epreuve d'effort

The cardiac stress test: measuring how your heart responds to physical exercise

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At certain periods in the life of a runner (starting out after a medical checkup, getting back into running after an illness or injury, preparing for a big objective), it may be useful to assess the body's specific parameters generated by physical exercise, i.e.how the body responds to the effort made. Stress tests are used to obtain these measurements and can be adjusted according to the sportsman or woman or the sport practised.

 

What is a stress test?

Stress tests are medical examinations conducted on patients in convalescence or whose main objective is to monitor the progress of their heart rate during exercise. It is also known as an electrocardiogram, or ECG. These tests are therefore highly standardised so that the medical profession can compare the results of different patients or of different tests and provide the best possible care.

These tests can also be conducted by people who are in perfect health, i.e.sportsmen and women. Professional sportsmen, for example, but also amateur sportsmen who are planning a particularly demanding race in terms of effort or endurance over time. These tests, which are practised in specialised medical practices or in hospitals, generally require a medical prescription and are often quite costly.

An easier option can be for the sportsman or woman to undertake a stress test in the field. Although they cannot provide analysis with the same level of sophistication and detail, they are much more affordable and can therefore be scheduled and used much more often as part of a training programme.

 

When and where can you conduct a stress test?

For patients needing a stress test as part of a rehabilitation programme in particular, it is the medical profession that will decide.

For sportsmen and women needing a precise assessment of their cardio-respiratory functions because they have a major objective in mind, the stress test must be conducted well in advance of the competition. It is generally done when signing up for the race and is sometimes requested by the organiser.

These stress tests require sophisticated medical equipment and are therefore conducted in a hospital or medical practices specialised in sports medicine. They involve a simple appointment lasting 2 to 3 hours.

However, the field tests can be conducted on the site where the athlete runs and can be repeated more often during the course of the preparation. They will therefore be used as the starting point for setting the exercise pace at the beginning of the training plan and may be used throughout the preparation to (re-)adjust the exercise plan in keeping with the set objectives.

 

What does a stress test involve?

In hospital, the tests are mainly carried out on the following two types of equipment:a treadmill or an exercise bike. These two devices can be used to undertake the physical activity needed to evaluate the cardio-respiratory capacity. These tests are known as "progressive" tests because the intensity of the exercise increases progressively. The period and intensity of the different levels are defined in advance and given to the patient. These tests are under the constant supervision of a doctor and/or cardiologist who monitors the progress of the test and can assist the patient in the event of a minor complication during the exercise.

For runners performing field tests, the ideal location is an athletics track. If you can use a road or path with a good surface, you can mark it out and use it for your tests. For trail runners, the test can be done on a regular incline of adequate length if the climbing capacity is to be evaluated.

These field tests can be broken down into the following 2 types: "progressive" or "support" tests, given that the support tests are not conducted as frequently. In the first case, the running pace progressively increases and the aim is to find the runner's maximum values (Maximal Aerobic Speed or VMA) and threshold values. The threshold values will be running paces that you will be able to maintain for 20 to 90 minutes, depending on your level of training (i.e. running distances ranging from 5 km to half-marathon distance). In the second case, the aim is to check that the progressive test has been properly conducted and that the measured values (VMA) or estimated values (threshold) are correct. The aim is therefore to get the runner to stick to a set pace for as long as possible following the progressive test. The 2 most well-known progressive tests are the "Léger-Boucher" test (named after its inventors) or the "VAMEVAL" test created by Cazorla.

Whether the stress test is carried out in a specialised centre or in real-life conditions, the runner must be totally committed at the end of the exercise to ensure that the measured values are the genuine maximal values that the person can attain.

 

Whether you are a beginner or seasoned runner, a stress test can be useful to review your cardio-respiratory capacities and adjust your training accordingly.Whatever the case, you need to respect your body and your running pace in order to continue enjoying running!

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