What the Heck Is VO2 Max?

running-advice-bugWhen sorting through the features of the latest generation of fitness devices, runners might pause and ask, “Do I need that?” I wondered just that myself this fall, when I noticed that a number of fitness trackers, including the new Microsoft Band, started including VO2 max as a metric.

DSC_0407Fitness devices are intended to improve our health and training performance by giving us useful information such as how fast our hearts are beating and how many calories we burn. But much of this information is only marginally helpful in shaping how we train. For example, although most of us understand the concept of calories, many of us don’t eat solely to replenish the calories we burn in a workout. We may feel better about ourselves if we work off some of what we’ve eaten, but we don’t necessarily stop gulping the sugary morning coffee drink after seeing how many calories we’ve burned.

VO2 max has been used for many years in assessing the aerobic capability of athletes. The test measures the maximum amount of oxygen that an athlete consumes during exercise. Think about the efficiency of a car and the size of its motor. (However, keep in mind that VO2 max is not a measure like maximum horsepower or torque that calculates the engine’s ability to produce raw power.) Rather, VO2 max measures oxygen consumption, which is used in aerobic exercises like distance running. It doesn’t tell us much about our power during anaerobic exercises like a running sprint. So, while VO2 max gives us a picture of the power of our “engines,” it’s not telling us how fast we would be “off the line.”

To test VO2 max, athletes typically hook up to an apparatus that measures how much oxygen they breathe and how much oxygen and carbon dioxide they exhale during exercise. This is a direct measurement of how much oxygen is going in and how much is actually being used when athletes run. VO2 max is reached when oxygen consumption stops rising – even when the workout gets harder. The measurement is helpful because it allows athletes to determine how intense their training should be – and to monitor their VO2 max over time.
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How to Choose the Right Gadget for the Runner on Your Gift List

running-advice-bugIf you’ve got an electronically-inclined runner on your holiday shopping list, you may be wondering how to pick the best running gadget for him or her this year. Loads of electronics out there promise to improve health, track information and even calculate arcane pieces of information such as your VO2 max and “ground contact time.” But, by homing in on what really matters for runners, you can simplify the shopping process. Here’s what to know about the various options before you start your spree:

1. Fitness and Activity Trackers

The Garmin Forerunner 620

The Garmin Forerunner 620

The Fitbit and FuelBand makers of the world would have you wear a device on your wrist that gives you a panacea of health-related information. Most of such fitness trackers use a pedometer to count your steps and integrate with a software application that can display information such as the number of calories you burn each day and how much sleep you’re getting.

While activity trackers are good for general information, many runners find them less useful than purpose-built sports watches. The information from a pedometer is typically based on counting steps, so it’s hard for many of these devices to differentiate between walking, jogging or running – each of which burn progressively more calories. Fitness trackers also won’t work well for tracking information about sports such as swimming or CrossFit, where the feet aren’t moving around that much.

Grade for runners: C

2. Smartwatches

The news this year has been all about the smartwatch, from the Apple Watch to the Samsung Gear to the Moto 360. Most of these devices include fitness-monitoring features, such as heart rate monitoring and step counting.

The primary drawbacks of these gadgets for many runners are twofold. First, to take advantage of the watch’s features, you may have to carry your phone along with you on your run. Many runners don’t want to carry an expensive, potentially large, device with them. Second, some of the devices may not appreciate getting doused in sweat or rain on a daily basis. My own experience with the Moto 360 taught me that wearing a smartwatch with a leather band leads to a very grimy, yucky-looking band in no time flat.

Grade for runners: B-
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Is YouBeRu the Future of Running Event Timing and Tracking? #running #marathon #triathlon

running-advice-bugHere’s a question that I can throw at you today. Will YouBeRu (#YouBetterRun) be the next Instagram or Uber? Perhaps not for everyone, but if this one takes off athletes, race directors, live sports event producers and spectators may one day follow athletes in a whole new way.

Smartphone AppIf you follow my writings on my Event Futurist blog, you’ll know that I believe that technology has the power to transform live events, connecting people and enhancing their experiences. This is true of many new technologies that help share content among event participants and that help connect participants with one another. In the sports event production space, there have been many great advances in athlete tracking and monitoring as well. Way back in 2005 I worked on a project to bring live video feeds to the courses on Ironman triathlons and things have gotten progressively better from there. Spectating at Marathons and Ironman Triathlons is tricky, because athletes don’t always move at constant speeds — and even when they do it’s hard to figure out where they are with complicated wave starts and only best guess estimates for their pace on race day.

Systems that track participants for the most part still rely on timing mats along courses, which means that data about an athlete’s progress only happens when (and after) an athlete has crossed a mat, generating a time “split” or event for the system to track. Yes there are some more exotic methods of tracking athletes such as placing small cellular transmitters on bikes as they have done at times in a races like the Tour de France or extrapolating performance like the Boston Marathon did in its app this year. But the field is still open for an app or system that collects live data on athletes to help spectators know exactly where they are or will be on a race course so that they can see them, cheer for them and be there to give high-fives and hugs.

YouBeRun BraceletEnter a new start-up from Denmark called YouBeRu, which operates under the very poignant hashtag #YouBetterRun. The idea behind this new technology is to harness the power of smartphones to act as the timing mats. Participants wear a wrist band that sends out a signal and people with the app on their phones become the receivers along the course. This means that each time an athlete wearing a band goes by someone on the course, the data is collected and shared with users of the app. The idea here is to create a grid of timing locations that is much more dense than the number of mats that you can put out on a race course.
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