Assessment of the functional capacity of the cardiovascular system is essential in sports medicine. For athletes, the maximal oxygen uptake (V˙O2max) provides valuable information about their aerobic power. In the clinical setting, the V˙O2max provides important diagnostic and prognostic information in several clinical populations, such as patients with coronary artery disease or heart failure. Likewise, V˙O2max assessment can be very important to evaluate fitness in asymptomatic adults. Although direct determination of V˙O2max is the most accurate method, it requires a maximal level of exertion, which brings a higher risk of adverse events in individuals with an intermediate to high risk of cardiovascular problems. Estimation of V˙O2max during submaximal exercise testing can offer a precious alternative. Over the past decades, many protocols have been developed for this purpose. The present review gives an overview of these submaximal protocols and aims to facilitate appropriate test selection in sports, clinical, and home settings. Several factors must be considered when selecting a protocol: (i) The population being tested and its specific needs in terms of safety, supervision, and accuracy and repeatability of the V˙O2max estimation. (ii) The parameters upon which the prediction is based (e.g. heart rate, power output, rating of perceived exertion [RPE]), as well as the need for additional clinically relevant parameters (e.g. blood pressure, ECG). (iii) The appropriate test modality that should meet the above-mentioned requirements should also be in line with the functional mobility of the target population, and depends on the available equipment. In the sports setting, high repeatability is crucial to track training-induced seasonal changes. In the clinical setting, special attention must be paid to the test modality, because multiple physiological parameters often need to be measured during test execution. When estimating V˙O2max, one has to be aware of the effects of medication on heart rate-based submaximal protocols. In the home setting, the submaximal protocols need to be accessible to users with a broad range of characteristics in terms of age, equipment, time available, and an absence of supervision. In this setting, the smart use of sensors such as accelerometers and heart rate monitors will result in protocol-free V˙O2max assessments. In conclusion, the need for a low-risk, low-cost, low-supervision, and objective evaluation of V˙O2max has brought about the development and the validation of a large number of submaximal exercise tests. It is of paramount importance to use these tests in the right context (sports, clinical, home), to consider the population in which they were developed, and to be aware of their limitations.
Sartor, F., Vernillo, G., de Morree, H. M., Bonomi, A. G., La Torre, A., Kubis, H. P., & Veicsteinas, A. (2013). Estimation of maximal oxygen uptake via submaximal exercise testing in sports, clinical, and home settings. Sports Medicine, 43(9), 865-873. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-013-0068-3