The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Tour De France 2008 and Increasing Aerobic Capacity

The Tour de France is a 23-day bicycle race. This year it runs from July 5 to 27, 2008. It is a stage race, broken into individual races, from one town to another. The number of stages has varied over years since the tour began in 1903. Course distance runs approximately 3,000 km (1,864 mi) through most of France and often through one or more adjoining countries.

Some of the essence of "le Tour" was incorporated in the synthpop song "Tour de France," a 1983 hit single by the German group Kraftwerk. They put the motto of France in krautrock (krautrock is considered a fun and positive term by enthusiasts): Liberté, égalité, fraternité, French for liberty, equality, good company - which is the point of much of the race.

The Tour de France is a difficult event. Even with light bicycles designed for each stage, it is still grueling. Athletes must train for exceptional aerobic ability.

Cardiovascular endurance, also called aerobic capacity, determines how long you can continue activity at your chosen pace. When you exercise, your body needs more oxygen, so your cells extract more of the oxygen your blood provides. Aerobically fit people can extract more oxygen when exercising, and so, can do more exercise. Average exercise needs about 10 times more oxygen supplied to your active tissues, than at rest. Heavy exercise can increase need to around twenty times. If you do not have high enough capacity from training, you will be too out of breath to continue. World-class athletes have been recorded to reach over 30 times their resting rate.

With regular endurance activities, such as biking, running, swimming, your body makes many changes that improve function. You increase blood volume, the number of oxygen-carrying blood cells, expand the network of blood vessels, reduce incidence of vessels clogged with fatty deposits, increase number of cellular organelles and enzymes your body uses to process oxygen into energy, and other physical improvements, to be covered in future posts.

Breathing in more oxygen won't increase your ability to extract more oxygen. For that you need training. When your body senses it needs more oxygen than it is getting - during hard aerobic exercise or exposure to altitude - the kidneys secretes a natural human hormone called erythropoietin (EPO). EPO stimulates the bone marrow to make more red blood cells. Everyone can do this on their own through regular aerobic training. When some people want more EPO, they may try blood transfusions, called Transfusion Doping, an illegal procedure to increase maximum oxygen carrying ability. They may also inject various kinds of synthetic human erythropoietin. Whether having the money and access to these substances is fair play is topic of many debates in sports ethics. More important is that they are not healthy. Blood can thicken and cell count increases to a dangerous level leading to cardiac problems. Deaths have occurred in young athletes from blood doping practices. There have been experiments with artificial oxygen carriers based on recombinant, bovine (cow), and human hemoglobin or perfluorocarbons. These substances have potentially lethal side effects including renal toxicity, increased blood pressure, and immune depression. Champions don't need them. You don't need them.

Posts to come will cover more on performance enhancement, drugs, supplements, Le Tour and other bike races, The Olympics and other events. Posts on supplements and performance enhancing drugs:

Books that cover aerobic training and performance enhancement are Health & Fitness THIRD edition (good for general populations) and Healthy Martial Arts (more for athletes of body and mind).

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.