BY NANCY McVICAR
Some athletes will do almost anything to stay ahead of the competition – even resorting to taking banned substances for that extra edge. But if you simply want to be the best you can be, naturally, the sports medicine department at Cleveland Clinic Florida and a few other facilities in South Florida can help you achieve that.
The VO2max test, considered the gold-standard for assessing cardio-respiratory fitness, can help athletes reach their performance goals, says Dr. David Westerdahl, a triathlete himself, head of sports medicine at CCF.
The test can be helpful for a range of people, from Olympic hopefuls, ardent long-distance runners, cyclists and triathletes, to corporate executives who want to improve their fitness, and even to bariatric surgery patients who have hit a plateau in their weight loss efforts and need help to go further, Westerdahl says.
“Master athletes” – those over 40 – are most likely to seek the test, he says, but he has had athletes as young as high school age who are pursuing college scholarships.
“It’s a good mix of men and women, but more women do half marathons and marathons than men. We’re seeing more and more women. Most are between 30 and 60, but I have a variety of master athletes in their 70s who continue to do marathons and half marathons,” he says.
Between an hour and an hour and a half is needed for the test, which begins with a series of questions to be sure the athlete is healthy enough to participate, he says.
They choose either a treadmill or exercise bike and are hooked up to EKG leads to measure heart rate, and a breathing mask to measure how much oxygen is being inhaled and how much carbon dioxide is exhaled. During the test, the intensity of the work-out is gradually increased.
During exercise, cells get their energy from fuel and oxygen. In this aerobic work-out, muscles can contract repeatedly without fatigue, but at higher intensities, the oxygen level doesn’t keep up and anaerobic metabolism kicks in. This reduction in oxygen produces waste molecules that can interfere with muscle contractions and produce fatigue and deterioration in performance.
“We try to calculate how far they can go. We slowly increase the speed and incline on the treadmill, and they will eventually reach a point where they can’t go any farther,” Westerdahl says. The test helps to determine the athlete’s optimal heart rate zone, he says.
During training and competition, some athletes wear electronic heart monitors, a wristwatch-type device attached to a chest strap with electrodes that shows their heart rate and helps them stay at the optimum pace.
“Many of them will use the information we give them as a benchmark, and come back three to six months later to be tested again to see how their training is going,” Westerdahl says. “Our goal is to help individuals who want to stay active improve on their abilities. We try to help them meet their goals.”
For more information: 954-659-5662, http://my.clevelandclinic.org/florida/departments/performance-fitness-evaluation-program.aspx.The test is also available at Florida Atlantic University’s Exercise Science and Health Promotion Department, in Boca Raton, 561-297-2938, www.coe.fau.edu/eshp; and at the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center, 305-284-LIFE (5433), www.miami.edu/sa/index.php/wellness_center.