European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 119, Issue 8, pp 1779–1788 | Cite as

Metabolic and muscular factors limiting aerobic exercise in obese subjects

  • Filippo VaccariEmail author
  • Mirco Floreani
  • Gabriella Tringali
  • Roberta De Micheli
  • Alessandro Sartorio
  • Stefano Lazzer
Original Article



The aim of the present study was to understand the role of central (cardiovascular O2 delivery) and peripheral factors (muscle level) in limiting the maximal aerobic performance in obese (OB) subjects.


Fifteen OB (mean age ± SD 25 ± 7 years; BMI 43 ± 7 kg/m2) and 13 lean sedentary subjects (CTRL, age 27 ± 7 years; BMI 22 ± 3 kg/m2) participated in this study. Oxygen uptake (VO2), hearth rate (HR) and cardiac output (CO) were measured during cycle ergometer (CE) and knee extension (KE) incremental tests. Maximal voluntary contractions (MVCs) of knee extensor muscles were performed before and immediately after the two tests.


VO2peak, HR peak and CO peak were significantly higher in CE than KE (+ 126%, + 33% and + 46%, respectively, p < 0.001), both in OB and CTRL subjects, without differences between the two subgroups. Maximal work rate was lower in OB than CTRL (191 ± 38 vs 226 ± 39 W, p < 0.05) in CE, while it was similar between the two subgroups in KE. Although CE and KE determined a reduction of MVC in both subgroups, MVC resulted less decreased after CE than KE exercises (− 14 vs − 32%, p < 0.001) in OB, while MVC decrements were similar after the two exercises in CTRL (− 26% vs − 30%, p > 0.05, for CE and KE, respectively).


The lower muscle fatigue observed in OB after CE compared to KE test suggests that central factors could be the most important limiting factor during cycling in OB.


Obesity Exercise tolerance Knee extension Small muscles exercise Aerobic function 


a vO2 diff

Arteriovenous oxygen difference


Body mass


Body mass index


Cycle ergometer


Control group


Cardiac output


Maximal voluntary contraction changes in percentage


Fat mass


Fat-free mass


Heart rate


Knee extension exercise


Maximal voluntary contractions of the knee extensor muscles


MVC immediately after the end of incremental exercise




Time to exhaustion


CO2 output


Pulmonary O2 uptake


MUSCLE thigh volume



The authors thank the patients and control subjects who agreed to participate in the study. The study was supported by Progetti di Ricerca Corrente, Istituto Auxologico Italiano (Milan); and by Fondazione Pittini (Italy).

Author contributions

All authors conceived and designed research. FV, MF, GT and RDM conducted experiments. FV and MF analyzed data. FV wrote the manuscript with the help of MF. SL and AS revised the manuscript. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

No conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise, are declared by the author(s).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MedicineUniversity of UdineUdineItaly
  2. 2.School of Sport SciencesUniversity of UdineUdineItaly
  3. 3.Experimental Laboratory for Auxo-Endocrinological ResearchIstituto Auxologico Italiano, IRCCSPiancavallo (VB)Italy

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