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maxed out: under the bar

heavy back squat © Image by

That was a different week! Operation Guinea Pig kicked off this week with two days of testing. First up was blood lactate threshold, gait and ground contact response analysis, and VO2max test. The jump tests and discovering where I maxed out with respect to a one-rep max back squat followed a few days later. I had never tried a one-rep max under a bar before, neither is it something I would have entertained as a runner until now.

We spend so much time as runners, reading books and articles about supplementary training yet implement so little of it. Most of us are amateur runners who cannot live their days training in isolation. Instead, we are trying to hold down a job, look after a family, etc. When presented with the opportunity to go for a run or do some conditioning work, we typically always choose run. Engaging in a study that may require me to choose weights in favour of running was a leap into the abyss.

blood lactate

I can’t go into too much detail for now as this is all part of somebody’s PhD research. However, I can outline the basics of what I underwent during the tests. Blood lactate testing is all about establishing the point where the body can no longer process the lactate levels. The scientifically established and generally accepted measurement for this level is 4mmol/L. To reach this level I had to run on a treadmill with the pace intensity increasing at defined intervals. The tester took blood samples at key points until the analysis showed that the lactate levels had surpassed the 4mmol/L threshold.

The overall process produces quite a lot of data during this test. However, the reading that matters for most is, “how fast can I run before I produce too much lactate?”. For anyone running endurance races, this figure is all they really care about. It indicates what their theoretical PB is at that point in time, regardless how well the race goes.

maxed out on the treadmill and under the bar, you have to fail to pass
maxed out on the treadmill and under the bar, it was a testing week in many ways…


The next test was to determine my VO2max. I took this test also on a treadmill; it required me to run until I could run no more. The test focusses on the oxygen efficiency of the subject. I was connected to a respiratory analysis machine by way of large tubes (see photo above). This measured my oxygen intake and CO2 output. Some clever graphing software combines the data gathered from the test with readings from a heart monitor and my body weight. With this, it is possible to calculate a numerical score that defines the subject’s VO2max.

A VO2max score is interpreted as the number of millilitres of oxygen per minute per kilogram of body mass a person processes. The higher the score, the more potential the athlete has for reaching their goals. It’s a fail test, meaning you have to hit the stop button to end it. You’ll perhaps feel under a wee bit of pressure when you do give in. The tester however, will know from the readout that you have already reached your VO2max. They can identify this by way of a plateau on the graph, possibly some time before you call it quits. VO2max testing can provide an approximation of lactate threshold also but blood lactate testing is far more accurate.

strength testing

The jump tests were carried out a few days after the lactate/VO2max tests but I won’t go into too much detail here. Basically, it was an analysis of response time and power with respect to different jumps. More interesting is my first ever one-rep max test for back squat – where I maxed out under the bar. I have never ‘lifted’ in my life. Getting under a bar at the age of 40 was an unnatural feeling to say the least.

I had no preconceived ideas of what I could lift nor what was considered okay for a first timer. I squatted through my ignorance nonetheless. Progressing from an unladen bar warm-up to eventual failure, following successive weight increments, I maxed out at 80kg which is about 1:1 bodyweight. I have no idea what that means in terms of ability but I understand that it wasn’t entirely awful. Unexpectedly, I gained a little knowledge from this limit. My glutes were the reason for the failed lift above 80kg; they gave way as soon as I started to push up. An indication that I have a weakness here that I need to work on.

awaiting the call

Now I wait to see if I will be placed in the control or the intervention group. The former proposes additional running (not bad) but the latter opens up the unknown of what tailored weight training can help me achieve.

Here’s hoping that I end up in the intervention group. I really want to see what weight training could do for my running. Even more, I want to see what weight training specifically designed by a researcher with a focus on improving running efficiency and economy can do for me.

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