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Maximal Testing vs.

Submaximal Testing

Anna Clark

EXSC530L – 002

June 16, 2017

George Grieve


VO2 is the volume (V) of oxygen (O2) being consumed. VO2 max is the maximal oxygen consumption

rate (transported and utilized). Determinants of VO2 max include genetics, age, sex, training status, body

composition, mode of exercise and specificity. Maximal testing is a very accurate measure of VO2 max but is

very high risk and requires subjects to exercise to volitional fatigue. Submaximal testing is low risk and does

not require subjects to exercise at a maximal level, but the results are not as accurate as maximal testing.

Maximal or peak oxygen uptake (VO2max and VO2peak, respectively) are commonly measured during graded

exercise tests as an assessment of cardiorespiratory fitness, to determine exercise intensity and/or to evaluate

the effects of training. However, direct measurement of cardiorespiratory fitness requires a graded exercise

test to volitional exhaustion, which is not always accepted by athletes or should be avoided in some clinical

populations (elderly, disabled, etc). Thus, numerous studies have proposed various sub-maximal exercise

tests to predict VO2max or VO2peak (Coquart, et. al., 2014) Per research and testing it is believed that both

maximal and submaximal testing will yield similar results in regards to VO2 max.

The variables most commonly used in submaximal and maximal testing were heart rate and rating of

perceived exertion. Overall, submaximal exercise-based equations to predict VO^sub 2 max^ are moderately

to highly accurate. The heart rate and rating of perceived exertion methods of predicting VO^sub 2 max^ were

of similar accuracy. Important factors to consider include when determining whether to use submaximal or

maximal testing are: the level of exertion required; participant medical conditions or medications; the validation

population; mode of ergometry; time and resources available for familiarization trials; and the level of bias of

the study from which equations are derived (Evans, et. al., 2015).

VO2 max is very important when it comes to training an individual. The higher a person’s VO2 max is,

the better their body is at taking in more oxygen and delivering it to muscles, therefore, a high VO2 max is a

good thing. For example, elite runners/cyclists would have a high VO2 max. In a previous study that compared

time to exhaustions at VO2 Max in elite cyclists and runners vs. non-elite athletes, the study showed that VO2

max was much greater in elite athletes, however, that non-elite athletes could improve their VO2 max quicker

than elite athletes with already high VO2 max levels (Billat, et. al., 1996). Also, and important note to make is

that excess body weight and fatness does not necessarily imply that a person cannot maximally consume

oxygen or will have a reduced ability to consume oxygen. As found in a previous study, excess body weight

and VO2 max should be considered independent entities (Goran, et. al., 2000). It should not be assumed that

a heavier person will have a lower VO2 max than a lower weighted person and vice versa.

The hypothesis of this experiment is that both the maximal treadmill test and the maximal cycle

ergometer test would generate similar results in relation to VO2 max. The purpose of this experiment is to

interpret whether results acquired from the maximal treadmill test will differ from the results acquired from the

maximal cycle ergometer test.


The data for this lab were collected from twelve college-aged students, seven of which were males, and

five females. Before administering these tests, each subject’s exact age and weight were recorded. The

maximal test used was the Bruce Treadmill Test. The test was divided into six stages and four recovery

phases. Each stage was three minutes long and the recovery measurements were taken at two, four, six and

eight minutes. The speed started at 1.7 mph and gradually increased from stage to stage at 0.5-0.9 mph

intervals and the grade started at 10% and increased from stage to stage in two minute intervals. The methods

used to deliver this test were to check the subject’s heart rate every one minute (taken during the last ten

seconds of each minute), check blood pressure every three minutes (taken during the last 30-45 seconds of

each stage), check rating of perceived exertion (RPE) every three minutes (taken during the last five seconds

of each stage.) Time is used to determine the subject’s VO2 max, the longer the subject lasts on the protocol,

the higher the VO2 three minutes long and the recovery measurements were taken at two, four, six

and eight minutes. In order to calculate the VO2 max for this test, two different formulas were used, one for

males and one for females. The formula used for males was; [ (0.056 * t) + 3.88 ]. The formula used for

females was [ (0.056 * t) + 1.06].

The submaximal test used was the Cycle Ergometer Test. The subject’s pedaled 50 rpm throughout the

entire test. The first step for the subject was a two minute warmup at 0.5 kp. The first actual stage of the test

was the same for every subject and it was pedaling at 150 kgm/min and 0.5 kp. The next three stages varied

based upon the heart rate of the subject after the first stage. Each variable of the test increased stage by

stage. Each stage was a minimum of three minutes. Blood pressure was checked every three minutes, RPE

was checked every three minutes and heart rate was checked every minute. A steady state was within five

bpm during two previous minutes, if the subject was not at a steady state, an extra minutes had to be added to

the stage and reassessed again after that minute. In order to calculate the VO2 max for this test, the formula ( [

1.8 * (work rate / body mass) ] + 3.5 + 3.5 ) was used.


