The limitations of lab VO2max tests

Our body’s physiological response can change dramatically in response to factors such as environmental conditions and type of physical exercise (i.e. cardio vs. resistance training). Consequently, results and guidelines generated by a standardized VO2max test conducted in the lab cannot be accurately applied in outdoor settings or when the type of workout differs substantially from the exercise stimulus used when performing the test (i.e. biking or treadmill running). The reason is because the VO2 – Heart Rate relationship established through a lab based VO2max test is dependent on conditions such as temperature, humidity, wind resistance, as well as the type of physical exercise. Consequently, the VO2 – Heart Rate relationship established during a lab based VO2max test can change dramatically under real life conditions and guidelines, such as training zones, can become misleading.

In the case of endurance athletes, training zones and other proceedings generated from a lab-based VO2max test (e.g. optimal pace, timing to consume gels) conducted in the lab cannot be accurately used during the race since humidity, temperature, and windspeed conditions will almost certainly differ from those in the lab. In the case of CrossFit, MMA, or basketball athletes, the proceedings of a lab-based VO2max test provide almost no guidance to their trainings since the type of muscle stimulus during their sports is fundamentally different from that experienced in the lab.