by Carson Christen, FasCat Exercise Physiologist & Coach
Recently, FasCat Coaching in conjunction with the University of Colorado Boulder Men and Women’s cycling team held a training camp for US Collegiate Cycling National Championship hopefuls in Boulder, Colorado. The three day camp involved physiological testing, organizational meetings & a group ride at the FasCat Performance Center.
Measuring Performance Potential
Athletes completed VO2 max tests to determine their physiological potential. An athlete with high VO2 max values is said to be “gifted” and could be very successful. VO2 max is written in terms of relative (ml/kg/min) or absolute (L/min). Relative is related to a subjects body weight, while absolute is the total volume of oxygen that can be inspired regardless of body weight. Athletes with high VO2 max values that have gone on to greatness are Greg Lemond (92.5ml/kg/min) and Miguel Indurain (88.0ml/kg/min). For reference, the CU male athletes tested between 54 – 84ml/kg/min and CU female athletes tested between 48-65ml/kg/min. The CU athletes have tremendous potential but that does not guarantee success. Beyond one’s physiology elite level results takes several years of hard training and racing seasons (aka experience).
According to Science: VO2 values for Elite Cyclists
Professional male and female cyclists possess greater VO2 max values than recreational and amateur level athletes. Data from Wilber, Zawadzki, Kearney, Shannon, and Disalvo (1997) found that elite male American cyclists possess VO2 max’s of 70 – 75 ml/kg/min (5 – 5.25 L/min) with many professionals exceeding 80.0 ml/kg/min (5.45L/min). Martin, McLean, Trewin, Lee, Victor, and Hahn (2001) found that elite female cyclists produced VO2 max values of 60 – 70 ml/kg/min (3.66 – 4.10 L/min). Research conducted by Jeukendrup, Craig, and Hawley (2000) analyzed professional cyclists and determined that most current professional cyclists have absolute VO2 max values greater then 5.5L/min for males and 4.0L/min for females.
So you want to turn PRO?
What does this mean for us as average Joe cyclists? In order to make a domestic pro team in the United States, it is safe to say that a male should have a VO2 max of roughly 68.0-75.0ml/kg/min. Anything greater than 75.0ml/kg/min, with proper training, you may be receiving calls from European Directeur Sportifs! To quote Allen Lim (Ph.D), “VO2 directly correlates to your cycling paycheck”. Female cyclists should produce values greater then 56ml/kg/min in order to increase chances of competing at the pro level. Most athletes not above this elite level will fall into one of the amateur categories of cycling. For amateur male athletes in the 20-30 age range, anything above 48-62ml/kg/min is considered “good” and they can be quite competitive in amateur racing categories. Female cyclists are generally in the 42-51ml/kg/min range.
Table 1. Criteria for VO2 Max Classification
|Pro Tour & World Class
** It should be noted that these are estimates based on research, and are not definitive criteria for racing categories**
Having a genetically high VO2 max is not the end all. There is no substitute for hard work and proper training. Elite level athletes need to have high VO2‘s but they also need to train incredibly hard.
On the contrary there are many successful amateur & professional athletes that have ordinary VO2′s. In these cases they make up for their ‘average’ VO2‘s by their ability to exercise at 88-90% of their VO2 max for extended periods of time. These are the athletes who can ‘suffer’ and scrap their way to good performances. It never comes easy but these athletes possess additional ways to get the most of out their bodies.
Respiratory Exchange Ratios (RER): Additional Insight
The Respiratory Exchange Ratio (RER) is a value which determines how much oxygen is being consumed by the body compared to the amount of carbon dioxide expired. A value of 1.00 represents an even shift of gases exchanged by the body. A value greater than 1.00 suggests that an athlete is not receiving enough oxygen to fuel their muscles, usually around Lactic Threshold. A value of 1.05 has generally been used as one confirmation point that the athlete has reached VO2 max. Now, every athlete is different, but it is beneficial as a coach to understand these values. If an athlete barely or cannot even reach 1.0RER before exhaustion, this suggests that they have a very good aerobic engine, being very efficient at burning fat as their primary fuel. An athlete however, that reaches 1.0RER very quickly and continues to rise above 1.05 before exhaustion suggests that the athlete burns primarily carbohydrate as fuel, and could improve their performance by burning more fat in preference to muscle glycogen (carbohydrate). This is often referred to as being more efficient and can be addressed in training.
With the proper data from the VO2 tests we conducted during CU’s training camp, we, as coaches, are able to understand the athletes’ strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore we are able to see areas for opportunity and recommend certain types of training to address weaknesses or deficiencies. All in all the training camp was a great way to learn about the CU riders’s personality & physiology. Now the hard work begins in preparation of the 2012 collegiate season and national championships!
Jeukendrup, A. E., Craig, N. P., & Hawley, J. A. (2000). The bioenergetics of world class cycling. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 3(4), 414-433.
Martin, D. T., Mclean, B., Trewin, C., Hamilton, L., Victor, J., & Han, A. G. (2001). Physiological characteristics of nationally competitive female road cyclists and demands of competition. Sports Medicine, 31(7), 469-477.
Wilber, R., Zawadzki, L., Katherine, M., Kearney, J. T., Shannon, M. P., & Disalvo, D. (1997). Physiological profiles of elite off-road and road cyclists. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise, 29(8), 1090-1094.