Fitness Testing 1, 2, 3: Cardio Capacity

Whether your goal is to win a 10K or drop some unwanted pounds, cardio testing can help you streamline your workouts and maximize your results.

heart rate testing

This article is the second in a three-part series that explores the methods and benefits of fitness testing for strength, cardio and flexibility – just a few of the many types of assessments available through health clubs, training centers and sports clinics.

Fitness testing can help anyone work out more efficiently and get better results more quickly. That’s because knowing your results allows you to create a workout plan that takes into account your current fitness levels as well as your fitness goals.

By testing your cardiovascular fitness, for example (our focus for this article), you can gain insight into the rate at which your metabolism burns calories while at rest, the exercising heart rates at which your body burns optimal amounts of fat and calories, the amount of exercise intensity required for you to build maximum aerobic endurance, your current aerobic capacity, and more.

We asked personal trainer Derk Voskuil, a metabolic training specialist at the Life Time Fitness club in Chanhassen, Minn., to put three people with very different fitness goals through a series of cardio tests. Here, we report on the participants’ experiences with those tests, including Voskuil’s recommendations based on each participant’s current state of fitness. Having focused on Todd Carstensen’s strength results in April, we now turn our attention to Melissa Gonzalez, whose weight-loss goal hinges on her ability to build a strong aerobic base. In the June issue, we’ll feature John Tanner’s flexibility work. –Eds.

Meet the participants

To get a sense of how folks from diverse fitness backgrounds with different fitness goals might apply fitness-testing results to their advantage, we asked Life Time Fitness personal trainer Derk Voskuil to work with the following three individuals as they progressed through a series of evaluations in the areas of strength, cardiovascular fitness and flexibility.

Todd Carstensen, 38: General contractor
FITNESS OBJECTIVES: To build up enough bulk and strength to resume playing the recreational hockey he loved in college but then abandoned because of back pain.

Melissa Gonzalez, 37: Compliance analyst for insurance company, mother of two
FITNESS OBJECTIVES: To slim down and increase her energy so she can spend more time playing with her kids.

John Tanner, 52: Manager of IT consultants
FITNESS OBJECTIVES: To maintain his fitness level, improve flexibility and reduce his susceptibility to heart disease, which runs in his family.

Derk Voskuil: Personal Trainer, Life Time Fitness
Voskuil is a CPT with nine years of experience in the field. He specializes in the science of metabolic training and holds a degree in exercise science with an emphasis in strength conditioning from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Cardio-Testing Outcomes

Melissa Gonzalez

Body Specs: 5 feet 7 inches, 195 pounds
Goal: To lose weight and increase energy so she can enjoy active time with her kids.
Obstacle: Finding time. Gonzalez works from home, but she travels a lot and doesn’t schedule fitness time into her week.
Fitness Background:Gonzalez is a working mom who wants to run and play with her 3- and 6-year-old sons. She also needs to be able to perform daily household tasks without back pain. She knows that improving her fitness level is important, but she’s been unable to stick with previous attempts to incorporate regular walks and aerobics classes for more than a week or two.

TEST RESULTS
For guidance on interpreting the results, see the “Testing Methods” sidebar below.

Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): 1,757 calories per day, with 60 percent coming from fat, 40 percent from carbs.
Aerobic Base: 135 beats per minute (bpm); at this point, she was burning 6.1 calories per minute. Of those calories, 84 percent (5.1 calories) came from fat.
Anaerobic Threshold (AT): 181 bpm; 11 calories a minute – but only 6 percent (0.7 calories) came from fat.
VO2 Max: 27.7 ml/kg/min.; Gonzalez’s score falls in the “average” range.

Trainer Recommendations: Given Gonzalez’s goal to lose weight and to have more energy, Voskuil recommended two types of zone-based cardio workouts that focus on bettering her aerobic base so her body becomes more efficient at burning fats (for more on the zones, see lifetimefitness.com/heart_rate). As her base increases, Gonzalez will be able to work out at higher intensities for longer periods (meaning she’ll burn a greater number of calories more quickly). As her aerobic base edges closer to her AT, more of those calories will her from fat stores.

Her workouts should last at least a half-hour, and for maximum caloric burn, they should be extended to an hour. Any cardiovascular activity (cycling, running, power walking) will do, as long as the target heart rates are achieved. Both workouts start with a 10-minute warm-up and end with a five- to eight-minute cool-down.

The first workout nudges her aerobic base upward and promotes fast, efficient cardiac recovery. After warming up, Gonzalez begins at a heart rate of 127 (bottom of her zone 2) and works to increase her heart rate by 10 bpm every two minutes until she reaches her AT. Once she hits her AT, she immediately backs off the intensity of the exercise to lower her heart rate as quickly as possible back to the bottom of zone 2. She then begins another buildup.

The second workout encourages endurance and again stretches her aerobic base: As in the first workout, Gonzalez begins at the bottom of zone 2 (for her, 127 bpm) and increases her heart rate by 10 bpm every two minutes. But this time, she only strives to reach the top of zone 2 (for her, 163 bpm), and then gradually backs her heart rate down (by 10 bpm every two minutes) so that it takes her as long to bring her heart rate down as it did to raise it. Once she gets back to the bottom of zone 2, she’ll again rev up her intensity and repeat the cycle for the duration of her workout.

