Author: Lauren Hunsberger | Photography: Yasmeen Nayfeh | Posted In: Move | June 2023
Do you want to know the exact limits of your fitness goals? Or crush a new personal record? Two doctors are revolutionizing the way to test fitness levels among athletes, and they are bringing their system to the Club.
Chances are, if you’ve exercised or played a sport regularly for any amount of time, you know what it feels like to hit a plateau—the place where it feels like no matter what you do, you can’t get faster, stronger or fitter.
Dr. Jeff Cary says it’s a phenomenon he sees with even the most elite athletes, and he is speaking directly from his experience as a former NBA team doctor.
“Plateaus are when you hit an area in your fitness where you’re not growing,” Cary says. “Well, what we do is use a hospital-grade, internationally standardized system for measuring exercise to see where that true plateau is and why you are there.”
He goes on to explain that most fitness plateaus result from either a cardiovascular or pulmonary (lungs) limitation, or both. So he and his partner, Dr. David Earley, developed a cardiopulmonary stress test to give people the exact data they need to break through the wall.
The process looks like this: The doctors perform an intake interview, get your vitals and review your medical history. Once you’re cleared, they place sensors on your torso and a face mask that tracks your breath. Then you hop on an ergometer bike and pedal away.
While you’re pedaling, the system captures all types of real-time information about how your lungs and heart perform during exercise. Meanwhile, the doctors are looking at two big screens, interpreting all the data they see.
“We know exactly what your heart is doing, how much oxygen you’re taking in, how much CO2 you’re emitting, what your cardiac and breathing reserve is, and metabolic rates,” Earley says.
And eventually, you will hit a ceiling because they will increase the resistance until you can’t pedal anymore.
“What this does is pinpoint the place where your oxygen uptake changes from aerobic to anaerobic, meaning the oxygen supply to the muscles has been exceeded,” Cary says. “Also known as your VO2 max.”
“We’ll know if it’s your heart or lungs right away that’s creating your limits,” Earley says. “Among a bunch of other data points.”
Once you’ve hit your max, they check vitals again and then talk about your results. Based off those results, they can prescribe an exercise plan for you to take you to the next level of fitness.
“We show you where your heart rate should be for weight loss, cardiovascular building, etc.,” Cary says. “We ultimately want to break that plateau in a way that’s functional with scientific numbers that can be interpreted by doctors anywhere.”
Afterall, some of the mechanisms used to gather the data (for example, heart rate monitors) aren’t new technology. Cardiologists and pulmonologists have been using these machines in clinical settings to treat sick patients for years. But no one has ever combined them and pulled them out of the hospitals to use on healthy athletes.
Earley points out that while many wearable devices claim to be able to give you similar information, “the VO2 max on your watch is a random number, an approximate guess.
There is absolutely no way to check your VO2 max from your wrist. It doesn’t know about what you metabolically did. These tests use hundreds of years of science, culminating in real results.”
“It’s really about our ability to put it all together,” Cary says. “It’s cutting-edge; no one is doing this anywhere else.”
Once you get your exercise prescription, you can then give it to a trainer or coach for them to see how hard they can work you. And then you return in three months to see how you’ve improved.
“What we can bring into the exercise arena is a way to measure that tangible data to see progress,” Earley says.