A Runner’s Dilemma! Oxygen Debt

Table of Contents


In this article we will review oxygen debt, define what it is, explore some of the symptoms of oxygen debt, and how a runner can avoid oxygen debt situations.    

What is Oxygen Debt and Why Does it Matter?

Definition of oxygen debt:

“A cumulative deficit of oxygen available for oxidative metabolism that develops during periods of intense bodily activity and must be made good when the body returns to rest”. (Merriam Dictionary)

Oxygen Debt is the term used to describe what happens when we run out of breath. When we exercise, our muscles require more oxygen than they can get from the air around us. So, they use up the oxygen stored in our body tissues and then start to break down anaerobic glucose for energy. This process creates lactic acid as a by-product, which is what causes us to feel tired and sore while running.

A.V. Hill was the first to describe the phenomenon of oxygen debt. Hill discovered that oxygen debt is a metabolic imbalance that occurs when muscles need more oxygen than they are getting. This happens when exercising at high intensity for an extended period and can be seen in a person’s blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate. The body’s core temperature increases and sweating decreases as the body pushes more heat out through the skin.

What are the symptoms of oxygen debt?

Exercising at a high intensity level for longer than an hour can lead to decreased performance, increased risk of injury, exhaustion, and dehydration. Some suggest symptoms may include dyspnea, fatigue, headaches, and dizziness. The good news is that you can train your lungs to take in more air with each breath by training your respiratory muscles through deep breathing exercises and proper running technique.

Oxygen Debt Example

Dr. Andrew Jones, a British researcher in 1967 was working on an experiment where he wanted to measure how much energy people use when they are exercising intensely for a period of 10 minutes. He measured the resting energy expenditure of each person in calories and assigned them a rating of 1 to 4 based on how much they weighed. The individual ratings were then totaled, and the result was the person’s total calorie expenditure for that work-out. The results, however, were not what he expected – all that it does is increase the resting energy expenditure by up to 300%! What he found was the effect of resistance exercise on metabolism. Since a person’s weight and exercise intensity are closely linked there, it’s not surprising that a person who weighs more needs more energy to keep their body in motion when they perform intense exercises. The increase in metabolic rate during exercise is largely due to muscle contraction, and the more a person weighs the harder their muscles need to work and the more energy they will require to keep them in motion.

How to Avoid Running into an Oxygen Debt Situations

One of the most important things to keep in mind when exercising or running is to avoid “oxygen debt.” If you find yourself in an oxygen debt situation, there are a few ways to deal with it:

– Slow down and take deep breaths

– Drink plenty of water

– Stretch your muscles

– Stop!

Final Thoughts

To summarize, this article has discussed the impact of oxygen debt on your workouts and how you should avoid it. It has also given some helpful tips on how to prevent oxygen debt from happening in the future and what you can do if you have already incurred it. If you follow these tips, then you should never have to deal with oxygen debt again!

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  1. James

    As a college student back in the day, I would run through oxygen debt and after a while would experience what some refer to as a “second wind”. It’s the most exhilarating feeling, your body becomes completely relaxed, your muscles loosen up and there’s a fluidity in each stride. You feel as though you can run forever.