V˙O2max may not be reached during exercise to exhaustion above critical power

Brandon J Sawyer, R Hugh Morton, Christopher J Womack, Glenn A Gaesser
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2012, 44 (8): 1533-8

PURPOSE: This study was designed to determine whether V˙O(2) reaches a maximum, equivalent to that attained in an incremental exercise test to exhaustion, during "submaximal" fatigue-inducing constant-power exercise bouts above critical power (CP).

METHODS: Nine males (age = 24.6 ± 3.6 yr, height = 182.8 ± 6.9 cm, weight = 77.8 ± 12.1 kg) and four females (age = 29.0 ± 7.3 yr, height = 170.8 ± 3.2 cm, weight = 61.8 ± 8.2 kg) underwent an incremental V˙O(2max) test (IET) on a cycle ergometer, followed by four or five randomly assigned constant-power exercise bouts to exhaustion, on separate days. The CP for each subject was estimated using linear and nonlinear regression.

RESULTS: IET V˙O(2max) averaged 3.55 ± 0.92 L·min (RER = 1.21 ± 0.05, HR = 186 ± 10 bpm, 96.1% ± 6.3% of age-predicted maximum). Mean peak V˙O(2) (range = 3.32 ± 0.88 to 3.54 ± 0.91 L·min) during the three highest constant-power bouts (two of which were 53 to 82 W less than peak power output attained during IET) was not significantly different from IET V˙O(2max). Eleven of 13 subjects exceeded their IET V˙O(2max) during at least one of the constant-power exercise bouts. However, peak V˙O(2) (3.11 ± 0.79 L·min) during the lowest constant-power exercise bout, which ranged from 10 to 36 W above CP estimated with a two-parameter nonlinear model, was significantly lower than IET V˙O(2max) (88.2% ± 9.4% of IET V˙O(2max)).

CONCLUSIONS: At power outputs above CP, V˙O(2) does not necessarily increase to maximum during constant-power exercise to exhaustion. In addition, the highest V˙O(2) values measured during a traditional V˙O(2) "max" test (i.e., IET) may not reflect the highest attainable V˙O(2) despite V˙O(2max) criteria being met.

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