation and suddenly my base fitness had eroded a fair bit. Not only could I not run as fast, my tempo/race pace was a good 30 seconds slower than it used to be.

After talking to friends and coaches it seemed like the consensus was I needed more endurance pace efforts and less of what was now my tempo pace to build my fitness back up. In order to do this I needed to figure out my heart rate zones again.

Enter Kainoa Pauole-Roth, Seattle Performance Medicine and the treadmill.

Here is how this went down.
  • The test (really three tests) was explained to me.
  • I got fitted with a mask.
  • I took all three tests: resting metabolic rate, VO2max (and aerobic threshold), anaerobic threshold.
  • I enjoyed a well deserved shower and ate a snack.
  • The results were explained to me.
  • First and foremost I wanted to figure out what my heart rate training zones were for running.
Here are my complete results and here is the Reader's Digest version.

VO2: Max 54 ml/kg/min, 4.6 liters/min
VO2max Power: 5.6 mph 15% incline
Aerobic Threshold
   HR: 129 bpm
   Power: 5.1 mph 7.5% incline
Anaerobic Threshold
   Level HR: 151 bpm
   Level VO2: 51 ml/kg/min
   Level % VO2max: 94%
   Level Power: 8.3 mph 1% incline
   Incline HR: 150 bpm
   Incline VO2: 48 ml/kg/min
   Incline % VO2max: 89%
   Incline Power: 5.6 mph 10% incline
Training Zones
   1 (warm-up/cool-down/recovery): 102-112
   2 (extensive endurance/base-building): 113-123
   3A (aerobic threshold): 124-134
   3B (intensive endurance): 135-144
   4A (tempo): 145-150
   4B (anaerobic threshold): 151-156
   5 (lactate tolerance): 157-max
Resting Metabolic Rate: 2364 Kcal
Protein Utilization: 15%
Fat Utilization: 36.9%
Carbohydrate Utilization: 48%
HRmax: 162 bpm
HR recovery (2 min): 42 bpm

For my current fitness I have been doing too much tempo (4A). I should spend about two months working on Z2/3A to build base fitness and then work in some tempo again at which point my tempo pace (speed, not heart rate) should be slightly faster than it is now. During this base period it is okay to do some high intensity workouts that take my HR above tempo. Currently my tempo is too close to my max and the goal is expand my heart rate range so that there is a larger delta between zone 1 & 5 and especially between zone 4A & 5.

Currently when I hit zone 4A/tempo, I don't have many extra 'gears' and the goal is to give me the ability to accelerate from tempo pace, not blow up, and then settle back down to tempo pace. Right now when I go much faster than tempo I blow and need to slow way down.

This took almost four hours from start to finish.


Here is the longer version of what went down.
  • Don't sign up for this test if you are claustrophobic! The mask did not bother me but it covers both your mouth and nose and you wear it for 20+ minutes at a time.

