Fitness level – when is it good enough?

If you are thinking that physical tests are for top athletes only, you should reconsider your ideas about this. A premium pulse watch to record your runs and to measure your fitness level, is the new Rolex. Running shoes are the most important shoes for many of us. Do you recognise this for yourself, or do you think that all of this is just nonsense?

The number of participants in competitions for non-professionals within running, bicycling, cross country skiing etc., increases nearly every year. This looks like an indication that a higher percentage of the population is becoming more physically active, and that we like to test ourselves in races and competitions. Unfortunately it is not like this, because the fact is that more and more people are physically inactive. So, the truth is that some of us are doing more and more of these kind of activities, and on several arenas. Maybe even too much, which can lead to negative health effects.

To go for walks and to perform easy training is more than sufficient for most people in order to have a good health, which anyway should be the most important reason for training.

If you are among those who have bought and started to use a running watch, you have maybe been asked to enter data for your resting pulse and your maximum oxygen intake – VO2 max. The VO2 max have not been measured by so many, and it is actually not needed to know if you are training at a normal fitness level. These factors, together with pulse, gender, age and weight, are being used by the running watch to calculate and indicate the energy/calory consumption during a training session. The watches may sometimes confuse more than they actually assist, but if you feel that you get motivated by using a running watch, then just buy one, and start using it. My advice is however to buy a watch that is not too advanced, to avoid confusion and to not spend money on functionality that you don’t need.

As simple explanation for your level of oxygen intake – your cardio capacity – is the “shape” you are in. «Shape» is individual, but many will describe “good shape” as being able to walk stairs easily, play with the children or running for the bus. When they experience this, they have probably improved their oxygen intake and several other factors, before starting to train.

What happens in your body when you do fitness training?

When we are training our endurance and fitness level, we are depending on the transport of oxygen that we breath in trough our lungs to the muscles that are working. The heart is pumping blood through the arteries, distributing it to the muscles, where it is absorbed by the muscle fibres. Most of the oxygen is used by the working muscles in the metabolism.

Normally VO2 max is being measure by running 4-6 minutes on a treadmill, with a mouthpiece and a nose clip. The mouthpiece is connected to a machine that measures the oxygen level in the air you breath in and out. It is not so much value in such a test for a normal exerciser. If you however are starting up systematic and long term training towards a set goal, it might be a good thing to do. Personally I am of the opinion that it is more of value to to test your capacity over a longer period of time than just a 5 min test, for example through a threshold test. When we are training the fitness level, for example through jogging, fast walks, bicycling, cross country skiing, swimming, rowing etc., we are improving the heart’s stroke volume and stroke power. A strong and well trained heart is able to pump more blood per stroke. How much blood that is pumped around our body, depends on our level of oxygen intake.

Oxygen intake is trainable

An untrained person may actualle improve the oxygen intake by up to 50 – 60%. By performing training at moderate and low intensity (moderate effort, increased breathing and sweating, but can still talk relatively comfortabably) the oxygen intake is increased due to increased stroke volume. At high intensity training (very high effort, we are not able to talk whole sentences, just single words) the muscles’ ability to draw oxygen from the blood is increased, due to an increased network of capillaries, increased enzyme activity and more and bigger mithocondries. The result of this is that the oxygen intake increases further. Consequently, to improve the maximal oxygen intake, you should train at all intensity levels; low, medium and high. Average values for oxygen intake for women is appr. 35 ml/kg/min, for men appr. 44 ml/kg/min. (Source: NTNU, Norway)

Measure the resting pulse

Another indicator for your fitness level is you heart rate at resting – the resting pulse. This is best being measured when you are still laying in the bed in the morning, before you get up. You can find the pulse by pressing on the inside of the wrist on the thumb side, or on the side of the neck. Press with two fingers along the pulse artery and count for 30 seconds, then multiply with 2. Some prefer to count for a whole minute, or to measure just for 10 or 15 seconds and then multiply with 4 or 6 respectively. Start the counting after you have recognised a pulse stroke clearly, and after that start to count from one while taking the time. Normal resting pulse is between 60 – 80 strokes per minute, where 60 is considered too low and 80 is too high. There is however a quite big variation in different persons’ resting pulse. Well trained persons with a very high fitness level may have a resting pulse as low as 30 strokes. This means very strong heart muscles that are able to pump a lot of blood per stroke. When I was at my top level as an athlete, my resting pulse was around 35. Then I could also use changes in the resting pulse as an indicator for being overtrained, tired, starting to be sick, and so on.

See more articles about fitness training and the physical systems and building blocks here:

Author: Ingrid Kristiansen

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