An integrated view on the oxygenation responses to incremental exercise at the brain, the locomotor and respiratory muscles

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2016 Dec;116(11-12):2085-2102. doi: 10.1007/s00421-016-3468-x. Epub 2016 Sep 9.


In the past two decades oxygenation responses to incremental ramp exercise, measured non-invasively by means of near-infrared spectroscopy at different locations in the body, have advanced the insights on the underpinning mechanisms of the whole-body pulmonary oxygen uptake ([Formula: see text]) response. In healthy subjects the complex oxygenation responses at the level of locomotor and respiratory muscles, and brain were simplified and quantified by the detection of breakpoints as a deviation in the ongoing response pattern as work rate increases. These breakpoints were located in a narrow intensity range between 75 and 90 % of the maximal [Formula: see text] and were closely related to traditionally determined thresholds in pulmonary gas exchange (respiratory compensation point), blood lactate measurements (maximal lactate steady state), and critical power. Therefore, it has been assumed that these breakpoints in the oxygenation patterns at different sites in the body might be equivalent and could, therefore, be used interchangeably. In the present review the typical oxygenation responses (at locomotor and respiratory muscle level, and cerebral level) are described and a possible framework is provided showing the physiological events that might link the breakpoints at different body sites with the thresholds determined from pulmonary gas exchange and blood lactate measurements. However, despite a possible physiological association, several arguments prevent the current practical application of these breakpoints measured at a single site as markers of exercise intensity making it highly questionable whether measurements of the oxygenation response at one single site can be used as a reflection of whole-body responses to different exercise intensities.

Keywords: Breakpoints; Oxygen demand; Oxygen supply; Respiratory compensation point; Whole-body.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Lactic Acid / blood
  • Leg / physiology*
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Oxygen / metabolism*
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology*
  • Physical Exertion / physiology
  • Pulmonary Gas Exchange / physiology
  • Respiratory Muscles / innervation
  • Respiratory Muscles / physiology*


  • Lactic Acid
  • Oxygen