Not long ago, I decided to get a health screening done, where they measure your cholesterol levels, blood sugar, heart rhythms and so on.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I get a very official-looking 46-page personal health report, which showed me the results.
As I scanned through all the numbers and charts, I came to the fitness assessment page. And there was one number that stood out like an honest man in a room full of politicians.
It was my VO2max, which is a measure of aerobic power. The higher the number, the fitter you are.
The average, untrained, healthy male in their forties will have a VO2max of around 40. A number of 50 or above is considered excellent, while an elite soccer player in their twenties will score around 60.
That’s more than just good, very good or even excellent. A VO2max of 71.4 puts me up there with an elite endurance athlete in their twenties!
This made no sense at all.
When I had the test done, I’d been using the 3-day version of my MX4 program, which does provide a small cardiovascular training effect (my heart rate usually averages around 60% of its maximum during a workout).
I’d also just got back from a week of mountain biking in the Swiss Alps, and my cardiovascular fitness was higher than normal because of the extra training I’d been doing. Cycling at a high altitude can also boost your aerobic capacity to a greater extent than training at sea level.
Still, the idea that this relatively modest amount of exercise had given me a level of aerobic power that would have me donning a triathlon suit and competing for gold at the next Olympic games didn’t pass the reality check.
So, what’s going on?
The problem is that they used a step test to estimate my VO2max. This involves stepping up and down on a box for three minutes, and then seeing how quickly your heart rate drops back to normal.
This type of test is popular because it’s relatively quick, and doesn’t require you to push all the way to exhaustion. The downside is that it’s not always accurate.
The same can be said for a lot of the tests out there, from body fat scales to fitness trackers to food intolerance tests.
Much of it, at best, is background noise.
At worst, it can send you off in completely the wrong direction, either because it’s inaccurate, or because it’s interpreted in the wrong way.
Thanks to smartphones and watches, it’s possible to track more data than ever.
But just because you can track and record something doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s worth tracking and recording. Nor is it a guarantee that you can use the information to make better decisions about how to train or what to eat.
Christian Finn, M.Sc.
Founder of Muscle Evo