Does Ventilation Ever Limit Human Performance?

  • Craig A. Harms
  • Jerome A. Dempsey


Factors which limit human performance have been of interest to both researchers and athletes for many years. While it is well known that human performance is complex and multifaceted, at least in endurance related activities (e.g. running, cycling, etc), success is related to how well an individual is able to introduce, distribute, and utilize oxygen in the body. Maximal oxygen consumption (̇VO2max) is determined by the product of cardiac output and arterio-venous oxygen difference (Fick equation). Specifically, arterial oxygen content is greatly influenced by the effect of pulmonary ventilation and alveolarcapillary diffusion on arterial oxygen pressure (PaO2) and arterial oxygen saturation (SaO2). Therefore, a central question in oxygen transport is whether or not the pulmonary system can serve as a weak link in the oxygen transport chain. Traditionally, oxygen transport is believed to be limited by the heart’s ability to distribute blood and oxygen throughout the body (11). However, in recent years it has been demonstrated that in highly aerobic individuals, the demand of the exercise for O2 transport may exceed the capacity of the respiratory system and therefore lead to impairments in pulmonary gas exchange and consequently lead to exercise induced hypoxemia (EIH). Also, high ventilatory work during intense exercise may contribute to exercise limitation via a high oxygen cost of breathing and therefore “steal” blood flow from limb locomotor muscles. It is the intent of this discussion to focus on some of the possibilities in which the pulmonary system could potentially limit human performance in the young healthy adult.


Respiratory Muscle Maximal Exercise Ventilatory Response Endurance Athlete Intense Exercise 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Craig A. Harms
    • 1
  • Jerome A. Dempsey
    • 1
  1. 1.John Rankin Laboratory of Pulmonary Medicine Department of Preventive MedicineUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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