BACKGROUND: Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) measurements of oxygenation reflect O2 delivery and utilization in exercising muscle and may improve detection of a critical exercise threshold.
PURPOSE: First, to detect an oxygenation breakpoint (Δ[O2HbMb-HHbMb]-BP) and compare this breakpoint to ventilatory thresholds during a maximal incremental test across sexes and training status. Second, to assess reproducibility of NIRS signals and exercise thresholds and investigate confounding effects of adipose tissue thickness on NIRS measurements.
METHODS: Forty subjects (10 trained male cyclists, 10 trained female cyclists, 11 endurance trained males and 9 recreationally trained males) performed maximal incremental cycling exercise to determine Δ[O2HbMb-HHbMb]-BP and ventilatory thresholds (VT1 and VT2). Muscle haemoglobin and myoglobin O2 oxygenation ([HHbMb], [O2HbMb], SmO2) was determined in m. vastus lateralis. Δ[O2HbMb-HHbMb]-BP was determined by double linear regression. Trained cyclists performed the maximal incremental test twice to assess reproducibility. Adipose tissue thickness (ATT) was determined by skinfold measurements.
RESULTS: Δ[O2HbMb-HHbMb]-BP was not different from VT1, but only moderately related (r = 0.58-0.63, p<0.001). VT1 was different across sexes and training status, whereas Δ[O2HbMb-HHbMb]-BP differed only across sexes. Reproducibility was high for SmO2 (ICC = 0.69-0.97), Δ[O2HbMb-HHbMb]-BP (ICC = 0.80-0.88) and ventilatory thresholds (ICC = 0.96-0.99). SmO2 at peak exercise and at occlusion were strongly related to adipose tissue thickness (r2 = 0.81, p<0.001; r2 = 0.79, p<0.001). Moreover, ATT was related to asymmetric changes in Δ[HHbMb] and Δ[O2HbMb] during incremental exercise (r = -0.64, p<0.001) and during occlusion (r = -0.50, p<0.05).
CONCLUSION: Although the oxygenation threshold is reproducible and potentially a suitable exercise threshold, VT1 discriminates better across sexes and training status during maximal stepwise incremental exercise. Continuous-wave NIRS measurements are reproducible, but strongly affected by adipose tissue thickness.