Maximal Texting vs. Submaximal Testing (VO2 Max)

Maximal - Bruce Treadmill


Submaximal-Cycle Ergometer


39.5 40 40.5 41 41.5 42 42.5 43 43.5

Results Column1 Column2

Figure 1. Submaximal vs. Maximal VO2 Max Testing

P Value = 0.5283 (GraphPad)
This graph was generated using Microsoft Excel. All VO2 max results are recorded using the units

ml/kg/min. The bar graph was generated to show the average VO2 max for both the maximal treadmill test and

the maximal cycle ergometer test. Since the P Value is greater than 0.05, it can be said that the results of the

two tests gave similar results on the population level. The results may differentiate higher when looking at an

individual level but, as a group/population both values collected from the Maximal treadmill test and the

Submaximal cycle ergometer test show that the two tests give similar results and are accurate at predicting

VO2 max.

The main findings from this study were that the results of the maximal treadmill test and the maximal

cycle ergometer test generated similar results on the population level. This was determined by the generated P

value being greater than 0.05, found at 0.5283. With this information, the hypothesis was confirmed that both

the maximal treadmill test and the maximal cycle ergometer test would generate similar results in relation to

VO2 max. Like the study documented, a previous study performed generated similar results. In the previous

study performed it investigated VO2 max and maximal heart rate. It showed that VO2 max and heartrate max

produced similar values within the population tested when performed on a cycle ergometer vs. a treadmill test

in relation to VO2 max (Mays, et. al., 2010). This showed that both the cycle ergometer and treadmill tests can

be used as an accurate predictor of VO2 max with little differences between the two.

To apply this experiment to real world applications or clinical settings, maximum oxygen uptake

represents a runner’s aerobic capacity and is an important determinant of success in distance running; the

same study used three different factors that were said to account for differences in aerobic endurance, these

variables were lactate threshold, work economy, and maximal oxygen uptake (Stoa, et. al., 2010). A runner will

have a higher capability to maximally uptake oxygen than a weightlifter for say. Therefore, VO2 max is an

important tool for training certain athletes and knowing which areas to work on more based upon the sport they

participate in. It is also important to know that there may be other variables effecting the person’s maximal

oxygen uptake such as, lactate threshold and work economy (life stressors).

Aerobic capacity (VO2max) is an important predictor of health and fitness and is considered a key

physiological measure in the healthy adult population, also that submaximal step tests provide a safe, simple

and ecologically valid means of assessing VO2max in both the general population and a rehabilitation setting

(Bennett, et. al., 2016). From this, a future experiment could be performed by having a healthy aged individual

perform both a maximal and submaximal VO2 max test within a week of each other and comparing the results
to see the accuracy of the two. Another experiment could be done by using a stair climbing test rather than a

cycle or treadmill to assess the individuals VO2 max levels and compare the results to a previous treadmill or

cycle test.


Bennett, H., Parfitt, G., Davison, K., & Eston, R. (2016). Validity of submaximal step tests to estimate maximal

oxygen uptake in healthy adults. Sports Medicine, 46(5), 737-750.


Billat, V., Faina, M., Sardella, F., Marini, C., & al, e. (1996). A comparison of time to exhaustion at VO2 max

in elite cyclists, kayak paddlers, swimmers and runners. Ergonomics, 39(2), 267. Retrieved from

Coquart, J., Garcin, M., Parfitt, G., Tourny-Chollet, C., & Eston, R. G. (2014). Prediction of maximal or peak

oxygen uptake from ratings of perceived exertion. Sports Medicine, 44(5), 563-78. Retrieved from

Evans, H. J. L., Ferrar, K. E., Smith, A. E., Parfitt, G., & Eston, R. G. (2015). A systematic review of methods

to predict maximal oxygen uptake from submaximal, open circuit spirometry in healthy adults. Journal of

Science and Medicine in Sport, 18(2), 183-188. Retrieved from

Goran, M., Fields, D. A., Hunter, G. R., Herd, S. L., & Weinsier, R. L. (2000). Total body fat does not influence

maximal aerobic capacity. International Journal of Obesity and Related Disorders, 24(7), 841-848.


Mays, R. J., Boér, N.,F., Mealey, L. M., Kim, K. H., & Goss, F. L. (2010). A COMPARISON OF PRACTICAL


ERGOMETER .. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(5), 1325-31. Retrieved from

Støa, E. M., Støren, Ø., Enoksen, E., & Ingjer, F. (2010). PERCENT UTILIZATION OF ... AT 5-KM


ELITE DISTANCE RUNNERS. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(5), 1340-5. Retrieved