BYU exercise scientists discover how to better personalize exercise

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Students exercise at the BYU Gym. A recent study shows the effect of exercise in different people. A BYU professor and graduate alumnus published a study in the National Library of Medicine on how to better personalize exercise, including finding better ways to judge the effectiveness of training. (Thabata Freitas)

A BYU professor and graduate alumnus published a study in the National Library of Medicine on how to better personalize exercise, including finding better ways to judge the effectiveness of training.

BYU graduate alumnus Jessica Collins and professor Jayson Gifford published a study on “Critical Power and Work-Prime Account for Variability in Endurance Training Adaptations Not Captured by VO2 max.” The study found that people with different body types respond differently to the same types of exercise. Groups that went through the same exercises varied significantly in both weight loss and increase of VO2 max.

Gifford said that although the general public looks after weight loss, physiologists, exercise trainers, cardiologists and other professionals only look at VO2 max.

According to Gifford, VO2 max as how much oxygen your body can consume per minute. He said he believes that exercise is about more than just weight loss, it is one of the last things physiologists care about.

“If you go into exercise, one of the main things people are going in for is to lose weight,” Gifford said. “A lot of times they don’t see weight loss and they’re like, this is stupid. I quit.” He said doing general exercise can produce unpredictable results.

The study concluded that exercises can be more consistently prescribed based off of critical power than traditional methods like max heart rate or VO2 max. According to Gifford, critical power is “the upper limit of your comfort zone.”

The study divided subjects into two groups. One group did moderate intensity training and the other did high intensity interval training.

According to Collins, at the end of the study they compared the VO2 max and the critical power of the subjects to measure how much each had increased.

“With the VO2 max responses it was variable,” Collins said. “Some people increased a ton, some people increased a tiny bit, some people stayed the same and then some people decreased just a little bit.”

Collins said that based off of the last many years focusing in VO2 max, people would look at the results and conclude that the exercise program did not work. 

“But then when we looked at every other thing that we measured, primarily critical power, everybody’s critical power increased,” Collins said.

Gifford said he believes it is better to do something than to do nothing. He said he sees exercise as being so important that doing any exercise provides benefits.

“Just get out and do something,” Gifford said. “It’s amazing for you.”

When presented with the study, exercise science major Nick Gladwell, said he learned that VO2 max is an indicator of cardiovascular fitness level and that it is important to recognize that there are many factors in play. 

“In my future profession I need to look past the typical textbook definitions and use critical thinking in order to promote progressive research,” Gladwell said.

For those students looking into learning more about exercise or improving their routine, Gifford said he recommends taking Student Wellness classes or visiting Y Be Fit, where students can get exercise counseling or take classes in exercise physiology. Collins adds that students should also seek out the services of the Student Wellness department.

Gifford and Collins’ full study can be found at the National Library of Medicine website.

This diagram defines VO2 max and critical power. The study shows the benefits of analyzing one versus the other. (Thabata Freitas)
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