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Swimming Maximal Oxygen Consumption Test (VO2max)

The VO2max test is the criterion measure of aerobic power in athletes. To directly measure VO2max in swimmers is difficult to do as it requires the measurement of ventilation rate and the collection of expired air while in the water. VO2max measures of swimmers are usually done in research situations, requiring a swimming flume and specific equipment. Doing a VO2max test on swimmers on a treadmill or bicycle is not a valid alternative as those exercise modes use different muscle groups and actions, though a swim bench is a possible option. An alternative is to do other water-based aerobic fitness tests (see swimming fitness tests).

swimming ergometers: There are several possible swimming ergometer methods that can be used. A swim flume is a small swimming pool in which water flows past the swimmer who can remain stationary. A pool tether has a similar effect, as the swimmer is tied to the side of the pool and swims against the pull of the tether. A swim bench is the out of water alternative. The subject lies on a horizontal bench, with the arms and legs attached to weighted pulleys or adjustable elastic cords.

gas analysis equipment: oxygen consumption measuring equipment (e.g. oxygen and carbon dioxide analyzers, or expired air may be collected and volume measured via Douglas bags or a Tissot tank, or measured by a pneumotach or turbine ventilometer). Most VO2max assessment equipment is bulky and not very portable. If they are portable, they may not be waterproof. Some systems have been set up to be moved along the side of the pool while a snorkel is attached to the swimmers.

other equipment required: swimming pool, a stopwatch, waterproof heart rate monitor, blood lactate measurement, metronome, and RPE scale (optional).

pre-test: Explain the test procedures to the subject. Perform screening of health risks and obtain informed consent. Prepare forms and record basic information such as age, height, body weight, gender, test conditions. Check and calibrate equipment. Perform an appropriate warm-up. See more details of pre-test procedures.

procedure: Exercise is performed in the water, using one of the swimming ergometer methods. The exercise workloads are selected to gradually progress in increments from moderate to maximal intensity. In the pool an incremental protocol such as the 7x200m can be used. Any stroke can be performed. A metronome can be used to set the stroke frequency as a method of increasing workload.

measurement: Oxygen uptake is calculated from measures of ventilation and the oxygen and carbon dioxide in the expired air, and the maximal level is determined at or near test completion. See the general protocol method for measuring VO2max. Heart rate should be measured every minute of the test, and you may also want to measure ratings of perceived exertion (RPE).

scoring: Results are presented as either l/min (liters per minute) or ml/kg/min (mls of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute). The athlete is considered to have reached their VO2max if several of the following occurred: a plateau or 'peaking over' in oxygen uptake, maximal heart rate was reached, attainment of a respiratory exchange ratio of 1.15 or greater, and volitional exhaustion.

VO2max swimming testIt's not easy to do a VO2max swimming test

target population: The swimming VO2max test is appropriate only for experienced swimmers. It is a maximal exercise test, which requires a reasonable level of fitness. It is not recommended for recreational athletes or people with health problems, injuries or low fitness levels. See PARQ.

advantages: for swimmers, this is the most specific aerobic test they can do.

disadvantages: the equipment required to perform a swimming VO2max test is expensive and the test is time consuming and complex to conduct. With the attachment of extra equipment, the swimmer may not be able able to perform their natural stroke.

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