Well the verdict is in and the tests are over, well for me and Claire they are anyway. Simon and Jock are yet to be tested. As part of the build up to the stand up paddle across the English Channel John Kelly from the University of Chichester put myself and Claire through a couple of tests to get a verdict on our current level of fitness and in turn that gave us a good idea of how much work we need to do over the coming months.
The first test was simple, you stood on a machine and held onto two handles while an electrical current (you can't feel it) is passed through your body to analyse how much fat and muscle you have. It is so accurate that it even divides it down into individual limbs. Then it prints you out the results to be poured over. What I learned was that the average healthy male should have between 8% and 20% body fat, I clocked in at 15.6%, so some work to do, but no need to reach for the defibrillator yet. The average healthy female is 21-33% and Claire clocked in at 23.3% so pretty good and close to the bottom percentile.
Next was a blood test to see what level of lactate and glucose is present in the blood before exercise. This was a simple pin prick on the finger, followed by the blood going into a machine to churn out a reading.
Now the hard bit - the VO2 max test. After a warm up on the running machine and a stretch it was time to push myself really hard. The idea behind the VO2 max test is to see how good your body is at getting oxygen from your lungs and delivering to your muscles while under hard to maximum effort exercise. In this test John captured the air that we breathed out into large bags, each one containing a minutes worth of exhaled air, then the air is run through an analyser to see how much oxygen we breath out. By taking a reading on oxygen levels in the room and taking that away from the oxygen in the bags a VO2 max figure can be obtained. That sounds simple. However to get to the point where your body is working at is peak efficiency you have to get your heart as near to max heart rate as you can and sustain it over 4 minutes.
The whole process takes 10-15 minutes. You start on the running machine at a steady running pace with a heart rate monitor on. Every minute the speed of the running machine is increased in even increments, when you can't run any faster the incline is increased, basically you keep running until you can no longer take it. As every minute went by John held up a card for us to indicate how hard we were finding the exercise, by looking at that and our heart rate he was able to have an excellent idea of how hard we were working.
In the past I have done a lot of distance running and I know that my max heart rate is around 195-200bpm. I maxed out at 198bpm during the test so I was sure I had put in a proper effort !
After the air was run through the analyser the verdict was back. I had managed a VO2 max score of 54 and Claire had managed 43. When compared to the average male and female these scores put us in the "excellent" and "good" level of overall fitness, however for an endurance athelte they are at the lower end, a male competitive Nordic skier would expect a score of 60-70, and just at the top end Lance Armstrong, 7 times winner of the Tour De France, has a VO2 Max rating of 83.8 . As John said the scores are a good base for to progress from. We will be having another test in 12 weeks to see how the training has improved our fitness.
Even though running is obviously not the same as stand up paddling the test is still relevant as an indicator of fitness. John explained that professional rowers and runners all get tested like this and the tests stand up as a good indicator of fitness. I will be working with John on a custom rowing machine that has been used for training kayakers and rafters, to see if we can adapt it to stand up paddle surfing. Watch this space.
Huge thanks to John Kelly and the University of Chichester for this !
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