Takeaway Wisdom: Doing each of these workouts twice a week, combined with a smarter nutritional plan, will help Gonzalez burn about 500 more calories a day than she consumes. She should lose about a pound a week and meet her goal of losing 50 pounds in one year.

Todd Carstensen

Body Specs: 6 feet 1 inch, 190 pounds
Goal: To bring his fitness – and his hockey-playing capacity – back to his college-era level.
Obstacle: Back pain and years of taking it too easy at the gym.
Fitness Background: Carstensen has been bothered by back pain since age 18, as a result of bulging discs. he longs to play recreational hockey like he did in college and also wishes he could haul lumber and shingles with more ease at his job. For almost a decade, Carstensen’s workouts have consisted mainly of stretching in the hot tub or sauna to relieve pain.

TEST RESULTS

Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): 2,021 calories per day, with 58 percent coming from fat, 42 percent from carbs.
Aerobic Base: 92 bpm; at htis point, he was burning 7.3 calories per minute. Of those calories, 79 percent (5.8 calories) came from fat
Anaerobic Threshold: 141 bpm; at this point, he was burning 11.2 calories a minute, but only 10 percent (1.1 calories) came from fat.
VO2 Max: At 32.2 ml/kg/min., Carstensen’s score falls into the “average” range.

Trainer Recommendations: To prepare for hours on the ice pursuing his hockey goal, Carstensen will rely on the same type of progressive workouts Voskuil drew up for Gonzalez. But to prepare for quick, intense bursts of speed, he will spend more time training in higher heart-rate zones.

Takeaway Wisdom: Voskuil predicts that after six weeks of cardio workouts, Carstensen will have increased his efficiency by expanding his aerobic base enough that he’ll have to run, rather than walk, to elevate his heart rate to his AT.

John Tanner

Body Specs: 6 feet 1 inch, 220 pounds
Goal: To maintain a feel-good level of fitness and flexibility, and to ward off potential heart problems.
Obstacle: Slipping fitness into a busy schedule.
Fitness Background: Tanner knows that focusing on fitness will help him stay active as he ages, but to date, he hasn’t developed an organized strategy. His training schedule is erratic, with cardio sessions that don’t challenge his heart rate and weight-training sessions that leave him exhausted.

TEST RESULTS

Resting Metabolic Rate: 2,064 calories per day, with 36 percent coming from fat, 64 percent from carbs.
Aerobic Base: 121 bpm; at this point, he was burning 7.3 calories per minute. Of those calories, 62 percent (4.5 calories) came from fat.
Anaerobic Threshold: 138 bpm; at this point, he was burning 11.4 calories a minute, but only 28 percent (3.2 calories) came from fat.
VO2 Max: At 32.8 ml/kg/min., Tanner’s score falls into th “average” range.

Trainer Recommendations: Voskuil once again recommended progressive cardio workouts based on the subject’s heart-rate zones. By learning to push himself a little harder than he had been, Tanner will keep his heart healthy.

Takeaway Wisdom: For most nonathletes, including Tanner, the goal of a cardio program is to exercise at higher heart rates (increasing the total number of calories burned) while burning a higher percentage of fat. As your body becomes more fit, it becomes more efficient. Initially, it might take an hour to walk three miles and burn 300 calories. As you build speed and endurance, you’ll likely be able to cover the same distance in less time (say, 45 minutes), while burning the same number of calories – and more of them will come from fat.

Sheila Mulrooney Eldred does her writing and AT training in Minneapolis. The June issue of Experience Life will feature her coverage of the flexibility test completed by Carstensen, Gonzalez and Tanner.

SIDEBAR: Testing Methods
Personal trainer Derk Voskuil used two tests to discovedr each participant’s personal metabolic fingerprint: Resting metabolic rate (RMR) indicates the calories, carbs and fats your body burns at rest to keep your system running (breathing, brain function, heartbeat). The metabolic assessment profile (MAP) indicates the calories, carbs and fats your body burns while exercising, plus it measures your aerobic capacity.

For the RMR test, you simply lie back and breathe through a neoprene mask for 15 to 20 minutes. A computer analyzes the volume and ratio of oxygen you’re consuming compared to the volume and ratio of carbon dioxide you’re producing. The results depict the number of calories your body requires per day to function at its current weight, as wells the type of fuel (carbs or fat) your body uses while at rest. RMR tests generally cost $50 to $90.

For the MAP test, you’ll be hooked to a computer while you exercise for about 15 minutes. The computer and a certified specialist analyze the volume of oxygen you consume and the amount of carbon dioxide you produce, compared to your heart rate. The results show your:

  • Aerobic Base. This is the heart rate at which you burn fat with maximum efficiency. A syou improve your aerobic base, your body learns to burn more fat calories at higher heart rates.
  • Anaerobic Threshold (AT). This is the heart rate at which your body stops burning fat calories and switches over to predominantly carbohydrate fuel. Lactic acid begins to accumulate in the bloodstream faster than your body can process it. Although exercising about your AT improves performance, you don’t need to spend much time at this level – most athletes don’t spend more than 10 percent of their time training about their AT.
  • VO2 Max (or aerobic capacity). This is the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can absorb, deliver through the body and use during one minute of exercise. It is considered an indicator of athletic potential.
    MAP tests can cost from $75 to $200, depending on location and protocol.

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