European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 102, Issue 4, pp 403–410

Validity of criteria for establishing maximal O2 uptake during ramp exercise tests

  • David C. Poole
  • Daryl P. Wilkerson
  • Andrew M. Jones
Original Article


The incremental or ramp exercise test to the limit of tolerance has become a popular test for determination of maximal O2 uptake \((\dot{V}{\hbox{O}}_{{{{\rm 2max}}}}).\) However, many subjects do not evidence a definitive plateau of the \(\dot{V}{\hbox{O}}_{{{2}}} \) -work rate relationship on this test and secondary criteria based upon respiratory exchange ratio (RER), maximal heart rate (HRmax) or blood [lactate] have been adopted to provide confidence in the measured \(\dot{V}{\hbox{O}}_{{{{\rm 2max}}}}.\) We hypothesized that verification of \(\dot{V}{\hbox{O}}_{{{{\rm 2max}}}}\) using these variables is fundamentally flawed in that their use could either allow underestimation of \(\dot{V}{\hbox{O}}_{{{{\rm 2max}}}}\) (if, for any reason, a test were ended at a sub-maximal \(\dot{V}{\hbox{O}}_{{{2}}}\)), or alternatively preclude subjects from recording a valid \(\dot{V}{\hbox{O}}_{{{{\rm 2max}}}}.\) Eight healthy male subjects completed a ramp exercise test (at 20 W/min) to the limit of tolerance on an electrically braked cycle ergometer during which pulmonary gas exchange was measured breath-by-breath and blood [lactate] was determined every 90 s. Using the most widely used criterion values of RER (1.10 and 1.15), \(\dot{V}{\hbox{O}}_{{{{\rm 2max}}}}\) as determined during the ramp test (4.03 ± 0.10 l/min) could be undermeasured by 27% (2.97 ± 0.24 l/min) and 16% (3.41 ± 0.15 l/min), respectively (both P < 0.05). The criteria of HRmax (age predicted HRmax ± 10 b/min) and blood [lactate] (≥8 mM) were untenable because they resulted in rejection of 3/8 and 6/8 of the subjects, most of whom (5/8) had demonstrated a plateau of \(\dot{V}{\hbox{O}}_{{{{\rm 2max}}}}\) at \(\dot{V}{\hbox{O}}_{{{{\rm 2max}}}}.\) These findings provide a clear mandate for rejecting these secondary criteria as a means of validating \(\dot{V}{\hbox{O}}_{{{{\rm 2max}}}}\) on ramp exercise tests.


Maximal oxygen uptake Incremental and ramp exercise Respiratory exchange ratio Maximal heart rate Blood lactate 


