FAQ: VO2 max
VO2 max is a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use. It is measured in millilitres per kilogramme of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min).
As you increase your effort when you exercise, the amount of oxygen you consume to produce energy (and hence the rate at which you exhale carbon dioxide) increases. However, there is a maximum level of oxygen consumption, beyond which increases in exercise intensity don’t lead to further increases in oxygen consumption. This level of oxygen consumption is called the VO2 max. (The initials simply stand for volume of oxygen. )
Some experts believe that VO2 max is a key physiological determinant of an athlete’s running performance, and that it is an important objective of a training programme to improve it. Other sports scientists argue that the limits to an athlete’s running performance are determined by a range of factors – such as adaptation of muscles, running efficiency, metabolism – and that VO2 max is simply a measure of the oxygen that the athlete consumes at the maximum level of energy output. On this view, which I find persuasive, VO2 max is not the critical factor which determines maximum performance, but is rather a consequence of a combination of other limiting factors. Whichever way you look at it there is a measurable level of exercise intensity at which the athlete’s consumption of oxygen reaches a plateau and does not increase further.
You can measure VO2 max by:
- a laboratory test, in which you breathe into an oxygen mask;
- using results from races to estimate VO2 max
- doing a Balke test
- doing a Bleep test
- doing a submaximal test in gym (eg on an exercise bike)
|13-19||<25.0||25.0 - 30.9||31.0 - 34.9||35.0 - 38.9||39.0 - 41.9||>41.9|
|20-29||<23.6||23.6 - 28.9||29.0 - 32.9||33.0 - 36.9||37.0 - 41.0||>41.0|
|30-39||<22.8||22.8 - 26.9||27.0 - 31.4||31.5 - 35.6||35.7 - 40.0||>40.0|
|40-49||<21.0||21.0 - 24.4||24.5 - 28.9||29.0 - 32.8||32.9 - 36.9||>36.9|
|50-59||<20.2||20.2 - 22.7||22.8 - 26.9||27.0 - 31.4||31.5 - 35.7||>35.7|
|60+||<17.5||17.5 - 20.1||20.2 - 24.4||24.5 - 30.2||30.3 - 31.4||>31.4|
Male (values in ml/kg/min)
|13-19||<35.0||35.0 - 38.3||38.4 - 45.1||45.2 - 50.9||51.0 - 55.9||>55.9|
|20-29||<33.0||33.0 - 36.4||36.5 - 42.4||42.5 - 46.4||46.5 - 52.4||>52.4|
|30-39||<31.5||31.5 - 35.4||35.5 - 40.9||41.0 - 44.9||45.0 - 49.4||>49.4|
|40-49||<30.2||30.2 - 33.5||33.6 - 38.9||39.0 - 43.7||43.8 - 48.0||>48.0|
|50-59||<26.1||26.1 - 30.9||31.0 - 35.7||35.8 - 40.9||41.0 - 45.3||>45.3|
|60+||<20.5||20.5 - 26.0||26.1 - 32.2||32.3 - 36.4||36.5 - 44.2||>44.2|
This is your velocity at VO2 max: that is, the speed at which you run when you are consuming oxygen at your VO2 max.
It is not the same as your maximum speed. You can run using anaerobic metabolism (that means, without using oxygen) for short periods of time; so sprinters run faster than their vVO2.
The following equation (estimated by me) is used to estimate vVO2 from VO2 max:
vVO2 (metres per second) = 2.8859 + 0.0686 * (VO2-29)
Your VO2 max is to a large extent determined by your genes; but it can be increased by training. Most people can increase their VO2 max by between 5% and 20% (increases of up to 60% have been reported); but there is a small proportion of the population for whom training seems to make little difference.
The formula used in the calculation is taken from Daniels & Gilbert (see
VO2 Max=(-4.60 + 0.182258 * velocity + 0.000104 * velocity^2)/(0.8 + 0.1894393 * e^(-0.012778 * time) + 0.2989558 * e^(-0.1932605 * time))
Note that velocity is in metres per minute; and time is in minutes.
Here is a sample of measured VO2 max for selected athletes.
|Bjorn Daehlie||Cross country skier||90.0|
|Miguel Indurain||Cyclist (winner of Tour de France)||88.0|
|John Ngugi||5 times world cross country champ||85.0|
|Dave Bedford||10km World Record holder||85.0|
|Steve Prefontaine||1 mile in 3:54.6||84.4|
|Lance Armstrong||Cyclist (winner of Tour de France)||84.0|
|Joan Benoit||Marathon runner (2:24:52)||78.6|
|Bill Rodgers||Marathon runner (2:09:27)||78.5|
|Sebastian Coe||Middle distance (1 mile WR)||77.0|
|Grete Waitz||Marathon runner (WR 1980)||73.0|
|Frank Shorter||Marathon runner||71.0|
|Derek Clayton||Marathon runner (WR 1969)||69.7|