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Speculating on Physiology in the Lab vs on the Road

December 26, 2019 ┃ Jem Arnold

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“We’re seeing trends in systemic VO2, blood lactate, and local muscle oxygen that align with the literature on muscle recruitment and metabolic efficiencies on the trainer in the LAB vs on the road in the FIELD.”

What started as Part 3 of my recent series of articles comparing the VO2 Master Pro to the TrueOne 2400 metabolic cart, half way through spontaneously turned into a more interesting comparison of the same workout performed outside on the road, and in the lab on the trainer. So let’s go with that!

For this experiment we wanted to look at physiological response to the same workout in the LAB vs in the FIELD. I’ve been reading up on the literature on various modalities of cycling (trainer, rollers, treadmill, flat road, uphill road, etc.) and how physiological responses tend to differ.

It’s fascinating! There are a lot of conflicting and equivocal findings, ultimately suggesting that there is a high degree of individual variability in how each of us produce power across modalities and conditions.

4x4min Severe Intensity Intervals

For this experiment I performed three trials of a 4x4min workout over a two week period, measuring VO2, blood lactate (BLa), and muscle oxygen saturation (SmO2). One trial was completed at home with the VO2 Master Pro, but I won’t be showing that here to keep the charts more legible It followed the same trends as the other two workouts, which in itself was a good finding of validity for the VMPro. The two trials we will be comparing were performed in the FIELD and in the LAB.

For the LAB trial I alternated between the VO2 Master Pro O2 analyzer and the TrueOne 2400 metabolic cart to give them a direct side-by-side comparison within the same workout. This trial was performed with the same set-up as detailed previously.

The FIELD trial was performed on a local short climb with gradient between 3-5%. This was supposed to be the first proper comparison of Lab vs Field with the VMPro and I was excited to compare the data. However the climate in Vancouver in October had other plans and freezing rain spoiled my fun, and unfortunately spoiled some of the VO2 data as you’ll see below.

Regardless, the comparison across these two trials got me thinking about core stability on the bike, cycling biomechanics, ventilation, and perceived effort. Let’s take a look at the charts and see what we can learn about the VMPro vs TrueOne devices, and about LAB vs FIELD cycling.

Power, Heart Rate, Cadence

  • The target was to maintain above 350 W for the work intervals. This turned out to be unnecessarily high. I had to drop the power during the later two intervals of the LAB trial just to complete the workout.
  • I produced higher average power at a lower average cadence in the FIELD compared to the lab. Power & cadence were more variable in the field as would be expected with gradient changes. Heart rate was also slightly lower in the field, aligning with the lower cadence and RPE, and probably the greater environmental cooling in the field despite higher power output.

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