Intensity-dependent tolerance to exercise after attaining V(O2) max in humans

Edward M Coats, Harry B Rossiter, James R Day, Akira Miura, Yoshiyuki Fukuba, Brian J Whipp
Journal of Applied Physiology 2003, 95 (2): 483-90
The tolerable duration of high-intensity, constant-load cycle ergometry is a hyperbolic function of power, with an asymptote termed critical power (CP) and a curvature constant (W') with units of work. It has been suggested that continued exercise after exhaustion may only be performed below CP, where predominantly aerobic energy transfer can occur and W' can be partially replenished. To test this hypothesis, six volunteers each performed cycle-ergometer exercise with breath-by-breath determination of ventilatory and pulmonary gas exchange variables. Initially, four exercise tests to exhaustion were made: 1). a ramp-incremental and 2). three high-intensity constant-load bouts at different work rates, to estimate lactate (theta(L)) and CP thresholds, W', and maximum oxygen uptake (Vo2 max). Subsequently, subjects cycled to the limit of tolerance (for approximately 360 s) on three occasions, each followed by a work rate reduction to 1). 110% CP, 2). 90% CP, and 3). 80% theta(L) for a 20-min target. W' averaged 20.9 +/- 2.35 kJ or 246 +/- 30 J/kg. After initial fatigue, 110% CP was tolerated for only 30 +/- 12 s. Each subject completed 20 min at 80% theta(L), but only two sustained 20 min at 90% CP; the remaining four subjects fatigued at 577 +/- 306 s, with oxygen consumption at 89 +/- 8% Vo2 max. The results support the suggestion that replenishing W' after fatigue necessitates a sub-CP work rate. The variation in subjects' responses during 90% CP was unexpected but consistent with mechanisms such as reduced CP consequent to prior high-intensity exercise, variation in lactate handling, and/or regional depletion of energy substrates, e.g., muscle glycogen.

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