  1. American College of Sports Medicine (1991) Guidelines for exercise testing and prescription, 4th edn. Lea and Febiger, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  2. Astrand I (1960) Aerobic work capacity in men and women with special reference to age. Acta Physiol Scand 169:1–92Google Scholar
  3. Astrand P-O, Rodahl K (1986) Textbook of work physiology: physiological bases of exercise, 3rd edn. McGraw-Hill, LondonGoogle Scholar
  4. Buchfuhrer MJ, Hansen JE, Robinson TE, Sue DY, Wasserman K, Whipp BJ (1983) Optimizing the exercise protocol for cardiopulmonary assessment. J Appl Physiol 55:1558–1564PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Cooper DM, Weiler-Ravell D, Whipp BJ, Wasserman K (1984) Growth-related changes in oxygen uptake and heart rate during progressive exercise in children. Pediatr Res 18:845–851PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cumming GR, Borysyk LM (1972) Criteria for maximum oxygen uptake in men over 40 in a population survey. Med Sci Sports 4:18–22PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Cumming GR, Friesen W (1967) Bicycle ergometer measurement of maximal oxygen uptake in children. Can J Physiol Pharmacol 45:937–946PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Day JR, Rossiter HB, Coats EM, Skasick A, Whipp BJ (2003) The maximally attainable \(\dot{V}{\hbox{O}}_{{{2}}}\) during exercise in humans: the peak vs. maximum issue. J Appl Physiol 95:1901–1907PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Doherty M, Nobbs L, Noakes TD (2003) Low frequency of the “plateau phenomenon” during maximal exercise in elite British athletes. Eur J Appl Physiol 89:619–623PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gaesser GA, Poole DC (1996) The slow component of oxygen uptake kinetics in humans. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 24:35–71PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Glassford RG, Baycroft GH, Sedgwick AW, Macnab RB (1965) Comparison of maximal oxygen uptake values determined by predicted and actual methods. J Appl Physiol 20:509–513PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Hansen JE, Sue DY, Wasserman K (1984) Predicted values for clinical exercise testing. Am Rev Respir Dis 129:S49–S55PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Hill AV, Lupton H (1923) Muscular exercise, lactic acid, and the supply and utilization of oxygen. Q J Med 16:135–171Google Scholar
  14. Hill DW, Poole DC, Smith JC (2002) The relationship between power and the time to achieve \(\dot{V}{\hbox{O}}_{{{{\rm 2max}}}}.\) Med Sci Sports Exerc 34:709–714PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Horton TJ, Grunwald GK, Lavely J, Donahoo WT (2006) Glucose kinetics differ between woman and men, during and after exercise. J Appl Physiol 199:1883–1894CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Howley ET, Bassett DR, Welch HG (1995) Criteria for maximal oxygen uptake; review and commentary. Med Sci Sports Exerc 27:1292–1301PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Hughson RL, O’Leary DD, Betik AC, Hebestreit H (2000) Kinetics of oxygen uptake at the onset of exercise near or above peak oxygen uptake. J Appl Physiol 88:1812–1819PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Issekutz B, Rodahl K (1961) Respiratory quotient during exercise. J Appl Physiol 16:606–610PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Knight DR, Poole DC, Schaffartzik W, Guy HJ, Prediletto R, Hogan MC, Wagner PD (1992) Relationship between body and leg \(\dot{V}{\hbox{O}}_{{{2}}}\) during maximal cycle ergometry. J Appl Physiol 73:1114–1121PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Londeree BR, Moeschberger ML (1984) Influence of age and other factors on maximal heart rate. J Cardiac Rehabil 4:44–49Google Scholar
  21. McArdle WD, Katch FI, Katch VL (1996) Exercise physiology: energy, nutrition, and human performance, 4th edn. Williams and Wilkins, LondonGoogle Scholar
  22. Middlebrooke AR, Elston LM, MacLeod KM, Mawson DM, Ball CI, Shore AC, Tooke JE (2006) Six months of aerobic exercise does not improve microvascular function in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Diabetologia 49:2263–2271PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Myers J, Walsh D, Sullivan M, Froelicher V (1990) Effect of sampling on variability and plateau in oxygen uptake. J Appl Physiol 68:404–410PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Özyener F, Rossiter HB, Ward SA, Whipp BJ (2001) Influence of exercise intensity on the on- and off-transient kinetics of pulmonary oxygen uptake in humans. J Physiol 533:891–902PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Poole DC, Gaesser GA (1985) Response of ventilatory and lactate thresholds to continuous and interval training. J Appl Physiol 58:1115–1121PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Poole DC, Schaffartzik W, Knight DR, Derion T, Kennedy B, Guy HB, Prediletto R,Wagner PD (1991) Contribution of exercising legs to the slow component of oxygen uptake kinetics in humans. J Appl Physiol 71:1245–1253PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Poole DC, Gaesser GA, Hogan MC, Knight DR, Wagner PD (1992) Pulmonary and leg \(\dot{V}{\hbox{O}}_{{{2}}}\) during submaximal exercise: implications for muscular efficiency. J Appl Physiol 72:805–810PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Powers SK, Howley ET (1997) Exercise physiology: theory and application to human performance, 3rd edn. Brown and Benchmark, LondonGoogle Scholar
  29. Robergs RA, Roberts SO (1997) Exercise physiology: exercise, performance and clinical applications. Mosby, LondonGoogle Scholar
  30. Rossiter HB, Kowalchuk JM, Whipp BJ (2006) A test to establish maximum O2 uptake despite no plateau in the O2 uptake response to ramp incremental exercise. J Appl Physiol 100:764–770PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sidney KH, Shephard RJ (1977) Maximum and submaximum exercise tests in men and women in the seventh, eighth, and ninth decades of life. J Appl Physiol 43:280–287PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Sloniger MA, Cureton KJ, Carrasco DI, Prior BM, Rowe DA, Thompson RW (1996) Effect of the slow-component rise in oxygen uptake on \(\dot{V}{\hbox{O}}_{{{{\rm 2max}}}}.\) Med Sci Sports Exerc 28:72–78PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Smith CG, Jones AM (2001) The relationship between critical velocity, maximal lactate steady-state velocity and lactate turnpoint velocity in runners. Eur J Appl Physiol 85:19–26PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Taylor HL, Buskirk E, Henschel A (1955) Maximal oxygen intake as an objective measure of cardio-respiratory performance. J Appl Physiol 8:73–80Google Scholar
  35. Wasserman K, Beaver WL, Davis JA, Pu JZ, Heber D, Whipp BJ (1985) Lactate, pyruvate, and lactate-to-pyruvate ratio during exercise and recovery. J Appl Physiol 59:935–940PubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Wasserman K, Hansen JE, Sue DY, Whipp BJ, Casaburi R (1994) Principles of exercise testing and interpretation, 2nd edn. Lea and Febiger, LondonGoogle Scholar
  37. Whipp BJ (2007) Physiological mechanisms dissociating pulmonary CO2 and O2 exchange dynamics during exercise in humans. Exp Physiol 92:347–355PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Whipp BJ, Davis JA, Torres F, Wasserman K (1981) A test to determine parameters of aerobic function during exercise. J Appl Physiol 50:217–221PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Wilkerson DP, Koppo K, Barstow TJ, Jones AM (2004a) Effect of prior multiple-sprint exercise on pulmonary O2 uptake kinetics following the onset of perimaximal exercise. J Appl Physiol 97:1227–1236PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wilkerson DP, Koppo K, Barstow TJ, Jones AM (2004b) Effect of work rate on the functional ‘gain’ of phase II pulmonary O2 uptake response to exercise. Respir Physiol Neurobiol 142:211–223PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • David C. Poole
    • 1
    • 2
  • Daryl P. Wilkerson
    • 1
  • Andrew M. Jones
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Health and Sports SciencesUniversity of ExeterExeterUK
  2. 2.Departments of Kinesiology, Anatomy and PhysiologyKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA

Personalised recommendations