Determinants of oxygen uptake. Implications for exercise testing

Sports Med. 1997 Nov;24(5):308-20. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199724050-00003.


For exercise modalities such as cycling which recruit a substantial muscle mass, muscle oxygen uptake (VO2) is the primary determinant of pulmonary VO2. Indeed, the kinetic complexities of pulmonary VO2 associated with exercise onset and the non-steady state of heavy (> lactate threshold) and severe [> asymptote of power-time relationship for high intensity exercise (W)] exercise reproduce with close temporal and quantitative fidelity those occurring across the exercising muscles. For moderate (< lactate threshold) exercise and also rapidly incremental work tests, pulmonary (and muscle) VO2 increases as a linear function of work rate (approximately equal to 9 to 11 ml O2/W/min) in accordance with theoretical determinations of muscle efficiency (approximately equal to 30%). In contrast, for constant load exercise performed in the heavy and severe domains, a slow component of the VO2 response is manifest and pulmonary and muscle VO2 increase as a function of time as well as work rate beyond the initial transient associated with exercise onset. In these instances, muscle efficiency is reduced as the VO2 cost per unit of work becomes elevated, and in the severe domain, this VO2 slow component drives VO2 to its maximum and fatigue ensues rapidly. At pulmonary maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max) during cycling, the maximal cardiac output places a low limiting ceiling on peak muscle blood flow, O2 delivery and thus muscle VO2. However, when the exercise is designed to recruit a smaller muscle mass (e.g. leg extensors, 2 to 3kg), mass-specific muscle blood flow and VO2 at maximal exercise are 2 to 3 times higher than during conventional cycling. consequently, for any exercise which recruits more than approximately equal to 5 to 6kg of muscle at pulmonary VO2max, there exists a mitochondrial or VO2 reserve capacity within the exercising muscles which cannot be accessed due to oxygen delivery limitations. The implications of these latter findings relate to the design of exercise tests. Specifically, if the purpose of exercise testing is to evaluate the oxidative capacity of a small muscle mass (< 5 to 6kg), the testing procedure should be designed to restrict the exercise to those muscles so that a central (cardiac output, muscle O2 delivery) limitation is not invoked. It must be appreciated that exercise which recruits a greater muscle mass will not stress the maximum mass-specific muscle blood flow and VO2 but rather the integration of central (cardiorespiratory) and peripheral (muscle O2 diffusing capacity) limitations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise Test*
  • Humans
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology*
  • Physical Exertion / physiology*
  • Pulmonary Gas Exchange / physiology