  • After getting fitted I had to lie down on a bed and not move for 20 minutes to establish my resting metabolic rate - the first test. The key here is to mouth breathe to ensure the mask captures everything. That was actually a little harder than I thought.
  • Time to get it on! I changed into my running clothes, put on a heart rate strap, the mask and warmed up on the treadmill.
  • The second test (VO2max) started at 2.5% incline and a pace of roughly 10:00/mile. Every two minutes the incline was increased by 2.5%. A couple of times the speed was increased instead and I forgot why.
  • Every two minutes Kainoa held up this chart with a 1-10 scale of perceived effort and I was supposed to point to a number indicating how I currently felt. I'm guessing this was more of a safety/liability issue than anything else and did not impact the test or the results...
  • Somewhere around 12% incline I had to increase my cadence significantly just to stay on the treadmill. I have never trained hills on a treadmill so this was new to me. Somewhere around 12% incline I seem to recall indicating I was at 7 or 8/10 on the effort scale.
  • I lasted 60 seconds at 15% and then Kainoa shut the test down. Yes it was very hard but I could have gone a bit longer. Turns out your VO2max is not your absolute max effort.
  • I had to cool down on the treadmill (jogging on the flat and then walking) so Kainoa could see how much my heart rate dropped in two minutes.
  • Here I got to take the mask off and I was able to cool down some more and then climb off the treadmill and get a drink. There were even gels and bars next to the water cooler!
  • After maybe 10 minutes the mask went back on and I got back on the treadmill for another warmup.
  • The third test (anaerobic threshold) was all at 1% incline. Kainoa told me this approximates running on the flat outdoors the best. I started off at something like 10:00/mile which is 6 mph. Every 3-6 minutes the pace was increased, initially by .5 mph and toward the end by just .3 mph. Kainoa would wait for my heart rate to stabilize after the spike from the increase and then dial up the pace.
  • Interestingly having to run 3+ minutes at each pace level was MUCH harder than 2 minutes like I did in the initial treadmill test. I can wrap my mind around two minutes pretty well, longer seems, well, really long.
  • I was again told to indicate my perceived effort level by pointing to the sign after each increase.
  • Normally when I run on the treadmill I rarely ever go slower than 8:00. By the time I got to 8:00 during this test it already felt kind of hard. :(
  • I only lasted to 8.3 mph which is 7:14 min/mile! And again, the test was shut down well before I physically had to stop.
  • I cooled down for for another two minutes to see how well my heart recovered and then I was free to do whatever, testing was done.
  • Seattle Performance Medicine has (soft and fluffy!) towels and a shower so I availed myself of both and then walked over to the local PCC for my second breakfast.
  • About 40 minutes after I climbed off the treadmill I met Kainoa in her office and she went over the results with me. I got a printed copy and a digital copy.
  • Done!
  • I was pretty happy with my VO2max result. Kainoa told me that Scott Jurek tested here once and his number was, "in the high 60s, maybe 70". Lance Armstrong (just because most everyone knows who he his) was around 85 and here are some of the highest ever.
  • I was also pretty happy with my AT VO2 as a percentage of my VO2max. I was 89% and the goal is to be in the 80-85% range. That's right, more is not always better. :) This result means that when I hit my anaerobic threshold I am a bit too close to my VO2max and ideally you would have more headroom so you can accelerate/surge from your race pace and not blow up. Better to be able to recover quickly so you can resume your race pace. I was told I didn't have as many 'gears' as was ideal. Again the analogy was that when I race I'm already in 4th gear and my transmission is a 5-speed. Better to race in 3rd gear (at the same pace of course) or have a 6-speed transmission.
  • I was happy with my heart's ability to recover, I was told that dropping 42 bpm in two minutes is great.
  • I was happy with my body's ability to utilize fat (and protein and carbohydrate). You hear a ton of stuff these days about endurance athletes, especially ultra runners, trying to optimize their fat burning engine and mine is just fine.
  • Initially I was pretty bummed that my max heart rate was so low. 162...?! In training I routinely get up into the mid or high 160s when running stairs/hills and just in the last couple of weeks I have seen 170+ twice. That said, those 170+ numbers were in the beginning of my workout and I am more than a little suspicious about these readings. My heart rate tends to spike something fierce in the first five minutes of exercise and then calms down unless I am doing intervals. And even if I am, it never again goes as high as the initial spike. This could be my body, it could also be my equipment/heart rate strap and watch...
  • The more I read about Phil Maffetone the more I respect his heart rate formula. Going into this test I knew my base endurance was eroded and that I needed to rebuild it. According to Phil's formula my zone 2 pace since my most recent birthday should be 129 bpm. That just happens to be smack in the middle of zone 3A based on this test; and look what Kainoa highlighted as my ideal training heart rate to increase endurance - 129. Coincidence?
  • That said, Phil says I could add 5 bpm to his number bringing it up to 134.
  • It is hard to run and not exceed 134 bpm! I am able to stay under 140 but if I encounter any kind of incline even that is a challenge.
  • If I use Joe Friel's formula for running I get 134 bpm for zone 2 (my AT threshold x .89).
  • Could it be that these numbers are correct after all?
  • This test was a great reality check. I have aged quite a bit since I used heart rate on any regular basis and people (read: me) do tend to train too hard after time off or an injury so knowing I need to put in my time at a lower heart rate than I might think is right is important to know.
  • Slow down. To build back up I need to do most of my running in zone 2/3A and I need to keep doing this for all of February and March.
  • Intervals/track workouts are fine, just lay off the tempo for now.
  • In April I can add in tempo runs again, not more than one/week.
  • In addition to logging some zone 2/3A miles I need to be sure to recover well. Luckily this is something I have recognized as I get older and have been doing better and better lately.
There you have it, the most bullets I have ever used in a blog post. Would I recommend Kainoa and Seattle Performance Medicine? Absolutely. Got any thoughts? I'd love to hear them.


  1. Thanks, interesting writeup, Martin.

    "Phil says I could add 5 bpm to his number bringing it up to 134."

    I'm trying to find where Phil says this. Do you really fall under one of the Maffetone categories where he allows adding 5bpm?

  2. @hs - if you go here: http://philmaffetone.com/180-formula and scroll down to 2d you will see this modification. I believe I do fall in this category but that just brings my Maffetone number up to 134 which is exactly what everyone else is recommending. Bottom line, looks like I should try and stay below 135 for my endurance workouts.

  3. I read 2d as requiring you to have trained for over two years consistently and without injury to add 5 points, much as 2c lets you keep your base number if you've trained consistently and without injury but for two years or less.

    Maffetone's pretty hardcore. I'm careful to train way low in my HR ranges and I don't think I even quite meet his HR requirements.

    -- Herb

  4. I've been trying to focus my training to better HR zone training and your summary was a great read.

    I'm not sure of my exact VO2, and not sure I'll spend the $400+ to get a test done in the near future, but the info you provided is very informative.

    I know I need to slow down and pay attention to my HR. I've said this to myself a number of times, and this just reinforces that. I'll definitely try and train more in proper zones after reading.

    Thanks for taking the time to put this "review" on here. It will be helpful for me, and many other athletes I'd imagine, in our training and racing.

  5. @Michael Linscott - glad you liked it. For me, especially being older than most of the guys I run with, I have to work hard to keep up. That sort of works when I'm fit but not when I'm trying to build fitness which is where I am at currently.

  6. Really appreciate you sharing this data. I'm a crossfitter so I typically only train in the 4a-5 range and my performance has been diminishing lately. It's interesting to hear that training at lower heart rates can improve overall performance. Guess I'll have to read more... Thanks!

  7. @Aaron Rose - you are welcome! I love learning.

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