the last few posts (here, here and here) I’ve made the point that
as we age the training variable we probably most need to focus on is aerobic capacity
(VO2max), according to the research on aging, as it appears to decline faster than
lactate threshold (Allen, Coggan) and economy (Tanaka, Tanaka). So next we'll examine aerobic capacity a little more closely since it seems to be the primary
limiter for most of us (Hawkins, Wiswell).
however, that this doesn’t mean it is the limiter for all older athletes, especially those who have been in their sport
for a short time, perhaps three years or less. Of course, there may well be
several things, not just aerobic capacity, that are holding you back when it
comes to improving your endurance performance as you get older. A likely
candidate for this list is your body weight. Another related physical matter is the loss of muscle mass. I'll come back to these shortly.
now we’ll take a bit deeper look at aerobic capacity. Let’s start by getting a handle on
what it means.
capacity is determined using this formula:
VO2max = ml O2 / kg / min
common way VO2max is determined in a lab is to have you run (or bike) starting
at a low intensity with increases every few minutes until you can no longer
continue. It isn’t fun. But it produces a number – your VO2max – which is an
indicator of your endurance fitness. At your peak output, just before failure,
the amount of oxygen you’re consuming per minute (“min”) is measured using a
device hooked up to a mask over your nose and mouth in order to measure the gases you are breathing in and out. The
measured oxygen component of those gases is referred to
as “ml O2” (milliliters of oxygen).
computer, which is a part of the testing device, divides your ml O2 per minute
by your body weight in kilograms (“kg”). If you’ll recall from your elementary school
math class, whenever you divide two numbers, as the denominator (the number
you’re dividing by) increases, the quotient (VO2max in this case) decreases. So
what does that mean? As your body weight increases, your aerobic capacity
decreases. This should be obvious to you. You’ve probably had times in your sport
career when you’ve put on a bit of weight. At those times running, cycling or
cross country skiing uphill has been harder. If you lost weight it became
easier. Both of these are reflections of your aerobic capacity at the time.
of this means that there are two formula-based determiners of your aerobic
capacity – body weight and ml O2 used (“min” is constant). Lower weight means
higher VO2max. Higher weight means lower VO2max. Simple.
other determiner is not so simple. This is the component of aerobic capacity
that has to do with how much O2 you used at peak, sustained effort. It includes a whole bunch of stuff such as how much blood your heart
pumps per beat, how many red blood cells you have to carry the oxygen, the
number of tiny capillaries in the muscles to deliver the blood, the amount of
aerobic enzymes in the working muscles to “pull” the oxygen out of the blood into the muscle and convert it to energy, and much more. (Note that I didn’t mention lung capacity.
That only becomes an aerobic capacity issue if you have a lung-related disease
than losing weight, there are two primary ways to improve the oxygen-using components of aerobic capacity with
training. One is by doing a lot of long workouts. The other is by training with
high intensity. As an older athlete who has been training for years and years,
more long, slow distance workouts aren’t going to do much for you in this regard. That brings
us back to high-intensity training which, if you’ll recall from my last post, was shown by Trappe, Costill and
associates to be the best way to preserve aerobic capacity as we age.
my next post here we’ll examine the details of high-intensity training to
improve aerobic capacity and a few of the adjustments that are usually necessary
as we age.
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