This information has been supplied by Clive Lathey D.O MSc (Sports Medicine), and Osteopath at the Putney Clinic of Physical Therapy. Clive is a specialist in working with and treating both amateur and professional triathletes.

This is the third in our series of triathlon focussed blog posts – measuring performance in triathletes. The first post can be found here and the second here.

Vo2 Max

This is a common test for running fitness. It is the measure of the maximum amount of oxygen used in intensive exercise. It is an indicator of aerobic endurance, plus cardiovascular fitness and shows how efficiently cells use oxygen for energy. Vo2 max is measured in millilitres of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight (mL/kg/min).

Vo2 Max Laboratory Test

Laboratory tests most accurately measure the volume of oxygen consumed whilst running / cycling. The athlete is fitted with a face mask that is connected to a machine which can analyse their respiratory rate and volume alongside the concentration of oxygen and carbon dioxide in inhaled and exhaled air. Heart rate is also measured. The test typically takes between 10 and 20 minutes. Vo2 max is reached when oxygen consumption remains at a steady state despite an increase in the workload.

VO2 Max Norms for Men 
Age   Very Poor   Poor   Fair   Good   Excellent   Superior
13-19   Under 35.0   35.0-38.3   38.4-45.1   45.2-50.9   51.0-55.9   Over 55.9
20-29   Under 33.0   33.0-36.4   36.5-42.4   42.5-46.4   46.5-52.4   Over 52.4
30-39   Under 31.5   31.5-35.4   35.5-40.9   41.0-44.9   45.0-49.4   Over 49.4
40-49   Under 30.2   30.2-33.5   33.6-38.9   39.0-43.7   43.8-48.0   Over 48.0
50-59   Under 26.1   26.1-30.9   31.0-35.7   35.8-40.9   41.0-45.3   Over 45.3
60+   Under 20.5   20.5-26.0   26.1-32.2   32.3-36.4   36.5-44.2   Over 44.2

VO2 Max Norms for Women

Age   Very Poor   Poor   Fair   Good   Excellent   Superior
13-19   Under 25.0   25.0-30.9   31.0-34.9   35.0-38.9   39.0-41.9   Over 41.9
20-29   Under 23.6   23.6-28.9   29.0-32.9   33.0-36.9   37.0-41.0   Over 41.0
30-39   Under 22.8   22.8-26.9   27.0-31.4   31.5-35.6   35.7-40.0   Over 40.0
40-49   Under 21.0   21.0-24.4   24.5-28.9   29.0-32.8   32.9-36.9   Over 36.9
50-59   Under 20.2   20.2-22.7   22.8-26.9   27.0-31.4   31.5-35.7   Over 35.7
60+   Under 17.5   17.5-20.1   20.2-24.4   24.5-30.2   30.3-31.4   Over 31.4

Vo2 MAX – Alternative Test

This is the test than can be done with no equipment. Record your heart rate at rest first thing in the morning to find the number of beats in 60 secs. Then calculate your maximum heart rate with the calculation of 220 minus your age. This way of calculating your maximum heart rate isn’t as accurate as using testing equipment but will give you a broad estimate. Then to calculate your Vo2 max calculate 15 x (HR max/HR rest). A number of running watches also calculate Vo2 max based on running activities and use distance, pace, elevation and heart rate to produce a relatively accurate figure.

Lactate Threshold

As exercise intensifies, the blood concentration of lactate / lactic acid increases. It is often expressed as 85% of maximum heart rate in a trained athlete. When exercising at or below the lactate threshold, any lactate produced by the muscles is removed by the body without it building up.The lactate threshold is a useful measure for deciding exercise intensity for training and racing in endurance sports. It varies between individuals and like Vo2 max can be increased with training. It is helpful to identify run/cycle pace or heart rate that corresponds to lactate threshold.

Lactate Threshold Laboratory Test

Exercise scientists determine lactate threshold in a laboratory environment. In a typical Lactate Threshold test, a runner starts running at a low speed on a treadmill and is then required to run incrementally faster until the point of failure, or similarly on a stationary bike. At regular intervals a fingertip blood sample is taken.

Lactate Threshold – Alternative Test

  1. Time – Trial Method
    This method requires someone to run on a treadmill/ or ride a stationary bike and measure time, distance and heart rate. First warm up, then ride for 30 minutes gaining gradually in speed until you can go no faster. Record your heart rate at 10 mins and at 30 minutes. Add the two heart rate figures, divide by two and this gives you the Lactate Threshold heart rate.  Your average pace over 30 mins = Lactate Threshold pace
  2. High Tech Method
    On a treadmill/bike wear an LED light-sensor around your calf which is non-invasive and will read the concentration lactate in blood. Linked to a Smartphone App the sensor data will calculate Lactate Threshold pace and Lactate Threshold heart rate.

FTP (Functional Threshold Power)

Functional Threshold Power is used by cyclists to measure performance and it’s a measure of the best average power output you could sustain for 1 hour in a time-trial scenario. This is a measure of cycling fitness that can be increased in an average range of 2-2.5% through specific training.

An FTP Test takes 20mins. You will need a Power Meter – Powertrap, Ergomo and Heart Rate Monitor. Your average power over 20 mins x 0.95 = FTP. Eg 200 watts of average power x 0.95 = 190 watts FTP.

To calculate power to weight ratio from these figures take your FTP and divide by weight in kg. Eg for a 68Kg women with 190 FTP the calculation is 190  ÷ 68 = 2.9  power: weight FTP

A Triathlon Training Programme should include:

  • VO2 Max Intervals
  • Threshold Power Interval
  • Sub-Threshold Power Intervals
  • Endurance Rides

The physiological effects of such a training programme will increase capillary density, myoglobin and mitochondria. All of these changes allows for greater oxygen transport to your working muscles, improving their ability to perform intense exercise and produce energy.

Clive Lathey D.O MSc (Sports Medicine), Osteopath at the Putney Clinic, has a strong background in treating both professional and recreational triathletes and regularly speaks at conferences and seminars on triathlon training, injuries, injury prevention and rehabilitation. Here’s more information on the Putney Clinic’s sports injury clinic, or call the clinic on 020 8789 3881 to see how we may be able to help.