8 Thoughts I Had Doing A CPEX Test
It’s the brutal fitness test done by pro athletes. Here’s what happened when our editor (who is not a pro athlete) gave it a go.
I’m no stranger to ridiculous fitness challenges – I’ve tried more or less every workout fad you can think of, taken adult gymnastics classes and even run a full marathon with wine stops (not my finest athletic moment tbh). So when the opportunity to try out a fitness test usually taken by champion athletes and endurance junkies came up, obviously I said yes. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?!
The test in question was the CPEX test – cardio-pulmonary exercise test to give it its full name. It’s done by the likes of Anthony Joshua before big events so they can check their fitness levels, and involves being wired up to various machines while doing an increasingly hard workout on an exercise bike or treadmill until you physically can’t do anymore. Believe it or not, this is my idea of a fun Wednesday afternoon, so I headed to the Centre for Health and Human Performance (CHHP) to give it a go. Turns out, it's not just for the super fit pros. Here are eight thoughts I had while channeling my inner fitness buff.
1. Yeah I’m definitely not terrified at all
Yep, I could totally talk the big talk before going in. It’s just cycling, right? Simple. Until I saw the actual bike and machines and computer screens – then it became pretty clear this was a bit more intense than your average spin class. Luckily, Jim the physiologist who’d be running the test was an absolute champ, making me feel comfortable and cracking a few jokes while he wired me up – speaking of which…
2. I’m literally covered in wires
In order to accurately track my heart rate, I had to be covered in ECG sensors. And I mean COVERED. Okay, so realistically there were only about seven, but it felt like more. They went on my shoulders, my chest, up my top - I know, I know, buy me a drink first – soon enough I didn’t notice them at all.
3. I look like Bane
If I thought the wires were a little awkward, they were nothing compared to the mask. To figure out how effectively my body processed oxygen as I exercised, I was looped up to a gadget that analysed every breath I took. This is why I was wearing a bright blue head mask – it was surprisingly comfortable, even if it did make me look like I was wearing a badly prepared Bane costume.
4. This isn’t too bad
The bike started off with next to no resistance on the pedals – super easy. Jim instructed me to keep a fairly fast pedal speed (85-95 rpm for any cycling nerds), which was really comfortable. Every couple of minutes, he’d take my blood pressure and tap various details into the computer system.
5. This is like the world’s most awkward spin class
By which I mean a spin class where I’m the only one cycling and my colleague is laughing at me from behind a camera.
6. Now my face is sweaty
As the resistance on the bike steadily went up, the test became a bit more challenging. That was fine – I like a challenge, plus obviously I’d need to push my body’s boundaries for the test to tell what it was capable of. Unfortunately, my Bane mask didn’t lend itself to being breathable, so my face went all out on the sweating front. Nice.
7. This is actually hard now
I was in the hands of absolute pros, I could manage the awkward spin class vibe, I could even handle the Bane mask, but one thing I could not handle was how quickly the resistance ramped up on the bike. I tried my absolute hardest to keep my leg pace up at 90 rpm, but it starting sliding down quite rapidly.
8. No really, make it stop
Look, I’m super competitive, even if I pretend to be totally chill. I can’t go on a treadmill next to someone without edging my speed up above theirs and spin classes with leaderboards are my absolute fave. But it got to a point where I just couldn’t push myself anymore. My legs felt drained of life and my heart was pounding. Everything ground to a halt. I was actually quite relieved – until our camera guy said ‘Hey, can we actually just shoot that last bit again?’ Really though?
What I found out
Once I’d recovered and desweated my face, we went through the results. One of the major things the CPEX test picks up is any unusual heart rate patterns, which could mean sinister things for my long-term health. Being a massive hypochondriac and having heart problems in the family, I was relieved to find out everything was fine!
Jim also told me plenty of fitness stats the test had revealed, like my VO2 max (that’s how much oxygen your body can process during exercise – basically a solid scientific measure of how fit you are), my watts per kilogram (how much energy I could push on the bike compared to my actual bodyweight) and heart rate training zones (so I could tailor my training to get the best possible results). This all came through after the session in a handy one-page doc with all the stats, plus a few graphs and charts – perfect for whipping out at the pub (just me?).
Pro athletes like Anthony Joshua take these tests regularly to track their progress, and I can totally see why – there’s so much more info about your fitness levels than you’ll get from any class at the gym! But it's really accessible for anybody, as the test is scaled to your abilities. Just don’t show me a photo of Bane anytime soon. #hauntedbyfacesweat
Words by Georgia Scarr