On the Limits of Scientific Advancement, Part 1

VO2 Test

@jason gencher, Bachelor of Music

The equipment used when testing one’s VO2 Max. NOTE: This is not me.

In my short time writing on diverse topics in science that have interested me, I seem to have gravitated towards the realm of guinea pig-ism. That is, I strongly feel that in order to make a pronouncement an a given topic, I must subject myself to it, to a certain degree. Of course, there are limits to this attitude, and as of yet, I haven’t done anything that could have seriously put my life in danger (but I do look forward to the one day when such an assignment might pass by my desk). Some of the articles I’ve researched have been enjoyable, such as tasting whisky. Others have been banal, like chewing my food thirty-two times before swallowing. There too, exist some experiences that give those who undergo them such an intense rush of adrenaline, a once in a lifetime feeling, something that they’re glad to have been able to write about, but are happy to never subject themselves to again. Covering a war, writing about what it was like to be water boarded – for me, it was running some ten miles with a rectal thermometer.

Perhaps I should elaborate. About a month ago, a friend approached me to inquire if I would be interested in enrolling in a study at a lab he was working in. The study focused on some trivial observation in the field of Thermal Ergonomics which this lab hypothesized was in fact, incorrect. Essentially, it is currently believed that individuals of different fitness levels will heat up at the same rate when exercising. The study aimed to prove that this change in core temperature was dependent, and not independent of ones level of fitness. For this to be properly researched, the lab needed a cohort of subjects to test – which is where I came in

I should mention that participation, much like anything else of this nature must first pass through many preliminary tribulations before the investigator is even allowed to search for subjects. Ethics committees, scientific panels, and funding committees are some of the hurdles that must be overcome before people like myself are recruited. When I was asked, I was always reminded both verbally and in writing that my participation was of my own accord. And as such, I have to say that it made me much more comfortable. Of course, there was always the thought in the back of my head, that I had to try and impress the researchers…

The study itself was conducted in four separate trials. The first step was to come in to the lab and run a VO2 max fitness test. For those who might have heard the term in one of their kinesiology, or physiology classes, you may well know of the theory behind the test. Let me assure you, the theory is of little assistance when you actually step on the treadmill. I was asked to change into work out gear (something I must add I am wholly unaccustomed to). I was fitted with some head gear with a tube that was placed in my mouth for me to breathe through while my nose was clamped closed with a nose pin. Along with this, a heart rate monitor on an elastic belt was placed around my chest. I did at that moment, feel like quite the athlete, as I looked like someone in a Gatorade commercial, but I must assure you that this moment was quite fleeting.

After filling out a small novel of questionnaires, being weighed and measured, to ensure that I was indeed an ideal candidate to undertake these feats, I was on to the warm-up. To warm-up I was asked to run for 12 minutes, where every three minutes the speed would increase. I started at around four miles per hour, increasing to about six after twelve minutes. I was feeling burnt-out by then, but the test had not even begun. When I did collect myself (after pacing the room for several minutes and drinking copious amounts of water), I began the actual VO2 max test. The test works in such a way that the body is forced to work until exhaustion. The goal being that the researcher can measure ones maximal oxygen consumption. I was started on the treadmill at six miles per hour at an incline of zero. Every two minutes the incline would increase by two percent. The odd thing about running at four miles per hour, is that it is slightly like alternating between a canter and gallop. Running at six miles per hour, certainly for a fellow of my size, is a committed run. I did manage to my own surprise to endure several minutes of the test. By the end, it did seem as if I was running up the Appalachian trail. Something I disliked while I was running the test was the constant ‘encouragement’ that I received from the researcher as I exerted myself harder and harder. “Come on, one more, one more”, “You can do it, keep it up”, “Alright, here we go”…if this is what they do in the fitness industry, I think I have become permanently disinterested.

Alas, the test finished, and I readied to head back home. Before I was allowed to depart, I was informed that my level of fitness was such that I could, if I chose, continue to the experimental sessions of the study, where I would become acquainted with the device mentioned at the start of this ordeal. Qualifying for enrolling in the study does not mean that I was ‘fit’ enough to participate, but that I met the inclusion criteria to carry on to the actual experimentation. A good friend of mine who was also recruited into trying out for the study and running a VO2 max test had completed the test and not qualified for the study because he was deemed too well in shape to actually participate. So I did come out of the first session with a better idea of where I stood on the universal scale of fitness (probably somewhere between couch potato and retired mall-walker). Having never actually participated in a scientific study, and as I mentioned before, enamoured with the idea of being a guinea pig, I booked a date for my second of four sessions.

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