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Air Force Ergometry Cycle
Truths and Myths
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Editor's Note: Effective January 1, 2004, the only Air Force members who will take the Cycle Ergometry Test are those who are medically excused from running. All others will run 1.5 miles as part of the new Air Force Fitness Requirements.

You would think it’s a Las Vegas casino with millions of dollars waiting to be stolen. There are proverbial cards up sleeves. There are hidden mirrors. There may be people on the inside. But this isn’t Vegas, and there aren’t fortunes at stake. And it’s not some money-filled casino.

Just your health.

It’s the Air Force bike test. Cycle ergometry. Ergo’s been the Air Force cardiovascular standard since 1992. Yet, somehow, it still makes people nervous. Nervous enough, in fact, to look for ways to cheat on the Air Force fitness test.

That’s what baffles Air Force fitness experts. They have heard many ways that people try to get by. Nutritional supplements. Medications. Smoking. Caffeine. There are a myriad of methods.

But officials caution none can improve your VO2 rate, which is how well your body uses oxygen. It’s also the measurement used as the pass-fail standard for the test.

The list below represents a cross-section of ploys used to get a passing score on the bike test. The questions and comments are from airmen in the field who take the test. Some provided their own “workaround” to the test. The answers come from the staff of the Air Force Medical Operations Agency at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C.

I’ve heard that if you use tobacco products right before the test, it lowers your heart rate.

Official Air Force Photo by photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung

This is a very common misconception. The use of tobacco products prior to the test doesn’t provide any advantage on the outcome of the cycle ergometry test. Cigarettes, or any other tobacco product, contain nicotine, which is a stimulant that increases the heart rate. Therefore, the effect of smoking right before the cycle ergometry test could result in a higher heart rate and a lower score.

There’s a wealth of scientific evidence that links cigarettes and other tobacco products to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, asthma and cancer. However, if individuals use tobacco, they should refrain from doing so two hours before the test to ensure there’s no negative impact on their fitness scores.

Is the rumor true that smokers do better on their tests than non-smokers?

Based on cycle ergometry test data collected in 2001, the pass rates for nonsmokers and smokers are 86.33 percent and 84.21 percent, respectively. In other words, the rumor is just a rumor. The data shows that those who do not use tobacco products have slightly higher pass rates compared to those who do. However, as tobacco users grow older, their pass rates decline, while the nonusers’ pass rates go up. This is probably due to the negative effects of long-term tobacco use.

Take Kava Kava about an hour prior to the test. It’s all natural and will reduce your heart rate.

Kava Kava is the dried roots of a South Pacific shrub that is usually steeped with a warm drink. The “tea” or powder is used to relax. There’s no evidence that it affects heart rate. Therefore it’s unlikely to have any effect on the results of the cycle ergometry test.

However, according to the Food and Drug Administration center for food safety and applied nutrition, there’s a potential risk of severe liver injury associated with using kava-containing dietary supplements.

I took the bike test for years. The last time I took it, the monitor asked me if I used an inhaler for asthma. When I said, “Yes, I had been using them for years,” the monitor told me I couldn’t take the test. He told me the inhaler artificially stimulates the heart.

Some inhalers contain chemicals that can increase heart rates. For members who use inhalers that don’t affect heart rates, there’s no

Minimum VO2MAX score needed to meet AF Fitness Standards
Age Females Males
up to 24 27 35
25 - 29 27 34
30 - 34 27 32
35 - 39 26 31
40 - 44 26 30
45 - 49 25 29
50 - 54 24 28
55 - 59
22 27
VO2MAX is the maximum amount of oxygen consumed and is measured in milliliters per kilogram of body weight per minute. This measurement is used to estimate individuals’ cardiorespiratory fitness levels. 

concern about taking the cycle ergometry test. However, individuals who use inhalers that increase heart rates are not automatically exempted from testing. The majority of these individuals need to refrain from using the inhaler two hours before the test. Members who use inhalers or have asthma should contact their doctors if they have questions.

We just had a person who works out all the time fail. I also have heard that runners have a hard time passing because their heart rates rise to one level and stay there.

The cycle ergometry test is “predictive.” This means it will predict your fitness level by using your heart rate response to a given level of work — resistance or workload on the cycle.

Because of its predictive nature, a very small percentage of individuals will receive scores that are not necessarily representative of their true fitness level. Unfortunately, inherent to all predictive tests — including the 1.5 or 2.0 mile run — this is a possibility.

The goal of the Air Force Fitness Program is to encourage and motivate members to participate in year-round exercise programs to obtain the health and fitness benefits that accompany this behavior. For members who are unable to pass, but are able to demonstrate compliance with an appropriate fitness program, unit commanders may exempt them from the cycle ergometry test.

In our office, the high-stress, type-A folks never pass, whereas the low-key, happy-go-lucky folks pass without flinching. They say your heart rate needs to be fewer than 100 beats per minute before you can begin. Mine is usually around 90 bpm, so I have a pretty short distance to go before I either void the test or just plain fail.

The heart rate must be less than 110 bpm to start the test. If the heart rate remains above 110 bpm, the member is not permitted to test unless medically cleared. Members are able to pass even when they start at a higher heart rate. Under normal circumstances, the heart beats at a rate of 60 to 100 bpm.

The heart rate can be affected by medications or herbal supplements — both prescription and over-the-counter — certain medical conditions, exercise, anxiety and other factors. Members should rest well the night before and arrive for testing well hydrated. Individuals who are anxious about testing also can use relaxation techniques to keep heart rates low before the test.

Above Article by by Tech. Sgt. Jason Tudor, Published in Airman's Magazine


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