The New Frontier of Pulse Oximetry for Athletes and Fitness
How efficiently your body can pump oxygen to your muscles during exercise and while you recover is essential for your athletic performance. Keeping track of your oxygen saturation and Sp02 levels takes you one step further in understanding how your body reacts during your training and if you’re recovering properly between workouts.
The next generation of fitness trackers and smartwatches are all showcasing their new pulse oximetry capabilities that keep track of your oxygen saturation. But what does that actually mean for athletes? And what can you expect to learn about your athletic performance from gathering these new data points?
This article will cover everything you need to know as an athlete about what oxygen saturation is, how Pulse Ox sensors work, and what that means for you and your training goals.
What is Oxygen Saturation?
Your oxygen saturation, also called Sp02, is the percentage of oxyhemoglobin (oxygen-saturated hemoglobin) compared to total hemoglobin in your blood.
Hemoglobin is the protein in your red blood cells that moves oxygen and carbon dioxide around the body to your muscles and organs. When it grabs ahold of oxygen to carry it around, that’s when it’s changed from hemoglobin to oxyhemoglobin.
So if we look at oxygen saturation using a simplified example, if you had ten total hemoglobin proteins and only five of them are oxyhemoglobin carrying oxygen around – your oxygen saturation would be 50% if nine of them are oxyhemoglobin, your Sp02 would be 90%, and so on.
For athletes, oxygen saturation is critical to both training performance as well as effective recovery. If your body isn’t efficiently moving oxygen into your muscles when you need them and carbon dioxide back out, your athletic performance will suffer for it.
How Pulse Oximeters Work
Pulse Oximeters are a simple tool that uses light to rapidly measures your oxygen saturation and Sp02 level.
Hemoglobin carrying oxygen reacts differently to red and infrared light than hemoglobin that is not carrying oxygen. Because of this, the pulse oximeter can shine light through a part of your body (usually your fingertips or wrist), and the light that reaches the sensor can determine how much of the hemoglobin in the blood is oxyhemoglobin. A simple calculation later, and you have the Sp02 level that tells you your oxygen saturation.
The reason why you use pulse oximeters on your fingertips or wrist because you want to tell how efficiently your body is pumping oxygen to the places furthest away from your heart.
Pulse oximeters traditionally would be a clip-like device placed over the finger or earlobe in a medical setting.
But for athletes and fitness, you can now get pulse oximeters and Sp02 sensors built into popular fitness trackers like watches and rings that monitor your oxygen saturation throughout the day and during your workouts.
Sp02 and Normal Oxygen Saturation Levels
Throughout the day, your oxygen saturation or Sp02 level stays between 95% and 99%. When you exercise, your oxygen levels may fall because you lower the oxygen available to bind with hemoglobin.
Suppose your Sp02 falls below around 94% during a training session. When that happens, your body can begin to experience hypoxia (a low amount of oxygen reaching your tissues), and you’ll start to suffer from the decreased performance of your working muscles and even your brain function.
General Range of Sp02 Levels:
- 95% – 100%: Normal Oxygen Saturation
- 90% – 94%: Mild Hypoxemia
- 86% – 89%: Moderate Hypoxemia
- -85%: Severe Hypoxemia
It’s important to note that casual monitoring of your oxygen saturation levels can be a great way to introduce new data into understanding your training and recovery. But although it may be a great informational tool, it should never substitute any form of medical advice. And if you suspect something may be wrong, you should always talk to your doctor or preferred healthcare professional.
Fitness Trackers With Sp02 Pulse Oximeter Sensors
Because of the growing popularity of Pulse Ox sensors equipped with the latest fitness trackers and smartwatches, finding pulse oximeters on Amazon to be delivered right to your door has made trying this technology out for yourself even more straightforward.
Here are a few of the most popular devices that come with Sp02 features. We’ll cover the entire price range, from high-quality multi-sport watches with every feature imaginable to more accessible options that still provide awareness into estimations of your blood oxygen saturation levels. If you want a full rundown of features on two of the most popular Garmin watches for serious athletes, check out this comparison of the Garmin Forerunner 945 and 935.
Keep in mind, the Sp02 sensors in most trackers are for general awareness and informational use only. They are also precisely advertised as such and these features are not intended for any medical purposes.
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Using Pulse Oximeter Data for Athletes and Workout Recovery
In previous posts, we’ve frequently discussed oxygen delivery to your muscles, like the benefits of self-myofascial release and sauna use, especially from improvements in circulation pre and post-workout.
For the serious athlete, any piece of additional data can supply you with awareness and insights into your training and development to give you an edge. Oxygen saturation data geared explicitly towards athletes is a relatively new field of exploration. The hard-scientific research is still lacking on concrete ways you can use the information to indicate various training goals.
But it appears that the growing popularity of Pulse Ox in fitness trackers shows that there are a group of “fitness data pioneers” that have been using this new metric to see how it correlates to their own athletic performance. And since most of these devices keep a running log of your Sp02 data 24/7, it gives you the ability to identify trends and correlate them to your training, nutrition, and recovery efforts from those periods.
Aside from that, oxygen saturation data can be invaluable if you’re an athlete that needs to acclimatize to higher elevations before an event. If you’re training at sea level and have an event coming up at 10,000ft, you’ll want to have a way to be aware of how quickly you’re acclimatizing to the new altitude.
It could also be helpful to have pulse oximetry data to help identify early indications of whether you’re over-training or not properly programing your recovery strategy.
Final Thoughts on Sp02 and Pulse Oximeters for Athletes and Fitness:
If you’re already well-disciplined in tracking your training data and finding ways to make it helpful to your training goals, adding in oxygen saturation is another way to improve the information and general awareness about what’s going on in your body.
With the growing popularity of featuring Pulse Ox sensors in modern fitness trackers, if you’ve been looking to add a new device to step up the analytical side of your training, checking the box on adding Sp02 to the data set is increasingly more accessible.
The developments in research and concrete applications for the use of pulse oximeters in fitness and athletics are definitely something we’ll be keeping a pulse on at Mobility Athlete. If you’d like to keep up to date on the latest in mobility training and workout recovery, be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay in the know!
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