How fit am I? What do improved fitness levels mean? How do I know if I’m fitter ?

The definition of fitness can be confusing for most people, because it includes Cardiovascular Endurance (The fitness/Health of the Heart, Lungs and associated tissues), Muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body composition. You can check out the posts on ‘Health benefits of improved fitness’ and ‘Principles of Training’ for a more detailed explanation.

We would usually run about 6 cardiorespiratory endurance tests during the year, in the form of the multi-stage 20 metre shuttle test, or commonly known as the 20 metre bleep test. This test focuses on cardiovascular endurance (The fitness and health primarly of the heart and lungs and associated tissues).

Here are some definitions related to the test:

The test measures your VO2 max. VO2 max is defined as ‘the highest rate of oxygen consumption attainable during maximal or exhaustive exercise. ‘V’ is the volumn of oxygen used per minute. ‘O2’ is the oxygen, and ‘max’ represents maximal exercise conditions.

During the 20 metre shuttle test oxygen uptake increases with the increase in pace required at each level, and the effort required from shuttle to shuttle. As the person approaches exhaustion, his or her oxygen uptake will reach a point above which, it will not increase further with an additional workload. This point is know as that individual’s maximum oxygen uptake or VO2 max.                                                                                                                                                A higher VO2max reflects an increased ability of the; * heart to pump blood, * lungs to ventilate large volumns of air, and, * muscles to take up oxygen and remove carbon dioxide.

A person’s higher VO2max represents an improved ‘Cardivascular Endurance’ level, (the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen to the working muscles during continuous exercise).                                                                           How do we improve our VO2max?  Depending on your exercise routine, and your fitness levels, whether weekly walking, jogging, running, attending a gym, circuit training classes etc, fitness levels improve when the intensity of the exercises you are performing causes your heart rate to rise and fall.  So whatever exercise routine you’re involved in, use your heart rate as an ‘intensity level’ guide.

NOTE: A base line for a person’s maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age e.g, if Tom or Mary is 40 years of age, their maximum heart rate is considered to be approximately 180 beats per minute, so if Tom or Mary is planning to improve their cardiovascular endurance, they would need to be training at 55-65% approx of their max heart rate (99-117 bpm) for the moderate phase of the training, and 75-90% approx  (135-162 bpm)  for the intense/vigorous phase of the training for maximum benefit, and alternate between moderate and vigorous on a 3-1 ratio approx to begin with, e.g 30 seconds moderate, 10 seconds vigorous in a circuit class setting, or jog for 30 seconds run for 10 seconds, or walk for 30 seconds and jog for 10 seconds. NOTE: Tom or Mary’s fitness levels will dictate the frequency, intensity,time and type of exercise suited to them at a given time.

***Training effects gained are reversable when workouts stop. Some studies show an up to 10% reduction in your VO2max after 2 weeks of inactivity, up to 15% after 6-7 weeks, and up to a 20% of VO2max reduction after 10-12 weeks, so exercise needs to be a weekly lifestyle routine if you want to live healthier and longer.