I hate to think that people are being dissuaded from having a stress test based on what you’re saying Boldface. A stress test is a very useful thing to do if you’re trying to improve and monitor your physical condition, and it does not have to be the kind of grueling, painful torture you are describing. I can’t claim any special expertise in the subject, but they give these things to heart patients, for crissakes.
All I can do is relate the experience I had:
They hooked up electrodes to monitor my heart, and took resting heart rate and blood pressure. They hooked up the VO2 mask. I’ll admit that if someone said, “We’re going to make you work until you reach your maximum heart rate!” I would probably not reply “Could I pretty please breathe through a 1 1/2 inch tube while I’m doing this?” The mask made breathing a bit harder. However, it was not painful. They made sure it was adjusted so that it was at least comfortable, and they told me that I should pat the headgear to let them know if it grew uncomfortable during the test. (You can’t really talk with the mouthpiece in.)
I was told to adjust the treadmill to the fastest walking pace as I could do comfortably. (Around 4.5 mph, as I recall.) The incline on the treadmill was increased gradually as they monitored my heart rate, and periodically took my blood pressure with a normal pressure cuff. They also periodically asked me to point to a perceived rate of exertion on a chart that had levels like “light,” “moderate ,” “hard”, “extremely hard.”
They encouraged me to keep going as my heartrate increased. Once I was chosing the highest exertion level, they stopped increasing the incline. At the end they were asking, “Can you give me just ten more seconds. Stick it out ten more seconds! Keep going! Keep going! Five seconds! You can do it! Keep going! You did it! You did it! Can you give us five more! Five more seconds!” and so on. However, the choice of when to end the test was entirely in my hands.
My lungs were burning, I felt starved for oxygen, and of course I was hot as hell and sweat was pouring off of me, which didn’t make the VO2 mask any more comfortable (though that was the least of my concerns at the time). I think I got a bit of a cramp in my side early on, but if I’m remembering correctly that faded into a more general misery after a few minutes. The total test was about 15 minutes, maybe, or 20, tops, with the really uncomfortable part being less than two minutes, if that. I have done many, many more prolonged intense workouts that were much more uncomfortable.
I hit the stop lever on the treadmill when my vision started going dark around the edges in a serious way. I didn’t feel like I was going to pass out, but I figured that was a good sign that my body had probably had enough. I don’t know whether you consider that “truly working as you should” but when I told the people who administed the test that’s why I stopped, they replied that that was probably a good choice. (Sorry, I don’t have my Max VO2 measurement. I just checked the fitness assement I have on hand, and it’s from my mid-year evaluation, which didn’t have a stress test.)
It is not their goal to injure you in the course of giving you a stress test. Having you fall down and possibly hurt yourself would probably count as what you might call a sub-optimal result—the sort of thing that might get them sued. Perhaps there’s some kind of competitive, balls-to-the-wall machismo that would cause some athletes to keep going to the point of throwing up or passing out, but I would like to emphasize that this is not what the average person should expect from a stress test, and I hope that won’t scare anybody away.